Gippsland’s unspoilt Cape Conran Coastal Park is a nature lovers’ paradise with excellent walking and biking tracks, stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and hardly any people.

Story By Terri Cowley

East Gippsland may be Victoria’s best-kept secret, and Cape Conran Coastal Park is surely the best-kept secret of East Gippsland. Wildlife-rich bushland with endless tracks rimmed with horizon-to-horizon golden-sand beaches and estuaries make up the 11,000 hectares of parkland about halfway between the better-known attractions of Lakes Entrance and Croajingolong National Park.
Although camping is popular in summer – there’s a hotly contested ballot to sort out who gets the limited sites, cabins and wilderness retreats – at other times of the year people are few and far between.
Manager Josh Puglisi has lived in the park for the past 11 years and still relishes the isolation. “It’s a fantastic lifestyle – how could you not like it?” Josh says. Since he and wife Carla moved into the timber house nestled among the banksia woodlands behind the park office, they’ve welcomed children Eleanora, 7, and Isabella, 4. “The kids love it,” he says. “They ride their bikes up and down the road with no fear. They’re used to being on their own when the park is virtually empty, and making friends with people when it’s crowded. I love taking them to fish in the early hours of the morning and we’re generally the only people on the beach.”
Josh’s enthusiasm for this part of Victoria has only grown since he arrived. And he has a good basis of comparison. Prior to this job, he worked in several other parks as far afield as Lakefield National Park on Cape York Peninsula, which included a gig catching crocodiles at night for scientific research. “I often dream about going back up north but Conran keeps us pretty busy,” he says. “Even in winter when there’s not many people there is tons of maintenance. In reality, I think East Gippsland is the most comfortable wilderness we have in Australia. Cape York is a very harsh place and very hot. There are not so many things that can bite you down here and the climate is quite mild.”?
Bush tracks take in stunning coastal heathlands that lead to sandy bays and range from day trips to those that can be done on a boardwalk in an hour or so. The 25-kilometre return walk from East Cape to Pearl Point across soft, calf-burning sand dunes rewards with spectacular sedimentary rock formations and an abundance of sea birds. It’s also a popular spot for surf fishing.

This story excerpt is from Issue #86

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2013