The landscape is other-worldly, almost what you'd expect the rover Curiosity currently charting the surface of Mars to see.
This is Outback Australia, no doubt about it, but the interesting thing is that Mungo National Park in south-western New South Wales is one of the more accessible parts of the Outback to major population centres, and certainly one of the more fascinating.
Being just over 100km from Mildura in north-western Victoria and about 1000km due west of Sydney, Mungo is far easier to get to by car than (say) Ayers Rock or Coober Pedy yet arguably gives sightseers just as much bang for their visual buck.
Anyone thinking of visiting would do well to take the extra time and explore the area. A loop of a few hundred kilometres takes you to Broken Hill with its beautiful old buildings, art galleries and restaurants, then on to Menindie and its vast lakes, and Mildura with its burgeoning foodie scene.
The World Heritage listed National Park is based around Lake Mungo, the lake has not seen water in 18,000 years. Instead, its 200 square kilometers is a flat expanse of salt bush stretching from horizon to horizon. The tallest things out there are the small groups of emus plucking red berries from the blue bush.
But don't think for a moment that Mungo is a barren, empty wilderness. The major draw-card is on the eastern side of the lake where over millennium prevailing westerly winds have built up a 30km crescent-shaped arc of clay and sand called a lunette that has in turn been eroded into fantastic buttresses and gullies, colored white, red and yellow depending on the age of the sediment.
The area is known as the Great Walls of China and as well as being a spectacular place to explore and photograph, it is also of great cultural significance.
This was once the shore of the lake, a place where the local Aboriginal people fished, hunted, camped, cooked and dream of the land's beginnings. It is the place where the skeletal remains of Australia's oldest human inhabitant have been found, appropriately named Mungo Man, who was buried around 42,000 years ago. For modern day explorers the clues still remain of these early inhabitants.
Strong winds the previous week had shifted sand to reveal a pair of small white objects poking out of the hard-packed surface. They were the teeth of an extinct (in this region) hairy-nosed wombat, the little brother of much larger fauna such as the rhinoceros-sized Zygomaturus that lived in the area up until 45,000 years ago and was possibly hunted to extinction.
You can learn all about the history, geology and ecology of Mungo at the excellent visitor's centre built next to the shearing shed and homestead of what, up until the 1970s, was a sheep station.
There's also a self-guided drive around the park of about 70km that introduces a diverse variety of landscapes including the vast expanses of ancient lake bed (home to kangaroos, emus and echidnas), rolling sand dunes and the bird-filled stands of mallee woodland. At every turn, visitors are encouraged to park their car and walk through the various habitats - except for the Great Walls of China with its delicate, easily eroded surface which requires a guided walk to ensure its preservation.
It takes a good couple of days to properly explore the Park and accommodation is available at the comfortable and spacious Mungo Lodge, the more basic Shearers' Quarters near the old homestead, or various camping grounds inside and outside the Park.
The Park is closed at times due to poor weather or extreme fire danger. For up to date reports, always check with the park office on 03 5021 8900.
Access to the park costs $7 per car per day. Well worth a Visit..