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Compared to any other national park in the outback, nothing is ever comparable to Mungo National Park, and arguably, even Uluru. Located in the southern parts of the outback in New South Wales, the park is part of the Willandra Lakes region; a UNESCO mixed world heritage site – and one of only four in Australia, home to some of the world's oldest remains of modern human bodies outside Africa as well as the world's oldest cremated body; Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, making this place both naturally and culturally significant.

The main lake in the park; Lake Mungo was earlier under the sea, around five million years ago. But as time went, the sand has been eroded by wind and rain to create the much unique formations, including the Walls of China, giving the unusual but extraordinary and impressive look that the park has.

Understand[edit]

The dunes in Lake Mungo
The landscape of the Walls of China

There's two main parts of the park you'll need to know. The western side of the park is where the visitor information centre is, and where most of the facilities are. Apart from one campsite, all other accomodation are on this side. The eastern side of the park is where most of the views of the Walls of China are. And while it can certainly be seen in the western side, the eastern side is much a better spot to see the walls and a better photographing side hence why most lookouts are on the eastern side, not the western side.

History[edit]

Evidence suggests that civilization has existed in Mungo National Park for at least 42,000 years as evidence suggests that Mungo Man is about 30,000 years old, while Mungo Lady is about 40,000 years old, making this area home to some of the world's oldest modern human bodies outside Africa. Hence it was recognised as such, and on September 9, 1983, the entire Willandra Lakes Region was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The park was acquired for the National Reserve System in 1979 by the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife, who fundraised the $101,000 required to purchase the property. The Foundation also funded a resident archaeologist to work on the site from 1979 to 1983. With funds donated by Dick Smith, the Foundation established the Mungo Visitors Centre and Laboratory in 1983. With further sponsorship from BHP (an Australian mining company), the Foundation implemented the Mungo National Park 70 km long guided vehicle drive in 1990. As of 2010, the Foundation put together a prospectus to create a new Centre at Mungo for education and research.

Meanwhile, Lake Mungo (or Mungo Lake), the main lake in the park, is what's now the dry lake, sediments have been deposited here for over 120,000 years which slowly helped form what's now known as the "Walls of China", and was particularly prominent since the several thousand years ago when the lake dried up. However, ever since European colonisation, introduced species have destroyed much of the vegetation, but on the flip side to that, it can be attributed to how Mungo Man and Mungo Lady were found.

While it may come as a disappointment for some, both the bodies of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady cannot be visited nor seen by visitors. While Mungo Lady was returned to the traditional lands in 1992, a special keeping place for her has not yet been constructed hence she's locked up in a safe and similarly, Mungo Man has now been returned to his country, but before 2018, he remained in the Australian National University for research purposes. However, just like Mungo Lady, Mungo Man also has no keeping place constructed for him yet.

Landscape[edit]

The central feature of Mungo National Park; Lake Mungo is the second largest of all ancient dry lakes, and the park has been noted for its archaeological remains discovered in the park. The remains of Mungo Man, the oldest human remains discovered in Australia, and Mungo Lady, the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated, were both discovered in the park. Both were buried on the shore of Lake Mungo, beneath the "Walls of China", a series of lunettes on the southeastern edge of the lake. Apart from the lake, much of it is just a flat dry area, with the typical outback scene.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Emus seen in the park

Twenty species of mammals have been recorded, of which bats are the most diverse group and there's around forty species of reptiles and amphibians and 137 recorded species of bird life including parrots, cockatoos and finches.

However, in general, the most common wildlife you'll be seeing are kangaroos and emus. You may also see echidnas as well, although you may have to search for them, but the chances of seeing a kangaroo or an emu is almost certain.

But while you may have heard some stereotypes about these being deadly or scary, in actual fact, there's nothing to be worried about. They do no harm to you, they'll only harm you if you choose to harm them. So just leave them alone, and you'll be just fine.

Sometimes during a hot day, particularly in summer, it's not uncommon to see a kangaroo or any other wildlife hide out or trying to take shelter. Such sightings are quite common, and there's nothing to panic about if it suddenly crosses the path you're going on.

Climate[edit]

Mungo National Park
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Data collected from 2017-2021. See the 7 day forecast for Mungo National Park here
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Much of the park's climate is hot or warm year round, and it rarely rains in the park, but the temperatures can plummet down to freezing during night, particularly in the colder months of winter. Generally, the best time to visit the park is in during either the autumn months of March to May, or the spring months of August to November.

However, this does significantly vary by location, and some places such as Lake Mungo are colder than other places in the park, outside the lake, such as the campground and it mostly depends on altitude although most of it is very low in the first place.

If you are coming here in the winter months, bring a jacket with you, as the wind is much stronger here than the coastal areas. The same also applies if you're coming here to camp during the late autumn or early spring months.

Rain should generally not be an issue here. It rarely rains, and even if it did rain, it'll only be a slight drizzle. Heavy rain is rare, and if it did happen, the roads to the park will be closed. On the other hand, dust storms can cause problems with road visibility, but most of the time, that's not a huge issue.

Visitor information centre[edit]

  • 1 Mungo Visitor Centre, 3046 Turlee Leaghur Rd, Mungo. No consistent opening hours, and can change anytime. Learn more about the historical and cultural significance of the region at the visitor centre. It's also possible to join the "Willandra Lakes guided tour" as well. Do note though, that the visitor centre can get crowded during the school holidays, but given the sheer isolation of the park, the definition of "crowded" is much much different to the definition heard in the coast.

Get in[edit]

Map of Mungo National Park. List of colours for the corresponding trails as follows:
  • – Mungo Loop track
  • – Mallee Stop walking track
  • – Grasslands Nature trail
  • – Red Top lookout and boardwalk
  • – Foreshore walk (excluding the shared section)
  • – Foreshore walk and Zanci Pastoral Loop shared path
  • – Zanci Pastoral Loop (excluding the shared section)

By car[edit]

Like most national parks in New South Wales, Mungo National Park can only be accessed via car, and generally finding tour guides to this park is very very rare and so if you don't know how to drive, you need to pick the right dates, and plan well ahead for a tour guide. If you don't have a car but can drive, the nearest rental car can be found across the Victorian border in Mildura, a reasonably sized city, although it's important to check that your rental car company allows you to drive on unpaved roads, as the last couple of kilometres to the park are not paved.

From Mildura and Wentworth, the park often takes about two hours via Arumpo Rd, which is unpaved. The road can close at any time, particularly after rain which means you could be stuck for days – although it doesn't rain much in the area anyway.

There is also another road via Balranald, although the quality of the road is very poor, and can only really be done by proper 4WDs. Google Maps will take you through this route, so if it does, take the longer route via Buronga/Wentworth, as the road is in a much better condition even though it may take a few minutes longer. The route via Buronga is also better signposted.

By plane[edit]

The closest airport with regularly scheduled flights is in Mildura Airport (MQL IATA), with regular flights by Regional Express (rex) from Melbourne, Adelaide, and Broken Hill and Qantas has flights to Melbourne and Sydney.

Without a car[edit]

And now to tours taking you to Mungo National Park; Discover Mildura has day trips at around $175 per person, departing from Mildura, and includes a package to most of the highlights in the park, however, it does not cover the loop tour, in which you will need to bring your own car.

Another company, Mungo Guided Tours also has tours from Mildura, but at a lower cost of $129 per person in a minibus. This one also includes a package to most of the highlights in the park, including to some places that are restricted and cannot be accessed otherwise such as the top of the Walls of China.

If you aren't comfortable driving, it may be better to take a tour. You don't miss much, and you don't have anything much to stress about. And if you'd prefer to go into some of the restricted areas and still prefer to drive, it's also possible.

Fees and permits[edit]

Mungo National Park has a fee of $8 per vehicle, for every day in the park. Camping fees also apply in the park on top of the park fees, with a fee of $5 per adult and $3 per child. Payments can be made at the visitor centre.

NSW Parks passes are valid in the park, which provide unlimited access to the park for a year. The passes also provides faster entry and is valid for 12 months (or 24 if you purchase a two year pass) from date of purchase. The fees per vehicle (as at 2021) as follows:

  • All Parks Pass – includes all parks in New South Wales, including Kosciuszko National Park ($195 for one year, $335 for two years)
  • Multi Park Pass – includes all parks in New South Wales, excluding Kosciuszko National Park ($65 for one year, $115 for two years)
  • Country Parks Pass – includes all parks in Country New South Wales, excluding Kosciuszko National Park ($45 for one year, $75 for two years)

All three parks passes are valid in Mungo National Park. There is also a fourth pass; the Single Park Pass, worth $22 for one year and $40 for two. This is just if you want to revisit this park again and again, in which to pay the fees off, you'll need to visit this park at least three times.

Get around[edit]

A track in the park

In short, much of the park is best explored by car, simply because the heat may tire you out and the distances are easy to be underestimated. There are good roads in this park, despite being unpaved and do the job just fine in getting you around places. On the other hand, you can walk, and there's no issues with that for the areas around Lake Mungo, but don't ever think about walking the 70 km (43 mi) loop – it's only designed for drivers.

Getting around by mountain bike is also possible, and there is a MTB trail. Nearly all tracks in the park can cope with MTBs. However, note that there's no rental bikes in the park, so you will need to bring an MTB.

If you are a person who likes walking, not to worry, but there's numerous walking trails in the park, suitable for different fitness levels.

On some maps, roads in the dried up Lake Mungo might look like driving through water, but rest assured, you're not going to be driving in water – the lake dried up several thousand years ago.

Deviating off marked unpaved tracks and trails by car is not allowed in the park. However, there is no such restriction on walking off marked unpaved tracks and trails, and at times, the only way to get between places.

See[edit]

Lake Mungo seen in the 21st century
The Walls of China at sunset

Much of Mungo National Park's beauty can be experienced via its lookouts, each a beauty in their own right. However, it'd be a shame to think the lookouts plus the Walls of China are the only highlight of the park, since there are also historic sites as well, such as Mungo Woolshed or the Zanci Homestead site – all just as significant.

However, by far the most iconic feature about Mungo National Park is the Walls of China, the last remains of the erosions of Lake Mungo, a near dry lake. It can take even hours to just admire its beauty, and it does have different views of admiration depending on where you are.

Lookouts[edit]

  • 1 Mungo lookout, Mungo Lookout Rd, Mungo. Overlooking the vast dry beds of Lake Mungo, the lake bed reveals some bones of some megafauna. On top of that, this lookout overlooks the formations of the Walls of China, formed by wind and rain over thousands of years.
  • 2 Red Top lookout, Red Top Walking Track, Mungo. It is on a boardwalk, and is not elevated in any way or form – because the beauty of seeing the remarkable effects of erosion is just seen from ground level. It's along the self guided drive tour as well, and a mere half an hour drive from the visitor centre.
  • 3 Walls of China viewing platform, China Walls Walking Track, Mungo. Another lookout overlooking the Walls of China, as being the first stop along the drive tour, it sure be a worthy lookout. Also wheelchair accessible as well.

Historic sites[edit]

  • 4 Mungo Woolshed, 3046 Turlee Leaghur Rd, Mungo. This woolshed was built in 1869 on the Gol Gol pastoral station. Apart from being "just another sheep woolshed", Mungo Woolshed also has its architecture of drop-log construction, made from cypress pine – something to admire the early labourers of.
  • 5 Zanci Homestead site, Zanci Pastoral Loop, Mungo. Zanci Homestead site may not look like much, but you could hardly ever be more wrong if you thought that. This homestead originally had about two rooms and a small kitchen. The homestead's so called "dugout" is also visitable, as well as the shearing shed and yards, the drop pine log-walled and the spinifex thatched stables. As this site was once part of the great Mungo woolshed, it was later transported and rebuilt on the Zanci station, as what remains today.

Do[edit]

Much of what can be done in Mungo National Park lies within its trails, just like any other national park in New South Wales. However, Mungo National Park holds a bit more than that, because of its self-guided drive tour, and its vast photographing opportunities.

Mungo self-guided drive tour[edit]

Part of the self-guided drive tour

The Mungo self-guided drive tour or the Mungo loop track (coloured in red on the map) is a 70 km (43 mi) drive loop, and is a must for anyone visiting this park, and almost known by every worthy person living in Outback NSW. Starting at the visitor centre, it covers most of the highlights of this park, and takes only a mere two hours to do (2.5-3 if you stop along the way). None of the road is paved though, and it requires much more than a 2WD to do this track.

Some campgrounds are also only accessible via this loop track, along with other walks; also which are only accessible via this track. Do note though, once you've started this trail, there's no turning back, and you have to complete the entire 70km loop. This track would also be the world's longest "one way road", however, given this is not a road but a track, it doesn't meet the criteria.

Watch out for emus and kangaroos though, as they are known for regularly crossing this track. Take extreme care at night. There may also be some section that do not have any signposted limit, but if not, assume it's safe to go around 80 km/h (50 mph), but drive to the conditions.

Bushwalking trails[edit]

Foreshore walk[edit]

Along Foreshore walk

The Foreshore walk (coloured aqua and purple on the map) is a 2.5 km (1.6 mi) loop mainly coving the western ends of Lake Mungo. It should take about 0.75 to 1.25 hours to do. It's got the typical outback scene; not that much of the Walls of China views in it.

The walk is fairly easy to do, and can be done by mostly anybody; not wheelchair friendly though. Make sure to bring some bottles of water with you, as it's quite easy to get dehydrated on this track – all year around, but particularly in the summer months.

Grasslands Nature trail[edit]

The Grasslands Nature trail (coloured orange on the map) is a short quick 1.2 km (0.75 mi) loop, passing through the grassy areas of the park as the name of the trail suggests. Taking about 15 to 45 minutes to do, it's quite a popular sunset walk for those who are camping near Main campground to finish off the day. Much of it is also wheelchair friendly, and it is also where a lot of the wildlife come for grass, so for any photographic enthusiast, this is one fine location.

Mallee Stop walking track[edit]

The Mallee Stop walking track (coloured in blue) is another short quick walking trail along the self drive tour, and is only a mere 1 km (0.62 mi) walking track and should take 15 minutes at best, and 45 minutes to walk at worst. It's also one of the few grassy areas of the park as well.

Red Top boardwalk[edit]

Halfway along the boardwalk

Red Top boardwalk (coloured dark red on the map) is a quick short one hundred metre walk, starting from the track, all the way to Red Top lookout. And if you're thinking, "what's special about a simple one hundred metre boardwalk", the answer to that is that it's one of the few places where you'll be walking slap bang right next to the Walls of China and the erosion of the lake.

It's sometimes colloquially known as a photographers secret spot, particularly during sunset or sunrise, where views particularly get more than what you expect. For those that don't know, Uluru only changes colours once every so often. The Walls of China however, give a different light depending on sunlight. Sometimes orange, other times yellow or even red at times.

While you may encounter wildlife along this boardwalk, don't hope for it. It's only a mere 100 metres, so what can you expect. But if you do encounter wildlife, do make sure to take a photo of it.

Bike trails[edit]

Zanci Pastoral Loop[edit]

Zanci Pastoral Loop (coloured purple and green on the map) is a 10 km (6.2 mi) cycle path, and takes about 1.5 hours to do. As the name of the trail suggests, it passes the historic Zanci Homestead site, and so if you do have the chance to stop and visit the site, it's well worth the visit.

The path can also be walked as well, but do remember than 10 kilometres in summer can sometimes burn you out. And note there's also no rental bikes available, so you'll need to bring that along with you.

Photographing[edit]

This photo might seem a high quality photo, but this is nowhere near the best ones

The park offers any photographic enthusiast some views seen nowhere else, due to its incredible landscape, with different colours, and textures. Wildlife photography is also a thing in the park too, but there's not so much unique wildlife here apart from the typical Australian wildlife.

If you want to do some commercial photography in the park (i.e. for sale, hire or profit), you'll need a licence. Full details of licensing can be found at the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website, including on applying a licence. However, there are no issues with photography for personal use.

Buy[edit]

The visitor centre has some books and other small souvenirs to buy in the park, but apart from that, there's nothing to buy. The nearest shops are in either Buronga or Mildura. This is also where the closest service station is as well, and so if you need fuel or anything, that's where you'd need to go.

Eat[edit]

Special dietary requirements

For those with special dietary requirements, let the restaurant know well in advance by giving them a ring, as the supply to the park and the area in general is very limited. Otherwise, you might have a long wait for your food, or even worse, only end up with a bowl of fries/hot chips.

And if you do have special dietary requirements, don't be too surprised to pay twice more than usual.

There is only one restaurant in the entire area, a kilometre west of the park proper. Otherwise, you will need to bring your own food. Food here is also likely to be about much more expensive than the food you'll typically get in Sydney or Adelaide, but that's no surprise given the sheer isolation of this park.

  • 1 Mungo Bar and Bistro, 10142 Arumpo Rd, Arumpo, +61 3 5029 7297. Cafe open throughout the day, breakfast 8–10AM, lunch noon–2PM, dinner 6–8PM. Being the only place to have food here, it can get really crowded during the holiday seasons. Mostly serves Australian cuisine, including bush damper, schnitzels (Australian slang: schnitties), and much more Australian classic food.

Drink[edit]

There are no bars, pubs or anything like that. The only cafe is at the Mungo Bar and Bistro (listed under eat). Tap water in the park is best avoided, and it's hard to filter the water in the outback, hence why bringing bottled water is a must. Although water is sold at the bistro, and the chances of running out of stock is unlikely, it's still good to be prepared though.

Sleep[edit]

A sunset view

Unlike some other parks, Mungo National Park has a lot less options when picking a place to rest your head on. There's two lodging sites, one in the park, which is slightly less expensive, but cannot accomodate much, while the other is a kilometre out west, but has more options and more availability. Camping can only be done in certain designated areas of the park, and hence why there's only a mere two camping sites in the park and bookings must be made on the NSW Parks website. If all those options are unavailable to you, the park can be done as a day trip or two across the border into Mildura, which has much much more options.

As with every national park in New South Wales, there are basic cooking facilities, but for more than just basic cooking facilities, only the lodging sites have them.

Lodging[edit]

  • 1 Mungo Lodge, 10142 Arumpo Rd, Arumpo, +61 3 5029 7297. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. It's might seem like just another ordinary lodge, but in truth, this does have much more than that. It's mostly eco-friendly cabins here, and you've got heaps to learn about the history of the Willandra Lakes Region here. from $150.
  • 2 Shearers' Quarters, Mailbox Rd, Mungo (near the visitor centre). Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. The park's historic shearers' quarters can accomodate around 27 guests, and has five rooms. Located at the start of the self guided drive tour, it's one of the many places where you can still feel what the place was originally like; a functioning sheep station. minimum $50 per night.

Camping[edit]

Fire bans

During the hot, boiling summer months of around October to early March, as with most of the state, bushfires can ravage across the park, meaning that all campfire and solid fuel (such as wood, heat beads, charcoal, briquettes, hexamine), barbecues, and stoves are prohibited during a fire ban. The only types of barbecues and cookers that are allowed are gas and electric ones, under certain conditions.

It's different during a total fire ban, but while you may be as far away from the greenery, you haven't escaped fire.

For up to date information about the fires, download the Rural Fire Service app or check rfs.nsw.gov.au.

There are two campgrounds in the park, both quite some distance from each other. Remember that camping fees apply, and should be paid off at the visitor centre; $5 per adult and $3 per child (see the #Fees and permits section for more about camping fees).

  • 3 Belah campground. Located along the Mungo Self-guided Drive tour, this campsite has only 12 campsites. It's smaller than Main campground, but it's closer to the eastern ends of Lake Mungo. However, a big downside to this campground is that the drive tour is only one way, meaning you'd have to do the entire 70km loop again and again every time you come here. The campsite has picnic areas and toilets, but you'll need to bring both drinking water and cooking water.
  • 4 Main campground, Arumpo Rd, Mungo. Has 33 campsites, most in good quality and spacious. Unlike most other outback camping experiences though, this one has good facilities, including picnic tables, and barbecue facilities (you will need to bring drinking water, cooking water, and firewood though). And not to forget it's very close to everything else in the park.

Backcountry[edit]

Backcountry camping in Mungo National Park is not possible as camping anywhere in the park can only be done in designated camping sites.

Stay safe[edit]

This park is in a really isolated location – so be sure to let someone know when coming to this park. Additionally, there's no mobile phone coverage, and the only place there's mobile coverage is a small section in the southwestern areas of the park, and only via Telstra. Optus and Vodafone don't have coverage at all.

The nearest service station from Mungo National Park is over 100 km (62 mi) away in Mildura or Buronga. Make sure you fill up before coming to this park. Also make sure that your tyres are pumped up, and that applies to your spare tyres too.

Make sure to drink lots of water, and stay hydrated. It get's really hot here, and it's easy to underestimate the heat. If you have an esky (cooler box), be sure to bring it, along with at least three bottles of water. If you didn't bring water or forgot to bring water, you can buy one at Mungo Bar and Bistro.

And something a lot less concerning, remember that if you are calling any place from a landline number in New South Wales, make sure to put in a "03" before the number, as the park does not use "02" or "08" like most other parts of the state.

Go next[edit]

Parks and cities near Mungo National Park

  • The only way you can go, is to head back to head back to civilization to 1 Mildura / Buronga

But for more parks in the Outback, they include:

  • 2 Kinchega National Park – a park not too far north
  • 3 Mutawintji National Park Mutawintji National Park on Wikipedia – a somewhat canyon like park
  • 4 Sturt National Park – the northwestern-most point in New South Wales
  • Mallee Cliffs National Park is also quite a park, but it's now only open for research and education purposes, and can no longer be visited for recreational travel
  • On the other side of the border, there's Murray Sunset National Park, but whether Victoria is in the outback or not is up to you to decide

Otherwise, Mungo National Park also sits somewhat between the three state capitals of Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne as well and are only a days drive. Other cities in New South Wales such as Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill only take about half a day's drive.

However, for a more closer journey, the also dried up lakes north of the park are also well worth a visit, especially that you've travelled this far, although that would also mean you'll have to redo the 70 km (43 mi) if you already did this loop.

This park travel guide to Mungo National Park has guide status. It has a variety of good, quality information about the park including attractions, activities, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and arrival/departure info. Please contribute and help us make it a star!