Just behind the brand 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.
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.
The history of The Rubeena
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 lifeline to your home or to your business in the Gippsland area. You are able to do this as you sit and listen to the history this magnificent boat has seen.
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 it’s home a few years ago now.
Where do we board the Rubeena?
The Rubeena is moored at the Port of Sale. There will be signs for you to follow to find your way to the boat for your cruise time.
As you approach The Rubeena, the skipper Alan will be on board waiting for passengers to arrive. Alan really resembles a skipper in his vest with his grey hair and a Captain’s hat. Alan joyfully welcomed us on board his fine vessel.
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.
The Port 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.
How fast does the Rubeena go?
The Rubeena cruises down the Thomson River at 5 knots an hour, a nice steady pace that allows you to take in your surroundings.
What times does The Rubeena cruise the Thomson River?
You will find the Rubeena ready to glide down the river with you on board at 10.00 am and 2.00 pm daily.
If you have a large group and would like a private tour outside of these times you can contact the staff at the Rubeena to organise this. The website is Sale Heritage Cruises
How long is a Port of Sale heritage cruise?
The total journey time is roughly 1 and a half to 2 hours duration.
How much does a Port of Sale Heritage Cruise cost?
There are different prices for the family. If you are booking for a large group please contact the team at Sale Heritage Cruises to discuss this with them.
|Children under 15||$15|
|Family (2 adults, 3 kids)||$80|
What will I see during my Thomson River Cruise?
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
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 aboard the Rubeena just to keep track of where the koalas are so he can point them out to passengers.
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 trees used by Aboriginal people to craft items
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.’
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.
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.
The Heart Morass Reserve
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 in Gippsland.
After we spent some time looking out for some native birds we made our way back up the Thomson River. Alan has a number of books and photo’s on board the boat for you to have a look at. These books are all about local history and many feature pictures from early last century.
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.
Some frequently asked questions about the Rubeena
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the port of sale Heritage cruise and what you should know before you board the boat.
Are there toilets on board?
There are no toilets on board the Rubeena but there are public toilets located at the Port of Sale where you start and finish your journey.
Can you buy food and drink on board?
Light refreshments are included in the price of your tickets but if you have dietary requirements or allergies you should make sure you have some of your prefered snacks with you or make sure you have made it known when you are booking your ticket.
Does the Rubeena run all year round?
This is a good all-weather experience although you may have a better view of the animals that live on the banks during the warmer months.
Did we enjoy our Thomson River Heritage Cruise?
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.
Do you need accommodation in Sale?
If you are staying in Sale for a few days during your Travels in Gippsland this will help you find the perfect accommodation for you.
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.
We hope this article from us here at Travels in Gippsland has you inspired to visit Sale. For more amazing ideas on where to holiday in Gippsland click through to our Gippsland Attractions page for more brilliant Gippsland inspiration.
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About the Author
Mark has grown up and lived in the Gippsland area all his life. “I think I know a thing or 2 about Gippsland”. When Mark is not working he is out exploring the best of Gippsland with his wife and kids