Spotted by Locals
Debra Sederlan, Gippsland
Between the Great Dividing range and Bass Strait, from mountains to sea, Gippsland's beauty is ever-changing. Debra Sederlan grew up in its east. "For me, East Gippsland really starts once you drive through Bairnsdale. Geographically it's a large area, through to Orbost and Cape Conran Coastal Park. That's familiar for me."
The inspirational 2012 MasterChef top 10 contestant loves to return to East Gippsland as often as possible. Her parents live there, and though Debra has travelled the world and fallen in love with exotic places, a large piece of her heart is still in regional Victoria. Even the drive from her Melbourne home is thoughtful.
"I take the back way, the Gippsland Plains Country Drive, Route C105, through Heyfield and Maffra, and come out at Stratford. It's a really beautiful drive and there's a great little coffee shop [Cafe 3858] at Heyfield." Debra's recent East Gippsland holiday took in visits to growers and producers, restaurants and wineries, great accommodation and epic landscapes. ''It's an incredible part of the world. It has such a raw, natural feel about it. In the Cape Conran Coastal Park there are environmentally sensitive areas you can camp in. There is tent/cabin-style accommodation known as Wilderness Retreats; they're unobtrusive but they're right there."
Debra is also a huge fan of Metung. ''It's a contemporary little destination. A nice mix of locals and visitors. It's a mini-Sorrento, lots of yachts and boats,'' she says. ''A lot of people come by water [from surrounding areas] to have a meal in Metung and its boardwalk is fantastic for a stroll. There are people fishing or just sitting reading books. So relaxing."
Debra's Metung accommodation was in the chic 5Knots property ''Right on the water; you don't have to drive anywhere''. Further east, a stay at the boutique Orbost Motel was a homecoming of another kind. "When I was 18 I worked there as a waitress. It's not quite the same place anymore – same location but redone so tastefully. It's stylish and a great stay."
A passionate foodie, Debra made it her business to meet local producers. "There are so many husband-and-wife teams doing great things, from pickles to chocolate, to honey to salami,'' she says. ''I love how word has spread and farmers' markets like the one at Metung are doing good work."
Grazing and tasting at key Gippsland hot spots including Warragul's Wild Dog Winery, the Metung Galley, Paynesville's Fisherman's Wharf Cafe, Bruthen's Bullant Brewery, the Nicholson River Winery and Orbost's Two Little Owls Cafe, is the kind of culinary adventure Deb is known for.
"Just fantastic fresh ingredients handled really well," she says of the foodie elements she savoured. But when home in Gippsland, it is the great outdoors that makes her heart truly soars. "At East Cape Conran is a cove, very sheltered, a great place for camping and families. It's quite safe for kids to swim, with little rock pools and there's a boardwalk beside the ocean. A lot of people fish off the rocks and it's just heavenly,'' Debra says.
''West Cape Conran is a complete contrast, just blowing a gale, smashing waves. It's so exposed, with much different weather conditions to the east, but it has these spectacular rocks. The rocks are always warm no matter what time of year. There's lots of surf. The waves are wild. You can walk on the beach for kilometres and not see another soul."
Where to stay
Debra particularly loved the kitchen in her 5Knots apartment in the holiday town of Metung. "It's so nice. Right on the water. It has a great location right in town, you don't have to drive anywhere, it's well set up and private with a really good kitchen, balcony and barbecue. I think it would be great for a stay of a week. The Orbost Motel, where Debra also holidayed, "was absolutely amazing. There's no unnecessary adornments but it's stylish. There's lots of beautiful corrugated iron, like a luxury tin shed. And everything was spotless, with beautiful white linen and an earthy interior. It had a great garden too. Really tasteful, really comfortable, delightful to stay there. I even had a coffee machine."
Little things, like the Marlo estuary at night, brought back happy memories for Debra. "After dinner we went down to the estuary and all these people were night canoeing. There's phosphorous in the water so it's like there are little jewels in the water when something moves beneath the surface."
She got up for the sunrise each day and made the most of beautiful weather.
"We went to Yeerung River and Gorge at Cape Conran Coastal Park. It's a black river that runs into the ocean. Black because of the tannins from the teatree. So you get lots of incredible mirrored reflections," says Debra
There aremany great walks in the park and Debra has favourites. "The walk to Pearl Point and back, which is a 25-kilometre round trip, is amazing. Tucked behind the dunes is a natural freshwater body protected from the ocean by the sand. It's stunning."
But that's typical of the whole East Gippsland area. "That coastline, you've got bush 20 metres from the ocean. It's unique," she says.
A drive into the Snow River National Park to see Raymond Creek Falls reconnected Debra with the bush.
"I spent a lot of time in the bush and it was a reminder of the diversity of the landscape," she says. "There was a section of beautiful, white-bark snow gums that were like forest ghosts. The drive in was beautiful, all rugged rocks and waterfalls, and even though the falls were dry, it was magnificent."
Debra also spent time cruising from coastal Paynesville, courtesy of Bull's Cruisers. "There are two sides to Paynesville," she says. "It has lots of man-made canals which have opened up the area for accommodation, and there are 1200-plus yachts moored all year around. People come from all over to Paynesville just to go boating and fishing. We were on the ocean side and went to Ocean Grange, an area accessible only by boat. There's a pelican rookery there and huge numbers of water birds everywhere – black swans, eagles, and birds I don't know the name of. Phenomenal."
Food and wine
A highlight of Debra's visit to the East Gippsland region was the Nicholson River Winery. "They've been on the property for 35 years," she says. "They make the wine, bottle it and sell just from cellar door. They have such passion.''
At Metung, Debra visited the Metung Galley restaurant, a ''busy and buzzy'' place, she says. Lunch at the Bullant Brewery was an eye opener. ''I really like the brewery's Bark Shed's Wheat Beer. It has a tropical flavour. Very distinct. I also really love the stout. I thought: cold night, open fire, beautiful pot of stew and that stout, wow."
This article first appeared in The Age and is reprinted courtesy of Fairfax Media.