When last we saw our happy campers, they were leaving the Broken Hill area for Mungo National Park, with a stopover at Menindee Lakes. With the last of their assets sold and converted to cash, they are unencumbered and debt-free.
They have now travelled over 3000 kilometres.
Our “quick stopover” in Menindee ended up being three days, because we scored THE best camping spot in Menindee. Seriously, half a dozen people a day drove up to “our end” to see if the spot was taken. Ha! It was.
It was a locally-known fishing spot but, ignorant of all the fish waiting to be caught, we were drawn there because of the magnificent scenery and photographic opportunities. (One day, we really should learn to fish.)
Anyway, that’s how we met Rob–he was fishing with some friends and wandered over to say G’day. He and Leonie have been touring Australia for 10 years between layovers at “home” in Wagga. We caught up with them later at the famous Sunset Strip community, where they were staying with friends.
“Sunset Strip,” NSW, sits on the northern shore of Lake Menindee (100 kilometres east of Broken Hill) and when the lake is full, the residents get water views all the way to the horizon.
There are about 100 dwellings, built as only Australian holiday shacks can be – devoid of aesthetics but oozing utilitarian charm. A lot of the corrugated iron, concrete, bricks and fibro were “borrowed” from the Broken Hill mines.
It is a very interesting “town” with a strong sense of community (on the weekends), a golf course and a Post Office which is open for 15 minutes a day. Most of the houses are shacks, but some of them are very fancy homes, built on the shore of a vast shallow lake, which is sometimes drained into the lower Darling River, leaving Sunset Strip a dusty wasteland of deserted dwellings.
As there is currently no water in the lake, only about 10% of the residents were around, but we caught up with Rob and Leonie out on “The Strip” and stopped for a bit of a chin-wag.
We had a lovely 3 days at our magical spot (I know, I say that about all of them.). We were on Lake Pamamaroo (say Puh-MAM-uh-ROO) which did have some water in it, but only a thin layer which was visibly receding more each day. When we arrived, there was a handful and a half of pelicans, a black swan a-swimming, some gorgeous Shell Ducks and a couple of Spoonbills (my favourite), but by the time we left, most of them had flown the coop for wetter venues.
The receding waters had an effect on the diminishing number of Pellys, as well. They spent the bulk of the day sitting on the shore with their heads tucked under a wing. When they did deign to flop into the water they didn’t even try to fish, just floated around looking depressed. Or bored.
I pointed out to them that the Darling River was just over There, and that they had wings and everything, but I don’t know if they ‘got’ what I was saying. Maybe they did; by the third day, they were all gone, along with the Spoonies, the swan and the ducks.
Despite the Disappearing Ducks, we had marvellous fun exploring the surrounding area. It’s been brilliant having time to investigate all the weird and wonderful flora and fauna, without that leftover feeling of: “we will just have to do that on our next visit.”
Finally, it was time to move on. Rod was keen to go to Mungo Lake, but I was very nervous about the predicted high temperatures. Despite the name, there is no water anywhere near there, and when it’s hot in the outback, and there is no water available for the insects, they tend to want to suck it out of any available nostril, mouth or tear-duct they can find. It quickly becomes a battle, and they have the numbers, the bastards. I do have a secret weapon, but it’s only just enough to keep me out of the funny farm.
We thought we would see if we could find a shady site and stay until it got too hot, then head for the Murray River. We stopped off at Pooncarie to have a look at the free campground there, and decided to stay the night! Aren’t we wild and impulsive creatures!? It was a hot afternoon, the Darling River was Right There, so I pumped up the LiLo and paddled around in the Darling to cool off before dinner time.
It was a really nice little campground, with toilets and coin-operated showers, even some powered sites. But, despite all that loveliness, we only stayed for one night, in our desire to get to Mungo before the really hot days arrived.
The drive through ancient dry lake beds was mesmerising. Like being at the top of a roller coaster and seeing the track fall away into what was once a huge expanse of water. The landscape changes dramatically as you go down into the lake bed and then back on to the opposite shore—it is hypnotic. So hypnotic, we both forgot to take any photos!
It is not hard to imagine the lush abundance of plants and animals when the lakes were full, thousands of years ago. From at least 50,000 years ago, indigenous communities called the area home; hunting, fishing, healing, eating, falling in love, celebrating, dying. The most ancient evidence of ritual burial in the world was found here in 1969, dating back 40,000 years ago. There is magic in Mungo.
It was stinking hot (35ºC)when we rolled in to the Main Camp. There was no shade, and surprisingly around 6 or 7 groups already there. From our visit last year, we knew there was another campground halfway around “the loop,” so we crossed our fingers and headed off. Again, the drive was just spectacular, I really highly recommend this experience.
We found the Belah campground devoid of humans and shaded by She-Oaks. It was mid-afternoon, there was a slight breeze sshhhh-ing through the trees, so we set up camp, treated ourselves to a celebratory beer and prepared for an excursion to the lunette for some trompsing around and sunset photography.
(I have had to stop pinching myself, it’s tricky trying to explain all the bruises.)
The next morning, Rod made a solo excursion to the Walls of China, on the other side of the lunette, to take some sunrise photos. It was 0’dark-thirty, so I did the sensible thing and stayed in bed.
After brekky, we slowly packed up, drove to the Visitor Centre and had a shower in a trickle of hot/cold/hot/cold water (perhaps a passive/aggressive water-saving strategy?), then headed off, bound for Victoria!
We crossed the “Mighty Murray” River, which is the border of Victoria and New South Wales, at Robinvale. After passing their mean Tourist Test (following the “tourist drive” sign to a dead end and having to reverse the Wombat a hundred metres), we found a nice shady spot to have lunch before locating our next magical spot on the banks of the Murray River at Boundary Bend, in the Nerrang state forest.
Now it was getting seriously hot, so it was especially wonderful to discover that we were in a very secluded and shady spot which had a sandbar leading into the river. Most of the riverbed is comprised of gloopy, slippery mud/glue and an assortment of footwear formerly belonging to the unaware. (Mostly thongs, which are un-retrievable once they get sucked off your foot.)
I felt as though I never wanted to leave there, but we did for some reason. Itchy feet? Running out of wine? Whatever the reason, we ended up only a little bit further on, in Nyah. where we got lunch and a few supplies before finding another lovely bush camping spot in the Nyah-Vinifera State Forest. The heat had me a bit agitated, and there was no lovely sandy beach, so Rod dumped a bucket of river water over my head, and calm was restored. I have promised to do the same for him one day.
The next day, we wandered back into Nyah, where we met Pasquale, an Italian geologist come pizza-maker, who, 22 years earlier, bought and restored an abandoned car dealership and turned it into the Nyah Pizza (and Petrol) shop. “The only licensed petrol station in Victoria,” we learned in a pleasant hour-and-a-half spent in his chatty (and air-conditioned) company. The pizza was very nice, but Rod says mine is better.
When we took off again, the plan was to check out Swan Hill, the biggest town (pop. around 10,000) we have encountered since Broken Hill. Amongst other things, was an Aldi and a Laundromat. There was also Market Day, which was some sort of weird shopping frenzy.. Everyone and their neighbours, their dogs and their neighbours’ dogs were out and about in the main street, in their best outfits, It was cute, but way too frenetic for us.
Anyway, we completed our chores, took the obligatory photo with the Giant Murray Cod (luckily there was a sign, or we might have missed it.) and got the hell outta there!
We were looking forward to checking out the 57 lakes between Swan Hill and Kerrang, but, owing to some conflicting and confusing Intel, we did not find any suitable accessible lake with water in it. So we decided to leg it to Gunbower Island, even though it was getting a bit late.
It was a bit disappointing missing out on the lake experience, but not half as upsetting as it would have been if we had not been rescued on our way to Australia’s largest inland island.
All along the Murray River, humans have been manipulating and harnassing the river for 200 years, with the use of weirs and dams and regulators, supplying water for irrigation, domestic households for over 1.25 million people, and more recently, to flood wetlands in an attempt to rebalance the damage done by years of “management” and the changing climate.
As you can imagine, this is a very contentious issue, with the conflicting needs of a wide variety of stakeholders over the 2500 kilometres of riparian environment. There is a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”
Anyway, back to our travellers: We had started down the main track to Gunbower Island camping area, when this young man in a ute comes barrelling up dramatically from behind to warn us off going any further. The wetlands were being flooded and this track, the main track, which had no warning signs, was cut off ahead. With nowhere to turn our van around, we would have been reversing all night to extricate ourselves. This nice local lad showed us the only accessible track in (there were hundreds of them). Apparently, he had spotted us driving past while talking to a friend, and leapt to our rescue before we got ourselves into trouble. We really would have been in trouble without his help—and we never even got his name!
We didn’t get the prime spot, Halfway Bend, as it was taken by a group of fishing enthusiasts, but we got another wonderful shady site nearby and set up house.
Apart from the wind nearly blowing our new tent (we were testing out our Aldi tent) into the Murray, we had great fun checking out the twin towns of Koondrook-Barham and the Gunbower Canoe trail, where we found a spot out of the wind had a little picnic and were finally able to fold up the tent. One day, we will come back and stay at Gunbower Creek and paddle down the canoe trail.
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