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Published May 5th 2015
Closest thing to walking on the moon
Lake Mungo is one of the Outback's most famous treasures. Thousands of years of sun, wind and rain have etched this ancient landscape where the 30km long "Walls of China" are a must-see. The tourist brochures describe it as a stark, silent place with a surreal beauty that is difficult to encapsulate in words. On a recent trip to Mildura, we went for a drive to Mungo to see what it was all about.
The Mungo National Park is one of Australia's most important archaeological sites wherein exists an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Aboriginal people whose connection with the land stretches back over 40,000 years. Located 110km northeast of Mildura, visitors are immediately blown away by the vastness of the land, its exceptional heritage and continuing importance. Mungo National Park is within the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area which is one of the few listings in Australia for both natural and cultural features.
First stop upon arriving at Mungo is the Visitor Centre where there is information about all aspects of the park including the 70km self-guided tour. A small National Parks fee is payable depending upon the length of your stay in the Park. Adjacent to the Visitor Centre is the Mungo meeting place, an area for the three local traditional tribal groups to gather as a community and to share their knowledge of the country with visitors to Mungo.
Alongside the Visitor Centre is the Mungo Woolshed and stock yards. Constructed of locally cut Cypress Pine in 1869, the Woolshed is unique in style due to its drop-log wall construction, but has shown that it has been able to stand the test of time. Some early machinery and crutching / shearing / dipping equipment within the Woolshed provide a fascinating insight as to the operation of pastoral stations during the last century.
Back in the car and entering the Park itself, we travel across the vast lake known as Lake Mungo. Archaeologists estimate that this lake last had significant levels of water in it around 15,000 years ago, with peak levels occurring some 40,000 years ago. Now covered in saltbush there is little evidence today to suggest that this lake ever had water in it - that is until one reaches the 30km long sand dunes known as the Walls of China.
The Walls of China provide a stunning insight in to one of the more astonishing features of Mungo National Park, that being the lunette. Time and erosion has sculptured the layers of sand and silt deposited over tens of thousands of years, creating a majestic lunar landscape. The pink soils at the base of the lunette are estimated at 100,000 years old, while the brownish cream sands are around 50,000 years old, and the grey clays that top the lunette are around 30,000 years old.
The road heads south and takes us past the now-dry Red Top Tank which is one of many tanks built when Mungo was a pastoral property. Rounding a corner we now reach the southern most stretch of the Walls of China wherein lies an opportunity for a closer inspection and review of the lunettes and the lunar landscape.
Crossing the Walls, the drive heads through mallee country on the eastern side where the vastness and emptiness of our Australian country is observed. We pass some active picnic spots and campsites, while also passing the now derelict Allen's Plain Hut, which tumbled down after being undermined by rabbits during the rabbit plague in the mid 20th Century.
Vigars Well is an old watering hole at the base of a mountain of soft sand dunes, which provide fantastic views and great opportunities to excite and tire kids as they climb to the top. The barrenness from the top is stark, but it is the fine sand between the toes that gets the mind focussed on the enormity of this inland lake.
Around the northern end of the Walls, the Zanci Homestead appears in the distance. This Homestead is where the owners built a dugout to avoid the searing heat of summer, and is now a day use area with a campsite for visitors. A final stop at the Mungo Lookout, just beyond the Mungo Camp, provides a great way to end the tour and to appreciate the sheer size of the lake and get a feel for how it might have looked all those years ago.
Mungo can be enjoyed as a day trip or you can take time to immerse yourself in this semi arid landscape by staying at one of two campgrounds or in the Mungo Shearers' Quarters. The drive to Mungo from Mildura is about 20km on sealed road and 90km on good quality gravel roads. A 2wd car is suitable for traversing the self guided tour, however any detours off the main gravel roads would require 4wd. It is advisable to check road conditions on 5027 5040 before you leave as any light rain has the potential to alter the gravel / dust road surfaces considerably.