So you’ve decided you’re ready for an epic road trip that is beyond the usual weekend escapes, and you’re keen for a real adventure into the somewhat unknown. But where to go? Yes, you could hit one of the many lush green national parks that surround Sydney. Or, if you’re looking for an extra special and incredibly unique location that is most certainly away from the crowds, then look no further than one crazy adventure road trip to the ancient Mungo National Park.
Why Mungo National Park?
Mungo National Park is so unlike anywhere else in Australia you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived on Mars. The must-see spots are located on the outskirts of the waterless and ancient Mungo Lake that sits within the national park and is part of the greater Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area. The lake has actually not contained water for around 18,000 years. Needless to say, leave the swimsuit and inflatable flamingos at home for this one.
The park is home to Mungo Lady (also called Mungo Woman) and Mungo Man, which are likely to be the most significant human remains ever discovered in Australia. At 42,000 years old, these burials are some of the oldest remains of modern humans and are some of the oldest remains of modern humans found outside of Africa. You can’t help but feel the Aboriginal culture and history as you wander the open expanses.
Mungo Lady and Mungo Man are particularly special to their Aboriginal descendants who still live around the Willandra Lakes area. Today the three traditional owner groups the Paakantji,Ngiyampaa and Mutthi Mutthi share their Country with visitors of Mungo National Park.
Remote enough to give any adventurer a sense of escape the park is also family-friendly and filled with plenty of activities. Whilst the masses are fighting for the perfect autumn leaves shot, you could visit the park and be rewarded with mild temperatures and silence like you can only dream of. You know those incredible Australian red earthy colours you’ve seen on travel shows? Yep, you’ll find those here. Australia has some of the most diverse and unique wildlife in the world. You’ll see a lot of them hopping, running and flying about. Did someone mention emu crossings? The photographic opportunities here are endless. Guaranteed to be unlike anything your family and friends have ever seen. Read on for the best spots.
The idea of exploring the NSW outback doesn’t have to be a daunting one. With a little preparation and careful planning, the experiences you get will be priceless.
Remember: always tell a family member or friends of your intentions, general travel route and when you are due back
Mungo National Park is located in far western New South Wales and is a 1000km drive from Sydney, depending on which route you take. Grab a couple of like-minded friends to share the drive with, and watch as the scenery changes from city to forest to farmland to endless expanses. Why not break up the drive from Sydney and stop a night in Wagga Wagga before departing early the next morning for the park.
The easiest route from Sydney is to take the M31 and turn off onto the A20 Sturt Highway. Take the highway through to Wagga Wagga where you can stay the night, or continue along the A20 an extra 4 hrs until you reach Balranald. This is a good spot to refuel before heading along Ivanhoe Road for 53km. Make a left turn after Box Creek Bridge and follow the sand and dirt road until you reach the park, which is a 2hr drive from Balranald.
Ranger Tip: After heavy rain, roads can be flooded. Always check the weather forecasts and give the park a call to check conditions. When the road is open, a standard 2WD car will suffice. If the road is closed due to rain or fire, it’s closed to all vehicles.
What You’ll Need
It’s super important to bring absolutely everything with you, as there is nowhere to purchase supplies, fuel or car parts for over 110km. For more information, you can check out this handy guide to Outback Safety and these top Outback tips.
Things to note:
- Make sure that spare tyre of yours is fully pumped and in good working order, you just never know.
- Bring a topographic map and compass. Download the NPWS app for your offline maps before you go.
- The nearest fuel station is 110km from the national park in Buronga or Mildura
- It can be sweltering in the outback, plan your stay for the cooler months May – August if you don’t like the heat.
- Bring plenty of water. There are a handful of rainwater tanks scattered around the park for you to boil, but don’t rely on these for your source of water.
- There is no mobile reception out here. If you must make a call, the visitor centre has a public payphone.
- After checking if there are any fire bans in place, fire up your gas cooker or use one of the many gas and electric BBQ facilities at the main campground.
- Remember the park is unique in so many ways, take all your rubbish and dispose of it accordingly to keep it looking special for years to come. Leave no trace.
Where to sleep
No road trip would be complete without some true bush camping. Lucky for you the park has a good selection of choices when it comes to accommodation. These range from your choice of a patch of dirt at the grassroots Belah campground through to the full bed and kitchen facilities at the Mungo Shearers’ Quarters.
Make your first night at the Main campground where you’ll find 33 campsites that accomodate tents, campers and caravans. Some sites feature picnic tables, small shelters and woodfire barbeques. Best thing is, if you’re feeling like you need some more creature comforts, there are hot showers and flush toilets just down the road at the visitor centre.
Half way along the 70km Mungo track you’ll find 12 secluded campsites with a handful of picnic tables and drop toilets that make up the Belah campground, a true outback experience.
Tip: During the Easter break the Main and Belah campgrounds fill up quickly; it’s a first-come, first -serve basis so don’t miss out.
Be here for the break of dawn
You’ve gathered your friends and headed out to the park, now what do you do? Well it would be rude to travel so far and not get up for at least one sunrise. After all, the colour that’s cast by a rising sun on red earth is magical and can hardly be replicated in other places.
Whilst you may be tempted to opt for the Walls of China lookout, the Red Top Lookout sits much higher up the ridgeline and will be your best chance of capturing the light upon unique landforms. Remember to stick to the boardwalk here, as the area is delicate and culturally significant to the local Aboriginal People.
Learn, hike, bike and drive. These top activities will fill up your day.
You don’t come to an outback national park to climb mountains or frolick in the water. You come here for a truly unique experience filled with modern and ancient history, endless red dirt plains, and some great car and biking trails.
Gain further insight into the world’s oldest human cremation discovered at the park and marvel at tales of 20,000 year old human footprints that have been preserved through time at this incredible World Heritage site. Head along to a special Mungo walk the Walls of China walking tour with an NPWS Aboriginal guide. Tours run at different times of the day, depending on the season.
For a leisurely and informative walk grab a free map from the Mungo Visitors Centre, slap on some sunscreen, fill up the water bottle and head off along the Foreshore walk which is a 45min to 1hr 15min wander through stunning sand dunes and grassy open woodlands. Look out for the Major Mitchell’s cockatoo that occurs only in Australia and inhabits the dry woodlands of the area.
Why not warm up the old legs and tackle one of two cycle loops that the park is well known for. The first being the easiest but no less awesome, Zanci Pastoral Loop. This 10km loop meanders through an expansive desertscape filled with dunes and weathered disused sheds, once home to the old settlers that lived in the area. Keen to feel the burn? Why not set off on the full 70km Mungo Track loop that runs around the park. Begin this ride / drive from the Mungo Visitors Centre and make your way towards the Red Top lookout and boardwalk. Onwards from here the road becomes one-way and you will encounter some tricky sand patches to test your balance. Both loops can be done from the comfort of your air conditioned car should you choose the quicker and more luxurious mode of transport.
Tip: Remember to pack plenty of water, maps, BYO bike and a tube repair kit.
End your day at this incredible spot
Whether you are a supplier of epic landscape photos or simply a person that appreciates raw beauty, a sunset Walls of China guided tour with a NPWS tour operating partner (info on these via Mildura or Balranald visitor centres) cannot be missed. Simply put, this is the only area in the main section of the park where you can walk amongst the Walls themselves. Pair that with some incredible local knowledge of the area and you’re in for a real treat.
This spot will leave you with a greater understanding of why Mungo is so special, rich with its Aboriginal culture and history and how the ancient Willandra Lakes became one of the most important places in Australia. This dry bed of Lake Mungo, once filled with water has spectacular formations called ‘lunettes’ which are thick layers of sand and clay; formed over many, many years with wind and water carved ridges that characterises the Walls of China. These lunettes are the natural record of how the climate, waters and landforms have changed over the last 100,00 years and more. With sunset views across the entire lake bed, the lunettes provide endless photographic opportunities
Did you know: Four major layers of sediment form the Mungo lunette, and each represents a different period of time and different environmental condition.The layers have been named after the local pastoral stations Golgol, Mungo, Arumpo and Zanci, and were deposited in that order.
For those budget conscious explorers, head up to the Walls of China viewing platform where you will be gifted with the amazing desert glow that’s painted across the walls features.
Fancy some epic dune action?
Move over Stockton, there’s a new dune in town. There are very few places in NSW where you can find enormous windblown sand dunes, and even fewer that allow you to walk along them.
Vigars Well is the one place in the park where you will truly feel like you are in another world. You’ll find an abundance of wildlife here, all converging at the wells for a much needed thirst quencher. Pink cockatoos, kangaroos and emus to name a few all frequent here. As long as you respect the wildlife and keep your movements slow, the animals will go about their daily business less than 5m away from you.
Remember: whilst the animals are cute and sometimes keen to interact with you, feeding them promotes scavenging and may make them aggressive, so #dontfeedit
There’s no other place in the park where you can witness sunrise and sunset from the same location and it’s pretty much impossible to take a bad picture here. It’s that picturesque. You may choose to drive one way of the Mungo self-guided drive tour for sunset and head back to the Main campground. Alternatively, camp the night at the secluded Belah campground, don your walking shoes and set off on the roughly 11km track out to Vigars Well or head back for sunrise, you’ll be almost guaranteed to have the place to yourself.