Big Desert - Mallee Country - 24th to 28th September 2003

Wednesday 24th September

James and Liam at "Lake" Hindmarsh

School Holidays and I was off with my boys for a camping trip to the Mallee, my first visit into this area of Victoria.

Leaving home at 7:30, we drove up the Western Highway, stopping at Ballan for a Maccas Breakfast (I did have the the kids with me!)

Approaching Ararat we noticed a wind farm that wasn't here a year ago when we last up this way.  Mount Buangor and Langi Ghiran both looked worthy of exploration on a future trip, but we continued on through Ararat and Stawell, past Mount Zero at the top end of the Grampians and into Horsham for a fuel top-up.

From Horsham we headed north to Dimboola, bypassing the Little Desert and followed the Wimmera to Jeparit we were detoured to investigate Lake Hindmarsh, which was completely dry.  So the fishing rod stayed in the car whilst we braved the wind swept sands for a photo.  As there was no water I ditched the plans to drive up the western shore and headed back into Jeparit, on through Rainbow and to Lake Albacutya which is normally dry, and was guaranteed to be as much based on Lake Hindmarsh.  Albacutya only fills when Lake Hindmarsh overflows into Outlet Creek.

Our first friendly Stumpy Tail

We drove along the Eastern shore of Albacutya and looked at OTIT campground to see what it was like.  Here we saw a father emu and his young chicks running off away from the car, much too fast for me to get a photo.  Lunch time was approaching, so we made our way through Nypo into Wyperfeld National Park.  A quick chat with the Ranger and after paying our fees we made our way to the campground, spotting our first of many Stumpy Tailed lizards sunning himself on the roadside.

We arrived at the campsite around 2 in the afternoon and after choosing a nice shady spot to set-up camp that was not too far from the toilets we had some of my Mum's delicious rissoles for lunch.  Once the campsite was established, we set off for a short bike ride to explore the campground, riding up to Baby Cameron's grave and then down to the information centre.

We spent some more time relaxing around the campground, as well as playing some ball games before heading off for a drive around the Eastern Nature Drive where we saw wallabies and emus, as well as going on a short walk to a Mallee Fowl nest.

After the drive it was back to the campground for a BBQ dinner and the joy of relaxing under an amazingly clear star filled night.

Thursday 25th September

A morning cycle through Wyperfeld

I awoke in the morning to the sound of rain on the tent; so much for being in the Big Desert!  But when I had gotten up, there was no sign of any rain!  After a sustaining bacon and egg breakfast, we all headed off for a bike ride down one of the management vehicle only tracks.  The going was quite tough on the sandy track, and there was no way we would be able to ride to the start of the Desert Walk, do the walk and then ride back.  It also started to rain lightly again, so we sheltered under a large tree until the rain stopped before riding back to camp.

Liam unable to make it any further through the desert

Leaving the bikes behind, we drove to the start of the Desert Walk; an 8 kilometre walk through various differing vegetation types of the Big Desert, with scrub at the start of the walk, progressing into Mallee and Box Pine along the flood basin of Outlet Creek, and then back into the arid scrub as we ascended up and along a large sand dune.  Some of the plants we saw included Desert Banksia, Black Box, Flame Heath, Slender Leaf Clematis and Golden Pendants.  Liam made it about half way along the walk before I had to carry him the rest of the way.

Back at the campground we had a simple salad lunch and a lazy afternoon with the kids playing around the sand dunes near the campsite.

Dinner was a roast chicken and potatoes cooked in the camp oven.  A small chicken takes at the least 1.5 hours, possibly longer.  I'll get this camp oven sorted out eventually.

There were numerous birds around the campsite, with some very big Ravens that were quite tame as well as many Cockatoos, galahs and wattlebirds.  We also say Red Rumped Parrots, Mulga Parrots, Currawongs, Magpies and Regent Parrots.  Oh, and of course more emus, as well as more parent emus with their young chicks!

Friday 26th September

Eagle Track, Big Desert

I packed up camp early after a simple breakfast of cereal and we made our way along some very sandy 4WD tracks, including North South Track, Eagle Track and Moonah Track.  I had planned on going up North Callitris Track, but this looked quite step as it climbed  a sand dune and I didn't fancy digging a bogged car out of sand so we followed Moonah and Freeway Track into the relatively deserted Casuarina Campground.

A Bearded Dragon on Gunner's Track, Wyperfeld

From the campground we took a shortcut along Wool Track and ended up at what I believe was the O'Sullivan's Pine Plains Lodge, but it appeared to be a large working property where we saw some Peacocks.  My planned route was across Wirrengren Plain but the track was closed so we continued along Gunners Track where we saw a pair of Bearded Dragons sunning themselves on the track.

Lake Hardy, one of the Pink Lakes

We stopped for a little bit of civilisation in Umberbool, enjoying ice-cream and picking up some fresh bread and a paper before exploring the Pink Lakes.  These salt lakes have a pinkish colouration due to the algae that live in them.  They truly were pink, and we walked down to Lake Hardy as well as Lake Crosby, which has a nice campsite on the southern shore.  A quick explore of the salt mine and lunch at the campsite on the northern shore near Lake Becking where we spotted yet another Stumpy Tail.  After lunch, we headed off through Sunset Country across the sand dunes on Honeymoon Hut Track to our next campsite location at Lake Hattah.  We got slightly lost along the way with some locked gates, and a wrong turn near Wymlet but we made it out in the end.

Getting dinner ready when unexpected guests fly in

We arrived at Hattah about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and picked up some ice from the store before heading into the National Park to the campground.  Whilst I was filling out the camping permit, a number of Choughs and Apostle birds welcomed us to the campsite, and remained our constant companions for our entire stay.

Not surprisingly, there was no water in the lake.  The last time it held water was reportedly 2000.  We setup camp and enjoyed the birds company while we waited for our spaghetti bolognaise to cook.

Saturday 27th September

Another all Aussie Adventure moment...

We again awoke to the company of the Choughs and Apostle Birds as we cooked our hearty Bacon & Eggs breakfast.  The plan for the morning was to drive down to the Murray, and explore along River Track.  We found many great campsites along the river and a very nice beach where the kids played for an hour.  We spotted many birds as well, with the usual parrots as well as a Black Kite and a darter perched on a tree that had fallen into the river.  It was getting close to lunch time, so we cut our trip along River Track short, and cut back to the camp ground along Chalka Track stopping in at Mournpall campsite, which we agreed wasn't quite as nice as Lake Hattah.  We visited Jack Mahon's grave site, which is near where he drowned crossing the flooded Chalka Creek, which at present is bone dry.  Liam of course climbed the sand dunes.

After lunch, we drove along the nature drive where we actually got to see some of the lake bed, as well as the pumping station where water was drawn from the lake and pumped back to Hattah and the railway station to supply the trains as well as the town's water.  We saw more emus, and also walked around Blackbox Waterhole, which did have water in it.  We saw a Blue Billed duck here as well as Cockatoos and other assorted parrots.

Pied Butcherbird

We spent a lazy afternoon back at the campground enjoying the antics of the Apostlebirds, as well as the company of two very friendly Pied Butcherbirds.  One quite happily perched on the back of James chair, while the Apostlebirds were quite happy to walk across my legs as I reclined in the camp chair.

We downgraded to tinned food for dinner since I had left one of our meals at home, and the Butcher Bird helped himself to some of Liam's fruit salad when he wasn't looking.  We spent the evening around a very toasty campfire under another perfectly clear star filled night watching a possum in the tree near our tent.

I could hear the call of a Southern Boobook owl, and went for a walk to investigate, finally spotting him high in a gumtree.  I also saw another owl flying off away from my investigations, as well as hearing the unnerving sound of one or more Tawny Frogmouths.

Sunday 28th September

Gums inundated by the marching Perry Sandhills

With the campsite all packed up we headed off to Mildura, spotting a Nankeen Kestrel hovering by the roadside at Hattah.  We stopped at Red Cliffs to see Big Lizzie, a huge tractor sent to the Mallee from Melbourne to assist all of the returned Diggers in setting up their farming ventures after the First World War.  It apparently proved quite useful in pulling out many Mallee stumps as well.

Walls of China, Mungo National Park

We continued onto Wentworth and then to the Perry Sandhills where the kids got a taste of what they thought a desert should really look like.  They played on the sand dunes for quite some time before we drove around the sand hills and then headed back to Mildura for lunch.  Lunch was an assortment from the bakery, topped off with the most delicious Vanilla Slice.  Though I've heard that Ouyen is the place to go for Vanilla Slices, so perhaps next time.

From Mildura we headed into New South Wales to explore Mungo National Park.  80 something kilometres of dirt road, and one stumpy tail later we arrived at the Park Visitor Centre, which told of the earlier animal, aboriginal and geological history of the area.  We explored around the walls, which in actuality are a large sand dune system, before doing the park circuit nature drive.  The latter was a mistake given the length of the drive, and the length of our trip home.  Not to mention that there wasn't a real lot to see that we hadn't already seen on the 100 K plus trip to get to the park.  Though the ruins of Zinco Station were interesting.

We started our long drive back to the border along which we saw many Ring Neck Parrots, Mulga Parrots, Galahs and a bearded Dragon, and after an eternity we finally got off the dirt tracks and into Robinvale for well earned ice-creams.  From Robinvale to Chinkapook, the sun was setting with the most glorious display of magentas and oranges that lasted for ages and which was beautifully offset by the gentle rolling fields of grain.  We passed Lake Tyrell with the last of the light as we continued across country to the Sunraysia Highway when I just barely made it to the petrol station at Bungaree.  We had a very late dinner at Mum's where I left the kids for the next few days of the school holidays as Michelle and I were heading up to the Victorian High Country.