In Travel

“So Pristine It’s Like Another Planet”: Visiting Victoria’s Little-Known National Park

Walking through the Tarra-Bulga National Park, it’s easy to imagine a world where dinosaurs once reigned.

A swathe of ancient cool temperate rainforest in Victoria’s eastern Strzelecki Ranges, around 190kms south-east of Melbourne, Tarra-Bulga is an enchanted place of towering trees and lush fern glades that couldn’t be further removed from the 21st Century.

Prior to European settlement from the 1840s, much of south-eastern Victoria was cloaked with enormous trees and dense jungle-like undergrowth, which became known as The Great Forest of South Gippsland. Settlers soon obliterated much of the forest for grazing land, but this area was thankfully preserved.

Image: Tourism Victoria

Tarra-Bulga is made up of a dense canopy of trees including myrtle beech, some thought to be more than 1,000 years-old; mountain ash towering to 75-metres, and southern sassafras – all underscored by blackwood, silver wattle and the 40 species of tree-ferns that thrive in the cool forest.

This primordial Garden of Eden has recorded 289 different kinds of fungi and around 200 different plant species.

Wildlife abounds in the region, home to koalas, platypus, possums, wombats, wallabies and echidna, and the birdsong of anything from pilotbirds, king parrots, currawong, owls and kookaburras to elusive lyrebirds echoes through silent fern gullies.

The Tarra-Bulga Visitor Centre in the tiny town of Balook is the starting point for many of the region’s walking trails, from short strolls to multi-day treks, that wind throughout the rainforest. These include the historic Corrigan suspension bridge, which stretches across a green sea of tree ferns, the Lyrebird Ridge Track, and Fern Gully Walk.

Getting There

From Melbourne take the Princes Highway 163km southeast to Traralgon, and then follow the Traralgon Creek Road 37km south to Balook. Alternatively, travel 231km to Yarram via Leongatha and Foster, and via the Tarra Valley Road 30km north to Balook.

Where to stay

Tarra-Bulga Guesthouse

When the sun bakes Gippsland’s lowlands during the summer months it can be up to 10-degrees cooler beneath the many layers of Tarra-Bulga’s forest canopy and its crystal-clear creeks, said Thomas Larsen from the Tarra Bulga Guesthouse in Balook.

Built in 1934, the Tarra Bulga guesthouse has seven comfortable rooms (five have ensuites) including two family rooms (from $95) and a lounge with a wood-burning fire.

Image: Tarra Bulga Guesthouse / supplied

Balook is so remote – roads throughout the area are narrow and windy – that in July 1954 Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov, Soviet spies masquerading as diplomats in Canberra, checked into the guesthouse, apparently hidden here by the Australian government after they defected from the Soviet Union.

The Petrovs’ signatures are displayed in the guesthouse dining-room, where Thomas serves Danish-inspired dishes utilising locally-sourced produce including Danish meatball burger ($15), Herring on rye with a shot of Akavit ($18) and Tarago River cheese platter, a selection of fine Gippsland cheeses with local sourdough bread ($35).

Tarra Valley Caravan Park

Fernholme, the Tarra Valley Caravan Park, is thought to be one of Victoria’s oldest, dating from around 1949.

Situated amid this timeless valley in an idyllic location by the Tarra River, the park’s location makes it ideal for some R&R; there’s no noise bar the gurgling river, home to trout, blackfish and freshwater crays.

Aside from caravan and camping sites (from $28), the park has six rustic self-contained cabins (from $95).

Fernholme’s small on-site café serves home-made scones, so you can take a relaxing afternoon tea beside the river as you watch parrots and lorikeets hopping around the grounds, and dangle your toes in the cool river on a hot day.

Eilean Donan Gardens

From Balook its 30kms to Yarram via the Tarra Valley Road, which twists and turns south through more forest. Along the way is the Tarra Valley Picnic Area, where you can hike 1.5kms to the cascading Cyathea Falls, and the Tarra Falls, another of the 20 waterfalls in the area.

Tarra Valley has several accommodation options including Eilean Donan Gardens, 15kms south of Balook. A sprawling century-old house set amid blooming gardens that border the Tarra River, Eilean Donan is a real find.

Image: Eilean Donan Garden / Sandy Guy

The house has two bedrooms available for rental via Airbnb, both with ensuites and small romantic balconies overlooking the garden; a lounge room with an open fire to relax by, a dining room, and a big country-style kitchen ($140 per double per night, $180 for four).

When you stay at Eilean Donan you have the extensive gardens, established in 1911, to yourself.

A profusion of mature Lombardy poplars, cabbage tree palms, Japanese maples, pin oaks, Spanish hazelnut, tree ferns, camellia, wisteria and masses of roses – to name a few – the garden features meandering paths to stroll along, and shaded seats by the beautiful Tarra River.

The Best Friend Holiday Retreat

If your four-legged friend needs a holiday too, the Best Friend Holiday Retreat has been designed for people holidaying with pets.

Situated amid hectares of parkland three-kilometres south of Tarra-Bulga National Park, this pet-friendly park has individually fenced caravan and camping sites (from $35, closed May to September) and cabins with fenced yards (from $145).

There are also dog-friendly play equipment and a dog hydrobath hut.

(Lead image: Tourism Victoria) 

Published 06 December, 2019