The administrative centre for the City of Latrobe in Gippsland mixes vast industry with the serene natural beauty of lakes, nature-rich bushland and the humid forests of the Strzelecki Ranges.
This is Victoria’s main energy production centre, home to the largest open-cut coalmines in Australia, accompanied by the cooling towers and stacks of coal-fired power stations, some of which are now being closed down.
You can grasp the amazing size of these operations at lookouts and a visitor centre, while there’s another side to Morwell at an award-winning rose garden, a dynamic regional art gallery as well as a clutch of excellent museums close by.
1. Morwell Centenary Rose Garden
Planted in 1992 to mark Morwell city’s 100th anniversary, the Centenary Rose Garden remains a wonderful monument almost 30 years after opening.
Receiving the Award of Garden Excellence from the World Federation of Rose Societies, the garden displays more than 3,500 roses in 100 perfectly manicured beds.
These have been selected from 400 varieties, including a mix of traditional favourites and recently created hybrids.
There’s a central gazebo, festooned with roses, as well as decorative climbing frames, a rockery, pergola and a glorious sunken sensory garden growing scented Delbard roses.
2. Gippsland Immigration Park
As well as being a lovely place to take a stroll, this park near the Mid Valley Shopping Centre celebrates the history of immigration to the Gippsland Region and the contribution of its migrants.
The park’s focal point is the Gippsland Wall of Recognition, which is seven walls of granite inscribed with the names of prominent immigrant families, around a statue of a lone migrant with a suitcase.
The roll of honour is combined with graphics recounting the history of immigration here through the themes “Departing/Arriving, Settling, Working and Achieving”. Kernot Lake at the heart of the park is ringed by the Heritage Walk, with 72 panels recalling different aspects of Gippsland’s past, like indigenous Gunaikurnai culture, government, the energy industries, rule of law and life in the region during the World Wars.
3. Latrobe Regional Gallery
The regional gallery for the City of Latrobe is right here in Morwell, and is among the largest public art galleries in eastern Victoria.
Over its 50 years of existence, the Latrobe Regional Gallery has gained important collections in contemporary Australian art, glass art, sculpture and Asian art, as well as historical works relating to the Gippsland region by the likes of Noel Counihan, Jessie Traill and Jan Senbergs.
There are seven exhibition galleries, as well as an outdoor sculpture courtyard.
Come for national and regional touring exhibitions, innovative interdisciplinary display, selections from the gallery’s collection and to peruse the work of fresh talent from around Gippsland at the Project Space.
4. Crinigan Bushland Reserve
Morwell is bordered to the north by this peaceful and unfrequented nature reserve, extending over more than 40 hectares next to the town’s golf course.
If you’re up for a run or bushwalk, this is the most convenient place to go, and you should allow as much time as possible to appreciate the scenery on trails named after birds found in the reserve.
These are Ibis, Fantail, Honeyeater, Rosella, Kookaburra, Black Cockatoo and Yellow Robin.
The terrain is lightly hilly, with lots of little ponds and seating areas for picnics where you may be joined by a curious wallaby.
5. Morwell National Park
There’s an ecologically vital protected space about 15 kilometres south of the town, in the northern foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges.
At Morwell National Park you’ll discover a rare remnant of the once widespread wet sclerophyll forests, as well as some vestiges of rainforest tucked deep in creek gullies, in a tangle of creepers, ferns, blanket-leaf, pittosporum and blue and grey gums.
The park covers more than 500 hectares and is valued for its biodiversity, hosting close to 100 different bird species and more than 300 plant species, including 44 different kinds of orchid.
6. Fosters Gully Nature Walk
The best way to encounter the full splendour of Morwell National Park is on this self-guided walk through the verdant Fosters Gallery.
This trail is a little more than two kilometres and will take an hour to complete at a steady pace.
You’ll be given information about the park’s abundance of plant and animal species, including details on the butterfly orchid which survives here and in just a handful of other gullies in Australia.
On your adventure you may well see a kangaroo, echidna, wallaby, wombat or possum scuttling into the bush, and remember to keep looking up to spot a koala in the trees or a wedge-tailed eagle swooping over.
7. Grand Strzelecki Track
When you see the green rolling peaks of the Strzelecki Ranges you may feel inspired to take on a more demanding hike.
The Grand Strzelecki Track is a two-day journey into the ranges’ lush, humid forest, striking out from Morwell National Park, heading south-east to Tarra-Bulga National Park.
You’ll travel through remote forest, under the tallest flowering hardwood trees on the planet (mountain ash), past crystal-clear streams and waterfalls, and stopping in the bush overnight at the Jumbuk Rest Area.
The high rainfall and fertile soils allows trees in these primeval habitats to reach more than 50 metres in height.
The track is well-marked but you’ll need to be fit and prepared as there’s almost no infrastructure on the most remote parts of the trail, even though the grade is mostly light or medium.
8. Lake Narracan
On the other side of the humongous Yallourn open-cut mine, the largest in the country, Lake Narracan is a body of water with industrial origins.
On the Latrobe River, the reservoir was dammed in the late-1950s to supply cooling water to the coal-fired Yallourn Power Station.
Lake Narracan is 281 hectares, and because this water is only used for cooling, it’s a perfect setting for water sports, swimming, nature walks and barbecues.
The mine and power station are several kilometres away, and the lakeshore is skirted by grassy space and forest.
About halfway along the south shore is the Lake Narracan Caravan Park, a boat ramp, beach and the 18-hole Moe Golf Club, billed as the best in the Latrobe Valley.
9. Morwell Common
This open green space in the centre of Morwell has been spruced up in the last few years, getting new landscaping and play equipment.
Now Morwell Common is just the place to take a break, a few moments from the shops.
The lawns are immaculate, like a bowling green, and there are barbecues, a shelter, toilet facilities and plenty of tables.
For kids the best bit is the gigantic playground, which centres on a wooden fort with a muddle of towers and gangways, while there’s a sandpit with mechanical sloop, slides, a rope net, scrambling wall, tire swing and much more.
10. Mathison Park
On Morwell’s southern outskirts at Churchill there’s a lovable park containing Lake Hyland and furnished with picnic tables, shelters and barbecues.
You can walk a gravel path around the lake’s banks, which takes in a boardwalk section lifting you over a patch of wetland.
Take your time and there’s a good chance of spotting all kinds of water birds, counting ducks, pelicans and egrets.
Mathison Park is set on former farmland, and there are panels recording the history of this land, while signs near the old farmhouse tell you about the plants put to use by the Gunai nation across millennia.
If you have a licence you can fish in the lake, and you can compare your catch to information boards to identify it.
11. PowerWorks Energy Education Centre
For better or worse, coalmining and related industries have been the backbone of Morwell’s economy going way back to the 1880s.
The PowerWorks museum in Morwell was established in 1994 by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, going into depth on coal and coal-fired energy production.
Right in front you’ll be met by an imposing piece of equipment, Dredger 21, which was donated in 2010. Inside there’s a timeline, showing the origins of the area’s immense open-cut mines and power stations (two of which have recently been decommissioned), accompanied by interactive stations and a handful of industrial instruments.
The centre is run by volunteers and generally opens on weekends.
12. Miners’ Lookout
The absurd scale of coalmining activity in this part of the Latrobe Valley kindles a certain fascination.
The best place to glimpse an open-cut mine is a few minutes east where the Loy Yang brown coal mine opens like an apocalyptic chasm in the earth.
You can survey the scene from a wooden platform at the Miners’ Lookout, where information signs tell the story of mine and its accompanying power stations, Loy Yang A and B, the chimneys and cooling towers of which rise to the south.
13. Trafalgar Holden Museum
Fifteen minutes or so on the M1 and you’ll be at this museum dedicated to Australia’s most famous car brand.
What you see at the Trafalgar Holden Museum is the collection of one man, Neil Joiner, who has got his hands on some pretty rare models.
These include several from the 1960s, like a 1963 EJ, a 1965 HD Premier and a 1967 HK, all with just a few thousand miles on the clock.
The museum is housed in a former butter factory from the 1930s, and features interactive displays and a theatrette for footage.
Complementing the cars are artefacts to give a complete history of the Holden brand, from aircraft engines to pedal cars and saddles.
14. Old Gippstown
In nearby Moe you can learn all about the European settlement of Gippsland at this open-air museum.
More than 40 historic buildings have been relocated to Old Gippstown, all dating from between 1850 and 1950. There’s a school, church, bank building, coach house, halfway house, water wheel, iron house, general store and a Masonic lodge.
Every building at the museum is furnished with objects to shine a light on days gone by, like furniture, decorative arts, tools, machinery, obscure home appliances, books, photographs and papers.
Old Gippstown’s events calendar is a busy one, with something going on at Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, Easter and on Australia Day, in addition to monthly markets.
15. Traralgon Railway Reservoir Reserve
The next town over was born in the late 19th century as a railway junction, and that’s how this former reservoir in the south of Traralgon came to be.
The Traralgon Railway Reservoir sits in almost 30 hectares of bush and grassland and has a trail along its banks.
There’s a shelter by the water, installed with information panels laying out the history of the reserve, the European settlement in the Latrobe Valley and the indigenous Gunaikurnai culture.
The shelter’s wooden deck has a lovely view of the lake, and there’s a bird hide along the trail to spot some of the numerous birds that reside in the reserve’s wetlands.