Day 29 - Mungo NP to the Great Darling Anabranch

Trip Start Apr 17, 2012
Trip End May 27, 2012

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Where I stayed
Bush Camping
What I did
Lake Mungo, Walls of China, Great Darling Anabranch

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

As expected, it was too cold to get up before the sun hit the van. Once it did, it warmed up the van quite nicely and we eventually had to open vents to let some airflow through. We got dressed and ate breakfast then had a look around the campground in the daylight. Interestingly enough we had chosen a pretty perfect spot in the darkness last night. After relaxing in the sun and enjoying the campsite for a while we packed up and moved on. Our first stop was the Lake Mungo lookout. This is a pleasant walk from the campground but we drove it due to the fact we were trying to see the things we wanted to see prior to leaving Mungo. The lookout is a pretty good spot to get a grasp on the grandness of the lake and walls of china lunettes. I uploaded a large (3 image) panorama of the lake, but I'm not too certain on whether it automatically gets degraded/shrunk on upload.

From the lookout it was a short drive back down to the woolshed which is adjacent to the visitor's centre. We had a detailed look at the museum and fully took in the european and aboriginal history of the place. It was pretty goddamn interesting in there. A little further on you come to the old woolshed. This was over 100 years old and stopped being used about 40 years ago. Much of it has been kept original, when you think of the amount of sheep that were sheared there try to imagine how much lanolin has been absorbed by the timber. As a result there are warning signs and fire extinguishers galore. The old steam engine which was used to drive the mechanical shears was still there and it showed how the engines shaft was used to rotate a cable inside a tube which was then able to power a whole array of shears. The floorboards had gaps between them allowing the sheep excrement to drop out of the building. It was a large shearing shed, but the apparently half of it was dismantled and moved to a nearby station when Mungo ceased to function as a station.

The only remaining thing to do was the 70km Mungo Track which is recommended to be done in two halves - stopping to camp at the other end at Belah Camp for the night. As this would have taken an extra day and night, we wrote it off as leaving something for next time and vowed to return soon. Our next destination was to be Menindee via  the Pooncarie-Wentworth Road but the Pooncarie-Wentworth Road which was still closed due to flooding of the Darling River. This meant two things: the first was that Pooncarie would not be accessible on this trip, and the second being that we would need to drive a big semi-circle back to Mildura, up the Silver City to Broken Hill then onto the get to the Menindee-Broken Hill Rd to Menindee. After double and triple checking with rangers at the visitor's centre that there was no alternative route to Pooncarie or Menindee we headed back out on Arumpo Rd.
Again, the drive out was just as amazing as the drive in. The road conditions were fine for us in the camper. We never lost traction and the soft, long-travel suspension made it quite comfortable until we hit corrugations, sometimes the frequency just didn't sit right with the wheelbase so speed would need to be reduced. Once we were about halfway back to Mildura some other roads joined up with Arumpo and we must have caught the farm-worker's peak hour because we must have seen 7 or 8 different utes (all separate) coming from side-roads and cattle stations - some with P plates, nearly all drivers wore hats and were drinking beer at the wheel. They must've been in a hurry to meet their mates at the pub because they were doing crazy speeds and were on the verge of losing control in the sandy bits and oncorrugations. One guy overtook us on a bend in a beat-up old ute and the back end was dancing around like Fred Astaire. I was sure I'd see him wrapped around a tree futher down the road. There is definitely a speed and alcohol problem on country roads in the outback, it seems like it is still acceptable to drink-drive for the locals. Interestingly, we saw several young guys (and girls) in wheelchairs in various towns. Go figure.

Aware of this, I had to modify my driving habits somewhat. As safety is our first priority given the amount of kilometres we cover per year, I try to assume that every oncoming car is going to lose control - and anticipate/preempt my evasive options. 

Soon enough we were at Buronga, we bypassed Mildura by heading straight to Wentworth on the Silver City Hwy. At Wentworth we had a moment, it was time to officially say goodbye to the Murray River which we had followed from the river mouth at Goolwa. It was now time to follow the Darling River - even more exciting than the Murray in many ways. Wentworth also allowed us to refill our gas bottle so we could cook again. By now it was probably 4pm and we only had 90 mins or so of light left so we hit the road and headed NNW towards Broken Hill. In our efforts to not hit any birds (or any other animals for that matter) we drove at 80km/h in a 100km/h zone. It's so much more relaxing to not have to worry about maintaining a high speed. It also allows you to enjoy the scenery and sunsets. Just as the sunset was at it's most beautiful we passed a turnoff to a rest area (in this neck of the woods, a rest area is usually a picnic area, toilets and a clean camping area). This looked quite tempting as it was beside the Anabranch Bridge and the anabranch was full and flowing. We could see several campers (and a few caravans) there though and we just hadn't covered enough kilometres so we drove on.

What's an anabranch you say?
Well, the Great Darling Anabranch is actually the ancient route of the Darling River. Back in the days when Lake Mungo and the entire Willandra Lakes system was watered, they actually drained into the Darling River. A massive flood event several thousand years ago changed the course of the river to how it is today but whenever the river floods, water still flows down the anabranch and fills the ephemeral lakes along it. Much of this area hasn't seen water in the lakes for a decade or so.

The GPS showed a few localities where we thought we might find a campground or caravan park but they were just localities and nothing more. We had heard about Coombah and the Coombah Roadhouse as places to get fuel but didn't know if there were any accommodation offerings. Night was now falling and it was getting hard to see which made me a bit anxious to stop as I didn't want to hit a roo, wombat, dropbear or yowie. Coombah was still 15-20km away and fatigue was setting in when we saw another rest stop sign, this time on the banks of Popiltah Lake (which was full to the brim with water). We pulled in and couldn't believe our luck. Only one other camper and his wife right at the other end. We set up 200m from them with a view of the lake. Totally stoked with our luck, we used the last 10 mins of twilight to look around and enjoy the serenity. The bird life was going nuts so we were happy. We checked out the toilet block but couldn't get close to it due to the stench. The used toilet paper and raw shit overflowing out of the bowl probably was the cause of that. Lucky we had our own toilet solution. (Note: pit toilets, and modern eco self-composting toilets are all well and good until the volume of waste exceeds their optimal operating range - then nothing breaks down in it).

I then did the obligatory antenna routine, I knew internet would be fine as I had a signal on my phone. In most cases my modem with external antenna can get the full 5 bars of signal when my phone only has one bar. I suspected that TV wouldn't work, but still gave it a shot - sure enough there were no TV stations. With the internet at full strength we were able to stream music and news and whatever else we needed to feel entertained. We cooked up a feast and had a few hours of relaxation and laughter watching our Dax Shepard movie again (lol), it was becoming a campervan cult classic. Next thing we knew we could hardly keep our eyes open. It was time to go to bed for the night. A little bit of time was spent pondering our location and path to follow, but soon we were spitting out the zzzzzzs.

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