Mungo National Park

Mungo National Park

The World Heritage listed Mungo National Park (Willandra Lakes region), has been a destination that Andy and I have long wanted to visit for a number of reasons, and after years of discussion and planning, we were fortunate enough to visit this unique location in November 2017. There were many attractions, both photographic and non-photographic, but the site of the discovery of the oldest human remains in Australia (Mungo Man), and the oldest known human to be ritually cremated (Mungo Lady) were preeminent. That the remains of Mungo Man were to be formally returned to Lake Mungo from the National Museum in Canberra, on November 17, 2017, was merely serendipitous timing.

Mungo Man Returned to Ancestral Home - ABC News

There are a number of ways to travel to Lake Mungo and a number of alternatives for accommodation at the Lake. Accommodation choices include Mungo Lodge, The Shearers Shed operated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, or a dedicated caravan and camping site.

Within Mungo Lodge is a dedicated airstrip which allows small passenger planes (e.g. DC3) to land. Mungo Lodge has a dedicated airport code (YLMU), and charter flights are available direct to the lodge from most capital cities. For example, direct flights are available from Bankstown Airport in Sydney and with Kirkhope Aviation in Melbourne. This is an option for a group of 6-8 people and are not that more expensive than commercial flights per person. Mungo Lodge even has a van for hire for those wishing to fly in and need a vehicle to explore the area.

However, we chose as a group to take a commercial flight to Mildura Airport, hire a couple of 4WD vehicles and take the 110 km drive to Lake Mungo along the predominantly unsealed Arumpo Road. We would recommend 4WD vehicles although conventional 2WD vehicles would cope in the dry. However, rain would result in many of the roads in the area being unsuitable for 2WD vehicles. In addition, exploring the roads and tracks around Lake Mungo with their many corrugated ridges and at times sandy base and ruts is best done in a 4WD vehicle.

Mungo Lodge provides good accommodation and has an excellent restaurant and bar open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also have 1 family apartment ideal for self-contained accommodation, and the rest of the rooms are motel style accommodation. You can read our review here on Trip Advisor.

Apart from the lodge, there are no other outlets for supplies at Lake Mungo. In addition, there is no mobile reception, no internet and no fuel. If driving, you need to ensure enough fuel to return to Buronga some 100 km away (near Mildura), the nearest fuel stop. It’s another reason to hire a 4WD with additional built in spare fuel tanks.

A great way to start your visit at Lake Mungo is to take a sunset guided tour with one of the indigenous guides who have an intimate knowledge of the land, people and history of the now dry lakes. This can be arranged through the lodge. This starts at the Visitors Centre which provides a fascinating insight into both the human and geological history of the location, including the archaeological discoveries of Mungo Man and Lady.

Our group on the sunset tour with our guide Shaun

Shaun at the “Walls of China”

The Visitor's Centre and the tour provides an excellent background into the development of the most characteristic feature of the landscape, the unique lunettes scattered throughout the “Walls of China”.

The “Walls of China” is a somewhat unusual name in an area noted for its indigenous heritage and significance. However, it was so called as the over 30km of white sand hills on the eastern edge of Lake Mungo with its lunettes (an architectural feature with moonlike characteristics) appeared like its namesake to Chinese workers in the Mungo Woolshed.

The woolshed is next to the Visitor Centre, where there is a dedicated platform giving views over the dry lake bed and onto the Walls of China in the distance.

Views of the distant “Walls of China” with the Mungo Woolshed in the foreground. Taken from the dedicated platform at the Visitors Centre – Alvin Ing

You can read a more detailed explanation on the landscape and how the lunettes were formed here:

Mungo Landscapes

The sunset tour progresses to the Walls Lookout. There is a boardwalk trail to the lookout which is freely available to public access. However, access past this point is not possible unless accompanied by a guide, to ensure the delicate lunettes and the many fossil remains and sacred sites are not disturbed. However, our guide Shaun was able to help us navigate the lunettes while pointing out the many points of interest that would have gone unnoticed by our untrained eyes. This includes ancient remains, and evidence of campsites and burial grounds from thousands of years in the past.

For photographers, it is the only access allowed to the lunettes in this area, and at sunset the light is just sublime. The red and orange colours of the lunettes and sand are highlighted and defined, while the side lighting brings out the many lines and ripples on the differing surfaces.

The Majesty and intricate details of lunettes at sunset – Alvin Ing

The Stark Lines of the Lunettes - Andy Ly

We spent 3 nights and 4 days at lake Mungo which allowed us ample time to explore the area. There is a 70km one way track around the lake which we recommend thoroughly to undertake. Take your time and there are many locations which provide for unique landscape photography opportunities.

A few recommendations are:

1. Sunrise at the Walls Lookout is magical. Although access to the lunettes is not possible at this time, the photographic opportunities are endless as the sun rises behind the lunettes. There are many locations from the boardwalks around the lookout that provide for different perspectives. While a wide angle lens provides the most dramatic images when close to the lunettes, a 70-200mm lens would be ideal when shooting from the Walls lookout and the associated boardwalks at sunrise.

Sunrise over the “Walls of China” – Alvin Ing

The vibrant colours of the landscape at sunrise from the Walls Lookout – Alvin Ing

Aerial view of the lunettes, looking back west towards Lake Mungo

Shooting at the Walls Lookout

2. We were particularly enamoured with the landscapes around Vigars Well. There is direct access to the sand dunes. Beyond the sand dunes there are also fascinating lunettes which are rarely photographed due to their relatively remote location. This is a location suitable for sunrise, sunset and night time shooting. It is also an opportunity to capture the large dunes and the varying lines, shadows and shapes as the light changes.

Vigars Well sunset – Andy Ly

Vigars Well at sunrise – Andy Ly

Sunset At Vigars Well – Alvin Ing

Vigars Well Lunette – Alvin Ing

3. Red Top Lookout is also an excellent location for sunset and night/astro photography. The lookout is actually within the lunette formations which allows for intimate images without disturbing the eroding sand channels and formations. The clear night time skies without light pollution results in a clarity ideal for images of the milky way or star trails, if that is your interest.

Brilliant light at Sunset at Red Top Lookout – Alvin Ing

Night Photography – Red Top Lookout – Alvin Ing

4. Don’t ignore the fauna. In fact, it is impossible to do so. Kangaroos and emus abound and we were fortunate not to have had any intimate contact with them in our vehicles. Drive carefully especially at night and be ever vigilant as they are drawn to the lights. Emus are quick! For photographers interested in the wildlife, Kangaroos including some huge reds, gather around Vigars Well. There are also ample opportunities for birders.

Lake Mungo and Mungo National Park is a unique location steeped in history and significance. It is relatively remote which adds to its attraction. There are no distractions from the modern world, which allows you to immerse yourself into the landscape and contemplate how our ancestors interacted, relied and ultimately became one with it.

Our group at the Mungo Woolshed – Alvin Ing

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