TOIL and trouble, boil and bubble
These words come to mind as I sink into a 500-litre repurposed wine barrel on the deck of our accommodation for the night, the Metung Hot Springs at Gippsland Lakes.
I'm up to my neck in hot water and I couldn't be happier. The water has been drawn via a deep geothermal bore at 43 degrees then blended with cool mineral water from the upper aquifer to provide the perfect temperature for bathing - "a bit like a shandy" quips owner-operator Rachel Bromage.
The individual wine barrels (swimsuits optional) on the deck of the hot spring's glamorous glamping tents are just one example of the creative approach Rachel and her husband Adrian have adopted during the multi-million dollar ongoing development of the 30-hectare site.
When you arrive to stay at one of the 10 glamping tents you are given a bracelet to wear. That automatically unlocks the door of your tent so that for the duration of your stay you can swan around in your swimsuit and the supplied white bathrobe.
Only the first stage of Metung Hot Springs has been completed so far and yes, the property is something of a construction site, but through strategic plantings and high screenings, the intrusion is minimal.
Seven chlorine-free bathing pools have been completed to date, along with a sauna and spa treatment room and a reflexology walk with the right degree of "ouch" to massage tired feet.
Because of the undulating site, only one pool is accessible without climbing steps.
The most beautiful of the pools is flanked by individual barrels high up on the escarpment overlooking the water. Because of the works under way, an attendant will whisk you up there in a golf cart and remain on site until you're ready to be brought down to earth again.
The opening of the hot springs has been wonderful for the sleepy boatie haven of Metung.
Geothermal springs were in fact discovered in the area back in the 1920s when prospectors were drilling for oil but found water instead.
Local children used the hot water pools as paddling pools in the 1960s and then, in 1976, bore water was channelled into three cement swimming pools. These closed in 1994 due to vandalism and the challenging cost of treating wastewater from the site.
Rachel remembers enjoying the pools when she was a little girl. She and her husband grew up in idyllic East Gippsland.
"I used to bathe in the pools when I was a girl. I was 10 when it was closed," she said.
Already established tourism operators in the region, the couple long dreamt of resurrecting the springs. Their vision came to fruition through a partnership forged with Charles Davidson, founder of the long-established Peninsula Hot Springs on the Mornington Peninsula.
Although Metung Hot Springs has some parallels to Peninsula, it has its own character defined just as much by the personalities of the Bromages as its waterside location.
Rachel's stay in a safari tent in Africa inspired the design of the elevated glamping tents nestled in the trees - four on the lagoon and six on the hillside - with their four-poster beds, coffee machines, air-conditioning, ensuites and expansive decks.
While some questioned the wisdom of including accommodation in such an early stage of the hot springs, Rachel said she felt it was important to give people somewhere to stay and unwind after the four-hour drive from Melbourne.
While the tent has all the comforts you would expect in a luxury hotel stay, at night there is no forgetting you are in a tent as the wind whistles through the trees and leaves rustle as nocturnal native animals forage outside.
And in the morning, as light illuminates the canvas, the pleasure starts with unzipping the front flap of the tent and seeing the sun glinting on the water below.
Further plans include a hotel, along with villa- and marina-based accommodation to be developed in five to six stages over the next decade or so.
By 2030, the Bromages expect the hot springs to be operating as a net climate-positive facility.
Already water from the pools is being reused to irrigate the golf course at the neighbouring Metung Country Club, which is part of the hot springs complex.
To a backdrop of people enjoying a round of golf, we enjoyed our included breakfast of a platter of cereals and fruit and eggs, tomato and chorizo sausage on sourdough toast before reluctantly having to say goodbye to our lovely abode.
The newly opened Metung Hot Springs is one of the great experiences on the Victorian Bathing Trail - a 900-kilometre tourism route that connects hot springs, mineral springs and sea baths along the southern coastline.
Bathing experiences here start at $35 for one hour, with spa and wellness treatments also available at additional cost. Glamping accommodation starts at $550 a night and guests can choose from a number of inclusions at extra cost to enhance the experience.
Only 70 people are allowed into the hot springs at any one time, which means the pools are never crowded. Midweek and early morning you are likely to have a pool all to yourself.
Metung may be small but that is part of its charm. Despite its size, it has plenty of food and drink outlets such as the Hamptons-style Aroma Cafe, the Metung Cafe and Bakery, which offers a range of dumplings and banh-mi along with fresh bread. And of course there is the Metung Hotel, which arguably has one of the best waterfront positions of any hotel in the country.
The town is also the stuff of dreams for boating and fishing enthusiasts. With easy access boat ramps, jetties, mooring facilities, bait shops and boat charter, it enthusiastically caters to those wanting to get onto the water.
On the way from Melbourne, take a break at the Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale, which each year hosts some 20 exhibitions of local, national and international significance to complement its permanent collection.
But better still, put aside a few days to explore everything East Gippsland has to offer.
Metung Hot Springs, phone (03) 5141-2300 or click HERE
For more on what to do in the Gippsland region, click HERE
Sue Preston was a guest of Destination Gippsland and Metung Hot Springs.
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