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When remains of the one of the oldest homo sapiens from over 40,000 years ago were unearthed in the Mungo national park, it made it to the newspapers and Nat Geo magazine, but rarely to a tourist’s guide. When I asked locals about the Mungo National Park, they recalled the controversies in the news around where Mungo man and Mungo woman would be buried which till date remain a mystery. In contrast to this, a day in Mungo National park turned out to be a tantalizing adventure right from the start of the journey on the isolated mud track on Arumpo road, to the walk on the walls of China.
Apart from the iconic Australian red earthy colors and a landscape that literally looks out of this planet, the historical and geological stories of the past and present of this land is astounding. The now national park was a part of an ancient gigantic lake bed that’s been dry for the last 15,000 years. You can find white sand and small and large hills made of clay known as ‘lunettes’ that transform this piece of earth into a scene from mars. Most of what you can find here has been brought in and deposited by the winds, layer by layer over thousands of years. In contrast to this, winds blowing in and out also constantly unearth remains of buried artefacts dating back thousands of years. Our tour guide, who was quite passionate about his job, told us how every tour is special for him as he can never know what surprise would be waiting for him that day.
Some 40 years ago, a team of excavators found an intact skull, a torso and an entire skeleton in this lunette, first of a woman and then a man (Mungo woman and man), both of whom were cremated and buried ritualistically around 42,000 years ago. It is said that Mungo Man was found carefully laid out with his hands on his lap and red ochre nearby, something that was transported from hundreds of Kms away.
Apart from this, Intact footprints dated 20,000 years back have also been found in the clay here, that have been recreated at the visitor centre.
Located in the far south western outback of New South Wales, around 600Kms (7 hours) away from Melbourne and 1000Kms (11 hours) away from Sydney, we took a detour from Mildura during our road trip around regional victoria. The drive from Mildura was 120 Kms and the road is a mud track that remains open only on dry days. Having booked a day tour to visit the walls of China with the Mungo Lodge, they were expecting us the following day and we were told that if we don’t arrive on time, they may raise concerns and send someone to look for us, as there is no phone network on the way.
Tours from Mildura were unavailable during our trip which forced us to drive to Mungo lodge for the tour, which turned out to be adventurous in itself. We only learnt later that you can visit the place without booking any tours, but you can only access the lookouts that let you see the walls of china but not walk through it.
It was interesting to learn about the story of ‘walls of china’ in the middle of Australia. The walls of china are a series of lunettes and sand dunes which is around 30 kilometers long, 200 metres wide and 20 metres high, a large moon shaped curve formed at the edge of the ancient lake bed formed mainly due to winds over the years. The story our tour guide told us was that of workers at the wool shearing shed which was functional many years ago, many of whom were from China. One of the chinese workers, feeling homesick, said that the views from the woolshed reminded him of the great wall of China, which was apparently so named ever since. I heard myself chuckle in my head when the mystery of the name was solved.
Need to know:
- There are 2 roads that lead to Mungo National Park, both mud tracks. You don’t specifically need a 4WD, but the road could be inaccessible and closed in case of rain. You would need to check the status of the road before you head off for your journey.
- Plenty sunscreen, water, hats and sunglasses are a must. It can get very hot and dry here.
- There are plenty of snakes in the national park, beware if you’re on your own or even otherwise.
- If you are going there on your own, you can visit the visitor centre and the lookouts for free. There is also a circuit track you can do around the walls of china but be ready for a flat tyre and no phone network/access.
- There are day tours starting at 10 am, which we did and returned within the day, and sunset tours for which you would need to stay the night. You can camp nearby and watch the sunset by yourself. There is no water access here and there are large rainwater reservoirs that provide for campgrounds and the lodge.