Cradle rocks, indeed

At Mungo Lake, millennia of history right under your feet

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SURREAL: The lunettes of Lake Mungo are aptly named when the Moon starts to glow.

SURREAL: The lunettes of Lake Mungo are aptly named when the Moon starts to glow.


Mungo Man and Mungo Lady the oldest human remains found anywhere in Australia.


Immense, surreal Mungo National Park is the centrepiece of one of the outback's great road trips.

Home to Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, this fossilised lakebed in western NSW is a 42,000-year-old cradle of Aboriginal culture.

Wander around one of this continent's most photogenic phenomena - the Walls of China - or just look down at your feet to witness an unparalleled, unabridged natural history of Australia.

Getting to Mungo National Park

There is a superlative choice of road-trip options to take you to Mungo National Park.

The most direct route from Sydney is a 1040-kilometre drive west to the Murray River gateway town of Wentworth (via Wagga Wagga).

En route, stop at Gundagai to discover the bush legend of the Dog on the Tucker Box. Detour to the multicultural food-bowl town Griffith, if only to grab a bottle or two of local speciality botrytis semillon.

The two-hour drive from Wentworth to Mungo National Park is on unsealed road, so stock up on supplies and fuel, and check road conditions at Wentworth Visitor Information Centre before you leave.

Explore the shifting sand dunes of former megafauna stomping grounds Perry Sandhills (six kilomtres southwest of Wentworth) before heading northeast on Arumpo Road.

If you have a few days to spare, enter (or leave) Lake Mungo via the Darling River Run.

Start this epic (unsealed) road trip in the Bourke, 570 kilometres to the northeast, and tour the immense Menindee Lakes with River Lady Tours on the way.

Break up your journey with a couple of nights in the cosy Jillaroo's Cottage on 130,000-hectare Trilby Station.

A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for exploring Mungo. Ensure you are well prepared for the journey by memorising the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service's outback safety tips.

Walls of China

Visually, Walls of China is a dreamlike outback-scape like none other, but what lies on and just beneath the sandy surface of this long-dry lake is equally jaw-dropping.

Mungo's "lunettes" rise up from the earth like bonsai mountains ranges, formed by millennia of sand-laden winds.

The 10-kilometre-wide, 20-kilometre-long expanse is culturally significant to three Aboriginal groups: the Southern Paakantyi, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi peoples.

Book a NPWS Aboriginal Discovery Guide to explore a sensitive area beyond the boardwalk (all Walls of China walks must be guided).

Receive a heartfelt welcome to country on behalf of Mungo's traditional owners, then hear fascinating Dreaming stories that crisscross the entire Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area.

Mungo Man and Mungo Lady

The Meeting Place at Mungo Visitor Centre tells the tale of the park's true stars: Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, uncovered here in 1974 and 1968 respectively.

Scientists say the remains of these ancient humans are the oldest known examples of ritual burials on Earth.

The Mungos have been described as the "bookend of humanity", helping to prove Australian Aboriginal culture has existed here for at least 42,000 years.

While the remains are locked away for cultural reasons, the Meeting Place unlocks plenty of other treasures, including casts of fossilised human footprints found on a claypan north of the lake in 2003.

The Mungo Loop Track

Drive around Mungo Loop Track (70 kilometres, anticlockwise) to explore the national park's far reaches.

Below tall sand dunes to Mungo's north, Vigars Well once watered the horses of Cobb & Co stagecoaches.

In the south, wander along a boardwalk to prime sunset perch Red Top Lookout to witness the outback's ever-changing hues.

Spend a night halfway at Belah Campground to transform this adventure into a two-day outback odyssey (BYO everything).

The Pastoral Heritage Walk from the Visitor Centre takes you back to Willandra Lakes' pastoral past (allow yourself five hours).

The drop-log cypress pine construction of Mungo Woolshed has stood since 1869; it was once part of the 200,000-hectare Gol Gol Station.

Among the still-standing structures at nearby Zanci Homestead, you'll find an outback "dugout" - an early settler version of a fridge.

Where to stay and eat

Mungo Lodge's smart cabins offer refined sanctuary five kilometres from the Visitor Centre.

Its Mungo Bar and Bistro serves generous country meals from breakfast to dinner - think lamb shanks and chicken schnitzels.

Browse the gift shop for local Aboriginal art and souvenirs. Visit the unofficial zoo of roaming emus, kangaroos and rescue goats, and for an aerial perspective, ask the lodge to organise a scenic flight over Lake Mungo.

Two kilometres from the Visitor Centre, Mungo Main Campground has 33 spacious sites, an amenities block, barbecues and picnic tables. From here, it's a short walk up to Mungo Lookout.

Next to the Visitor Centre, the refurbished Mungo Shearers' Quarters offer neat, simple and family friendly cabins, with shared amenities (including hot showers).

If self-driving is not for you, Outback GeoAdventures (based in Balranald, 150 kilometres south of the national park) runs small group tours that cover all Mungo's highlights, with options to explore lesser-known national parks such as Yanga.

Its Mungo Full Moon Tour is one for budding photographers.

Mungo Guided Tours operates overnight tours in a 4WD coach, starting at either Wentworth or Mildura and staying at Mungo Lodge.