Murray-Sunset Mallee Country
Leaving Underbool I head west along the Mallee highway towards Linga. A short drive and I crossed the railroad and hit the gravel road heading north in to Pink Lakes. These are a famous feature of Murray-Sunset national park, with a pretty interesting history.
Lakes Hardy and Crosbie were two along the main road in. Despite being overcast, the surfaces of the lakes emitted a pinkish hue.. not as grand as I would have thought but would probably be more impressive under good lighting. The pink colouration is a result of bacteria which live in these salt lakes.
Salt lakes?.. yes, filled with salt, so much so that the area was mined for salt during the turn of last century well up to the 1970’s. During summer the lakes dry out and a thick crust of pure salt forms on the surface. Men would take to it with picks and shovels, filling bags then pack horsing or camel training the salt out to Underbool for distribution. With later technological advances machinery was employed increasing productivity. An old stockpile of salt and remains of machinery are viewable at the “salt museum”. I had a lick of the giant 2 metre high by 20 metre long stockpile.. it tasted good. Nicely aged for 40 years in the sun. It had solidified into one giant lump.
A major campsite exists at Lake Crosbie with several camper trailers set up along its shore. I took a track heading in to the park and saw a sign for Mt Jess. This track followed the park boundary with wilderness on one side and grain grassland on the other as far as I could see. A stark contrast. What the early pioneers went through to clear the land is almost unimaginable. Bearing in mind the area is ultimately sand and difficult to imagine how the land could produce crops being naturally so lacking in nutrients. Mount Jess provided a short 900m walk up hill in sand to the lookout. Much harder going up then coming down. The lookout had 360 degree views of the surrounding landscape. I felt like the outback had begun.
I continued along till Mount Crozier camping area, doing a short walk up to Mount Crozier. Nothing much to see but loads of feral goat prints in the sand.
It was still early and didn’t feel like setting up camp, so continued on the well formed sandy tracks till I reached Underbool track camping area. A very basic camp with no facilities but peace and quiet. I spent 2 nights there seeing 3 cars pass on my second day. I got busy cleaning stripping out and sorting through all my gear, deciding to ship back home any gear I haven’t used in 5 months to save weight and reduce clutter.
Continuing through Murray-Sunset I took the Sunset Track west and then headed north once I reached the intersection with the Border Track. The landscape is all Mallee as far as I could see. The drive I would like to say was interesting, but a distinct lack in vegetation diversity made the drive predictable. Mallee though does have its own beauty.
Rock Holes was one of only a couple features listed on the park map, so eagerly visited. With a little searching the area I found it was basically a long stretch of rock in a Mallee covered desert landscape. This in itself was significant, being the first rock I had seen since entering the park. There was one large waterhole in the rock though 1 metre deep and wide filled with freshwater. In a park with so few freshwater supplies this area surely was important to the Aboriginal peoples who lived here. Animal tracks abounded the area, and the pond was a hive of activity for bees, wasps and mosquitoes eager to get a drink.
From Rock Holes I took Pheenys Track to the camping area staying another 2 nights in solitude. I did have a lone Emu come close to camp to visit before racing off once it realised a human was nearby. Each morning I was woken by a small troop of Magpies who took advantage of the dew that formed on my bonnet mounted tyre each morning, forming a small fresh water pool. After their drink they scouted the area for available food. There was a distinct lack of insects, possibly due to the dryness of the region.
My final day I paid a visit to the Shearers Quarters, a remnant of the areas pastoral history. The surrounding land had been cleared and heavily grazed. Old dams lay empty along with water tanks. The Shearers quarters is available for hire as accommodation if the nearby campgrounds are too basic for your tastes.
Heading East I drive the Miners Track, which was a fairly unused narrow track for the first 15km. A nice change from the 3 car width track typical in Murray-Sunset. Before I left the park and headed in to Mildura I took a screwdriver to my wheel arches and underbelly removing a decent bucket load of dried sand and mud. A car wash in Mildura was put to good use to complete the job.
Murray-sunset is the largest national park in Victoria at 677000 hectares, and is a great place to get away from it all for solitude. Since leaving the Pink Lakes,other than the 3 cars passing my camp on the second night I didn’t see any other car or person during my 5 days. Only emu and white feral goats. I would rate the 4wdriving as easy (during dry weather) with only a few deep sandy sections. You will need to take plenty of fresh water as there is nothing in the park other than the occasional muddy puddle in the middle of tracks.