Just behind the brand new new Port of Sale facility in Sale Gippsland, you will find a delightful piece of history moored at the dock waiting to take you on a magnificent journey down the Thomson River. The Rubeena will take you back in time as you glide through the water on your Port of Sale Heritage cruise down towards the Sale swing bridge.

This local treasure, The Rubeena, started its life at a time when WW1 was in full swing. Imagine what it would have been like to be a part of the era and riding The Rubeena as a life line to your home or to your business in the Gippsland area. You can do that as you sit and listen to the history this magnificent boat has seen.

Port Of Sale
The Rubeena, built-in 1912

The Heritage Cruise has quickly become a brilliant Sale tourist attraction and is something that can be enjoyed by the whole family throughout the year. The Rubeena and the Port of Sale Heritage Cruises are one of the only heritage river cruise companies that I know of in this area.

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As we approached The Rubeena, the skipper Alan was on board waiting for passengers to arrive for the 10 am river cruise from the Port of Sale. Alan really resembled a skipper in his vest with his grey hair and Captains hat. Alan joyfully welcomed us on board his fine vessel.

The Rubeena has been plying its trade of ferrying passengers constantly in the Gippsland area since 1912. The Rubeena has spent most of its life on the Gippsland Lakes in Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers area before making the Port of Sale its home a few years ago now. Once I found a seat and got comfortable we were ready to experience one of the finest heritage boats in the district!

Port of Sale Heritage Cruisers
The Rubeena cruising up the river

Chatting to Alan we discovered that Alan has spent most of his life in Sale and has a keen interest in local history. Alan was the town engineer in Sale Victoria for many years until the mid-1990s. I really liked chatting to Alan, it is like one of those experiences where your grandfather tells you stories of days gone by.

The Rubeena and the Pirt of Sale’s History

Alan told us about the boat, its history and the Port of Sale. The Port of Sale was man-made Gippsland Port to allow access from the region to Melbourne by water. Rivers were diverted, the soil was moved, swampland was reclaimed and bridges were built.  At this stage in the 1880s, there was no train access between Gippsland and Melbourne. The Port of Sale helped open up Gippsland to the rest of Victoria.

The Rubeena cruises down the Thomson River at 5 knots an hour, a nice steady pace that allows you to take in your surroundings. The banks of the Thomson River are filled with river gums, natives and sacred Aboriginal trees. Alan happily points out local wildlife such as Whistling Kites, Pelicans, Sea Eagles and Kingfishers just to name of few.

Koala’s everywhere on the Port of Sale Heritage Cruise

Port of Sale Heritage Cruisers
Looking contented in the river gum tree’s

For me, the real highlight was the Koala’s, Yes, Koala’s sitting high in their gum trees on the banks eating leaves and sleeping. No matter how many times you see this iconic Australian animal it is always an amazing experience.

In its natural habitat, the small grey bears are hard to spot in the big leafy gum trees. Alan told me he tries to come down to the river every day even if he has no passengers just to keep track of where the koalas are so he can point them out to passengers.

Port of Sale Heritage Cruisers
A koala having a Snooze

I was really impressed by Alan’s dedication as I didn’t realise we had so many Koalas in this area. As you can probably understand koalas are a highlight for Australian’s let alone, foreigners that the Port of Sale Heritage Cruise’s regularly has on board. Alan slows the boat so you can take pictures of the koala’s and I must admit I happily snapped away!

See the Heritage Listed Sale Swing Bridge

Port of Sale heritage Cruises
The canoe or Sacred tree used by the Koori people

The sacred Aboriginal trees still bear the scars of the Gunaikurnai tribe. The Gunaikurnai people are the Traditional Owners of the Gippsland Region. The Gunaikurnai people, removed lengths of bark from a tree for use to make bark canoes, shields, infant carriers, bowls and gunyahs (bark huts). As you approach the Heritage-listed Swing Bridge you will see a sculpture celebrating the creation story of Borun the Pelican & Tuk the Musk Duck.

‘A long time ago the first people were animals and the first Gunaikurnai Man was Borun (a Pelican) Borun came a long, long way from the hills, looking for a place to live, carrying a bark canoe on his head. He’s walking, walking and he hears tapping! Looks here, looks there, nothing! Where’s the tap, tap coming from? He comes to a river puts down the canoe and what’s inside? Tuk (a Musk duck). Borun sees Tuk, likes Tuk and they start the Gunaikurnai people.’

Port of Sale
A sculpture representing the Koori creation story at sale Swing Bridge

A truly unique bridge seen on Port of Sale Heritage Cruises

The Sale Swing Bridge remains only one of 6 ever built in Australia and one of 105 ever built worldwide. The Sale Swing Bridge was able to pivot, allowing boats to pass the bridge before returning to its original position for horse-drawn traffic and later cars to cross over it. The swing bridge still opens to this day a few times a year letting boats in and out.

Port of Sale
The Heritage-listed Swing Bridge

The Sale Swing Bridge played an important role in the development of Gippsland ports and was not closed to traffic until 2003. As much surveying of the surrounding area’s the best access to Gippsland was from the sea. This was by either through Port Albert, south of Sale, through the Gippsland Lakes or any other of the Gippsland ports.

Because of this Sale, Victoria became the transport hub of the Gippsland area. The construction of a direct land link to Melbourne by road or rail was stalled by the wetlands north of Western Port Bay.

When the railway was completed it competed for business with the Port of Sale for several decades. Like all things sooner or later the faster option always wins. The speed of the railway and later the roads eventually forced the closure of the Port of Sale in 1938.

Watch our short Video of Sale Swing Bridge

Port of Sale
Reflections off the Thomson River

A kilometre past the Sale Swing Bridge this heritage cruise line turns around near the environmentally significant Heart morass reserve. This is a local wetlands area that has a large range of native wildlife and is a great area for birdwatching.

We made our way back up the Thomson River. Alan has a number of books and photo’s onboard the boat for you to have a look at. These books are all about local history and many feature pictures from early last century.

Back past the bridge, back past the koala’s, back past the spot where the mighty Macalister River meets the Thomson and back to port at The Port of Sale. As far as heritage river cruises go The Port of Sale Heritage Cruise is unique in the Gippsland area being the only river cruise companies running tours at this end of the Gippsland Lakes.

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I for one very much enjoyed our 2-hours on the Port of Sale Heritage Cruise. It is a must for locals and visitors as it is one of the top things to do in Sale. The boat is sheltered by the banks of the river from the wind and blinds on the boat can be shut to keep the rain out.

This is a good all-weather experience I can not say enough good things about Captain Alan. His knowledge is second to none when it comes to the Port of Sale and this section of the Thomson River. It makes the cruise just so much better when you have a local let you in on all the secrets of where we live!

Port of Sale
Just because one can really not have enough Koala pictures in any article!

Daily Departures: 10 am and 2 pm     

Cruise Duration: 1.5 hours

Cost: $20 adults

$15 Children (under 15 years of age)

$80 Family of 5

We hope you take time to explore the newly developed Port of Sale precinct. You will find a new building featuring the Gippsland Art Gallery, Sale Visitor Information Centre, The Wedge Performing Arts Centre plus food and drinks options.

Please find 2 more articles from Travels in Gippsland below for your reading enjoyment. Just click on the description to read.

Port of Sale Heritage Cruises are fast becoming one of Gippsland's best attractions Cruise | Heritage | Port Of Sale | Gippsland | Gippsland Victoria | Gippsland Victoria Australia | Gippsland attractions | things to do in Gippsland | via @wyldfamtravel