Right behind is “The Back House”, where Byrne and his siblings used to sleep. This too has a beach house feel, with a pool table and nautical bric-a-brac.
Flanking The Back House are adjoining wings: a pair of cozy and comfortable apartments (originally fishermen’s houses) to the right; the old kitchen house on the left. An adult hideaway built by David’s parents, the latter features a wide veranda overlooking the pool, a dining table for 16 and a commercial-style kitchen with pantry, walk-in cool room and vegetable garden.
Everywhere, shelves, mantels and walls are full of eclectic trinkets, artifacts and works of art that Byrne’s parents collected during their travels. Among them are model ships fashioned by David’s mother after her husband’s yachts (James Byrne represented Australia at the Montreal Olympics in 1976).
Over dinner, Byrne tells us about his carefree childhood here – building rafts, sailing the lakes and lagoon, and surf fishing for gummy sharks. “We would go any direction we wanted – we had quite a long leash,” he recalls.
That’s why people have ventured to this corner of the world for generations – to get lost in the romance of the great outdoors. From the start, the original owners, the Bartons, operated rowboats and yachts for picnics on the water and pleasure cruises.
We have our own little taste of adventure the next morning when we canoe out to the lake, gliding over the serene waters past pelicans and swans. The Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park is a network of protected lagoons, renowned for its fishing (for recreational permit holders), scenic picnic areas and numerous hiking trails.
Later, I climb the four flights of stairs to the lookout tower for a spectacular 360-degree panorama of the back lakes (including the narrow, tricky channel our ship navigated to get here), the ocean, the scrub and salt marshes, and the peaks of about two dozen vacation homes lining the shore of Ocean Grange Lake.
Ninety Mile Beach, a short distance from the farm through hummocks and sheltering dunes, is empty and breezy – an endless sliver of sand silhouetted against vast ocean-filled horizons.
The Byrnes took the reins here six years ago, after the death of David’s mother, to turn the farm into a resort. “Renting it out was a way to keep it in the family,” he admits.
More recently, after buying out David’s siblings, the couple see the business begin a new chapter, offering them and their young daughter, Andie, a lifestyle change. “During the pandemic, we really fell in love with what we were doing,” says Tia.
They have also been freed up to invest in the property, installing solar power and new plumbing and roofing. Tia worked with Melbourne interior designer Barb Brownlow to add lavish new furniture, crockery and crockery. A collection of shells from Lakes Entrance were introduced to decorate the rooms.
David learned to abseil to be able to repaint the tower, which has special memories: it was there that he proposed to Tia.
The couple plan to broaden the appeal of Ocean Grange by pitching it to businesses as a corporate retreat. “We want [make the shift] gently,” David said. “We don’t want to put a big convention center in the back, but that might mean a few extra bathrooms.”
Last year, they hosted a sold-out lunch series with Sardine Dining in Paynesville. They are planning a rehearsal this year, as well as workshops with other local vendors.
Homestead guests receive a “Sardine” welcome pack full of treats from local vendors. We went one better, sampling chef-owner Mark Briggs’ fish tasting menu at the restaurant. This allowed us to discover Sardine Cantina, the new wine bar he and his wife Victoria have opened next door.
Longer term, the Byrnes plan to extend the farmhouse terrace to create a fire pit with stadium seating, convert a shed into a yoga studio, and arrange seaplanes and helicopters to ferry guests to and from Melbourne.
“At the end of the day, we want to leave a home that’s better than when we found it,” says David. “It’s a special place.”
The writer stayed on as a guest of Ocean Grange Homestead and East Gippsland Marketing.
Ocean Grange Homestead, $1490 per night for groups of 10, plus $140 for each additional guest, see oceangrange.com.au
Private Chef Michelle Boyle, Daily rate of $700 plus food costs, see mbpc.com.au
Sardine canteen, 69 Esplanade, Paynesville, see sardinedining.com.au
H²O visits & Adventures, to see h²otoursandadventures.com.au
Lake Entry Helicopters, to see lakesentrancehelicopters.com.au