Cultural experiences at Budj Bim

Cultural experiences at Budj Bim

Your journey through the Great Ocean Road region and the roads we travel on today follow the ‘songlines’ or ancient trading routes originally treaded by the first people of this land. Your whole visit is a cultural experience when you appreciate the land, the sea, its shelter and resources.

Amongst the cultural experiences in the Great Ocean Road region is the World Heritage listed, culturally significant landscape of Budj Bim — located in the traditional Country of the Gunditjmara people.

The unique lava flow from an ancient volcanic eruption is what created this significant landscape and connects the three main components:

  • the long dormant Budj Bim Volcano and Tae Rak (Lake Condah)
  • the wetlands of Kurtonitj
  • the rocky ridges and marshes of Tyrendarra

Budj Bim’s system of weirs, channels and volcanic lava flow allowed the Gunditjmara people to craft the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world. Archaeological investigation of the history of eel farming here proves it dates back over 6,000 years, however evidence indicates these practices have occurred here for far longer.

The Budj Bim Landscape sits roughly between Portland, Port Fairy and Hamilton and it takes roughly 4 hours to reach by car from Melbourne if you travel directly. Tae Rak (Lake Condah) is around a 50-minute drive from Port Fairy. Driving to Budj Bim National Park will take around 40 minutes from Portland or Hamilton.

There are a few ways you can explore the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape. While some sites can be accessed at any time and are open to the public, other sites require an organised tour on Country with a Gunditjmara guide.

Whichever way you choose to explore Budj Bim, make sure you allow enough time. You will need at least a day, particularly if you want to visit multiple sites.

Budj Bim National Park — Macarthur

Budj Bim — the volcano sits over Lake Surprise, within the Budj Bim National Park. Near Macarthur, you can either reach Budj Bim National Park via the township or alternatively travel west from Heywood. The Lake Surprise rim walk and lava canal walk pass by caves, the spectacular Natural bridge and the new cantilever Budj Bim viewing platform. There is a shady grass picnic area, public toilets and a new visitor centre displaying information on the Gunditjmara people, the ancient volcanic activity and how it was used to shape the way they lived. Visitors could easily spend a whole day here, or more- there’s also a campground and hot showers. Sites can be booked through Parks Victoria.

The Lake Surprise rim walk takes 2.5 hours.

Tae Rak + Kurtonitj (IPA)

The Tae Rak Acquaculture Centre & cafe was opened in July 2022 and is where you will start a range of tours with Budj Bim Cultural Landscape Tourism, which is run by the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation. The Aquaculture Centre and cafe building overlooks Tae Rak (also known as Lake Condah), and toward Budj Bim in the distance. Here you can learn about the relationship to Budj Bim for the Gunditmara people and how they relied on the lava flow to assist with their sustainable farming practices. A tour here is a must to learn not only about the cultural connection to the land and how the aquaculture systems worked, but also how fascinating Kooyang (eels) are! In the cafe you will be able to taste the Kooyang in a number of ways both traditional (smoked) and non-traditional (try the arancini balls!). The menu also features native plants and traditional indigenous ingredients, so there’s something delicious to try for everyone — even if you’re not keen to try the eel.

Morning and afternoon 2 hour walks, as well as half day and full day tours can be booked through Budj Bim Cultural Landscape Tourism. The 2 hour Tae Rak cultural walk provides an immersive experience in the wetland landscape and an introduction to kooyang (eel) farming and harvesting practices that are thousands of years old. The half day tour will take you to see the Budj Bim volcano crater and Lake Surprise, as well as the nearby Kurtonitj site, and provides insight into the way our First Nation’s People connected with the landscape throughout the seasons. The full day tour is a combination of the half day tour, with lunch and the afternoon 2-hour cultural walk at Tae Rak added on.

Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area (IPA)

At the township of Tyrendarra you will find some welcome signage with information on Budj Bim and the cultural sites. This is generally where visitors would start their journey onto the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape. When in Tyrendarra we recommend you visit 2 Rivers Gallery, which features works by Gunditjmara artists.

Not far north of the township is the Tyrendarra IPA site. A loop walk through the landscape here takes you past eel traps, lava blisters ancient house sites (some dwellings have also been recreated to show people the type of homes our first people lived in).

To get a full understanding of this site, we recommend a tour on Country with Budj Bim Tours. Check their website to find days these are available.

Other places to visit near Budj Bim Cultural Landscape;

  • The All abilities playspace located on Lee Breakwater road in Portland includes six sculptures and play elements that help tell the narrative of the six seasons of the Gunditjmara people. It’s a great way to introduce children to the Budj Bim story.
  • The Narrawong Kang-o-meerteek public art launched in 2018 represents cultural stories and meeting places. At the Mt Clay Whalers Lookout, the ‘Mayapa Weeyn’ (make fire) sculpture is in a place where beacons were once lit to signal to locals when whales were beached nearby. Look out for “Walk and Talk” events led by Walter Saunders, Gunditjmara man and the sculptor.
  • In Heywood the Water Tower mural artwork is hard to miss. The artwork honours the exceptional sacrifices made by Gunditjmara servicemen and women.

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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.