What’s not to like about a town with a Portuguese name, a history of making butter and sugar, a port that is tailor-made for paddle craft, a lovingly restored nature reserve that is perfect for a mid-paddle break, and its very own platypus welcoming committee?
15 kilometres / 4 hours
Port of Maffra, McMahon Drive, Maffra
GPS: 37°58’03.4″S 146°58’23.8″E / -37.967611, 146.973278
Beach, Bellbird Corner Riverside Reserve, Sandy Creek Road, Maffra
Small car park or on street
Sheltered, flowing, light traffic
“Olá! Bem-vindos a Maffra!” That’s Portuguese for “Hello! Welcome to Maffra!” The Maffra & District Historical Society believes that their little neck of the woods was named by settler Captain Lachlan Macalister in 1840 after a town called Mafra in Portugal where his regiment was stationed during the Napoleonic wars. The spelling was initially the same but a second ‘f’ magically appeared somewhere along the line and it has remained ever since. The Macalister River which runs through Maffra was christened at the same time in his honour.
Maffra’s name is where the obvious Portuguese influence starts and ends but it doesn’t have to be like that. The town has years of experience in producing both sugar and butter and these are both key ingredients of mouth-watering Portuguese custard tarts. That’s all the encouragement I need to make them my snack of choice for this paddle. Admittedly sugar hasn’t been farmed or refined here since 1948 and you can’t actually buy butter directly from the Devondale processing plant beside the river, but we can’t let minor details like that get in the way.
This is a return trip from the grandly titled Port of Maffra to the recently regenerated Bellbird Corner Riverside Reserve and back. The port is a touch more modest than its name suggests consisting only of a small wooden deck and ramp made entirely from wood, but it is a fantastic place to launch. You can easily keep your feet dry and a seal entry is a real possibility.
The Port of Maffra ramp leads into an inlet on the eastern side of the Macalister River. Paddle out to the main waterway from there and turn right to go upstream. The Maffra Weir will prevent you from going any distance in the other direction.
The platypus is not an endangered species. Platypuses can be found in freshwater environments throughout eastern Australia. However, they are mostly nocturnal and very very shy so there are still plenty of Australians that have never seen one in the wild. To those people, I say grab some paddling gear and launch into the Macalister River at Maffra as the sun is rising. I have been lucky enough to have one swim alongside my kayak for five hundred metres and I have also seen one from the shore at Bellbird Corner. Other amazing creatures you might meet at Maffra include Gippsland water dragons, wombats, echidnas, possums, frogs, snakes, 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies, and 95 species of birds ranging from tiny colourful azure kingfishers to magnificent wedge-tailed eagles.
Bellbird Corner Riverside Reserve occupies a 3.2 hectare area on the northern side of the Macalister River at its junction with Newry Creek. A surprising thing about Bellbird Corner is there aren’t any bellbirds. This is because they all moved away in the 1950s when the land was cleared for grazing. Thankfully the reserve is now under the control of a local management committee who have fenced it off from cattle, removed blackberries and willows, and replanted it with a variety of native trees and shrubs. A welcoming beach, grassy area with picnic tables, and several walking trails make it a great place to jump out and stretch your legs before heading back to port.
Bass, brown trout, carp, rainbow trout, redfin, short-finned eel
Macalister Hotel, 2 Johnson Street, Maffra, (03) 5147 1054
Stratford on the River, 16 McMillan Street, Stratford, 1800 787 275
It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.Laura Ingalls Wilder