Lifestyle

This winter take a detour and head south

By Shepparton News

With its pristine beaches and unspoilt terrain, South Gippsland is a much-loved summer holiday destination.

But a recent trip to my old stomping ground reminded me that this picturesque part of the world - known as God's own country by the locals - has more to offer than sand, surf and sunburn.

Sure, a waterproof coat, sturdy shoes and beanie will be essential parts of your travel kit in the cooler months, but the abundance of magnificent walks and attractions will have you warmed up in no time.

A good place to start is the quaint village of Fish Creek, set in rolling green hills and productive farmland, which has been home to generations of family enterprises producing predominantly milk and beef.

Proudly proclaiming its status as 'The Gateway to Wilsons Promontory' Fish Creek is home to an art-deco style hotel - complete with a giant metal fish resting on the roof - and an eclectic mix of cafes and galleries amidst the staples of a small town: the general store, post office, service station and hardware shop.

Renowned children's author Alison Lester has set up shop in what was the old milk bar, and her literary colleague and illustrator Roland Harvey has a workshop, a short walk around the road.

The intriguingly-named Ride the Wild Goat Gallery, Celia Rosser Art Gallery and Gecko Studio Gallery are just several of the exciting art spaces in which you can while away some time.

Located a short, albeit steep, walk from the town's main street is the district's original gallery, Stefani Hilltop Gallery.

You can drive, but if you walk you will see at close range the Fish Creek after which the town is named, usually a gentle stream that in winter has been known to burst its banks and resemble a raging torrent.

Home to the Stefani family since 1950, the turn-of-the-century homestead is set in beautiful gardens featuring a plethora of fruit trees and grape vines, and houses a collection of original acrylics, oils, watercolours and pastels by artist-in-residence Bianca Biesuz-Stefani.

Back in town, and once you've had your fill of art, handmade goods, coffee and amazing food, mostly sourced from local artisan producers and growers, it's time to chart your course for one of the many natural and man-made attractions.

Heading east from Fish Creek, toward the town of Foster, the Mt Nicoll lookout is at the midway point. A short but reasonably steep gravel track will reward you with picturesque views of Wilsons Promontory and Corner Inlet, although the unpredictable weather can limit visibility at times.

Continue on to Agnes Falls, the highest single-span falls in Victoria, which is at its spectacular best in winter when rainfall in the upper catchment courses down the Agnes River and surges over the rocks.

Nearby Toora is home to one of Victoria's first commercial wind farms and the fishing village of Port Welshpool boasts an iconic long jetty, which has recently undergone a multimillion-dollar upgrade, and stretches about 800m out into the water.

South Gippsland's selection as a preferred site for an early wind farm is no surprise, given its proximity to Bass Strait and the rough weather it can produce, but don't let that deter you.

In fact, if a windswept walk on the beach beckons, you're spoilt for choice with stretches of sand at Waratah Bay, Sandy Point, Walkerville and Venus Bay, often deserted at this time of year, giving space for quiet contemplation.

The shallow rock pools at Walkerville offer a close-up view of marine life and, in stark contrast, the ruins of the old lime kilns tell the tale of a time when up to 80 workers toiled to mine limestone that helped build large parts of Melbourne in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But without a doubt, the absolute jewel in the crown is Wilsons Promontory at the southernmost tip of mainland Australia.

The national park is so popular in peak holiday periods that a ballot is operated for camping sites, but in winter visitor numbers are less.

With less people around you will have the pick of the many bushwalks, which take in the huge granite outcrops, rainforest, sweeping views of the coastline and, if you're lucky, native wildlife.