Is Balranald on your road trip bucket list? No? Well it should be! This unassuming town on the Murrumbidgee River is the gateway to some of the most diverse and breathtaking National Parks in NSW. With so much to do in the Riverina Murray Region; hiking, camping, fishing, epic landscapes and a rich cultural history – there’s something here for everyone, so time to pack up the car and hit the road.
Road Trip To Balranald
Balranald is a great road trip from Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra or Sydney, and it’s the gateway to Yanga and Mungo National Parks. But hold your horses! Before you go tearing down that dirt road, Balranald is definitely worth hanging around for.
After stocking up in town with food and fuel, how about walking the 1.5-hour heritage tour and uncovering the local history of the area? You can even ditch the car and borrow bikes from the Balranald Visitor Information Centre (they’re free!)
After cycling around the Balranald township, take a walk on the Bidgee nature walk along the riverbank, a prime opportunity to encounter some of the local wildlife – look out for the endangered Southern Bell Frog! After all that nature it’ll definitely be time to check out the local for some beers and outback hospitality before you throw in a line to catch your dinner.
Lunar Landscapes Of Mungo National Park
Outer space is out of reach for most of us, but in Mungo National Park you can immerse yourself in an amazing lunar landscape right here on earth. Part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Region, Mungo is made up of a chain of ancient dry lake basins, lunettes and dunefields, which are best experienced via a 70km self-drive loop around the park.
Long after the lake went dry, sand from the lake floor was swept up by the wind and deposited on the shoreline. This sand continued to be carved by wind and rain over thousands of years to produce the formations we know today as the Walls of China. While awe-inspiring to look at, they also provide clues to the evolution of our life on earth. The oldest footprints ever found in Australia were discovered here, stepping straight out of the Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago.
Mungo National Park is also home to Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, the most significant human remains ever found in Australia and oldest remains outside of Africa.
Mungo continues to be sculpted by the elements today. The fragile landscape is so culturally and scientifically important it is now prohibited to climb on the lunettes or disturb the artefacts embedded within them. But if just looking at this landscape has you itching for more, how about booking a Walls of China Aboriginal discovery tour to learn in depth about Mungo’s significance and history? Or for an experience that’s truly out of this world, time your visit with the full moon and watch it rise over the lunettes.
From Balranald, Mungo National Park is only a 156km drive on a well-kept unsealed road (it doesn’t take the 5 hours that Google Maps predicts – unless you actually drive at 30km/h!) It goes without saying that sunrise and sunset here isn’t one you’ll forget in a hurry.
The Wildlife Paradise Of Yanga National Park
Located just 17km outside of Balranald is Yanga National Park. Originally home to Aboriginal communities and pastoral families, it’s now your turn to experience the next part of the Yanga story. In the last 10 years, Yanga National Park has transformed from the Riverina’s most productive pastoral station, into wetlands of ecological importance, home to over 150 species of bird and endangered amphibians.
Wander along the calm waters on the Yanga Lake walking track and take in the panorama from the viewing deck. There’s even a purpose built bird hide for the real keen Twitchers! Or for a completely unique outback experience; take to the waters of Lake Yanga under the vast open skies, encircled by red earth and river red gum eucalypts (BYO kayak).
While the abundant wildlife and connection to the natural landscape at Yanga are amazing, it’s the relics of the pastoral past throughout the park which make this place so remarkable. Make sure you stop by the Balranald Visitor Information Centre to pick up your audio guide before heading to Yanga Homestead and experiencing this time capsule of station living.
If you love being out bush, I can personally recommend the campsites within Yanga – Mamanga and The Willows campground are free, with picnic tables and fire BBQs provided, what more could you want?! And with Yanga mostly still a local secret, you’re likely to get to enjoy the nature and serenity all by yourself.
If you’re not a happy camper, just cruise back to Balranald for oodles of accommodation options for every budget.
Rich Culture On Your Doorstep
Where else in the world can you experience outback and wetlands side by side, combined with Aboriginal and European history, all in one place? Okay, trick question – only in Balranald Shire! Although the sheep have stopped roaming the lands at Mungo and Yanga, the ghosts of the pastoral past are still strongly felt. Combine this with relics dating back over 50,000 years, out of this world geology and a higher proportion of shell middens than anywhere else on the Riverine Plain and you’ve got yourself a pretty special place.
When Indigenous Australians talk about ‘country’, it’s that connection where nature, culture and land are all linked. It’s their identity, their soul, the feeling of home. It’s with great privilege that we get to share in their knowledge of country and explore and learn the stories of the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi people.
Getting To Balranald
Balranald is 482km from Melbourne, 550km from Adelaide, 638km from Canberra and 853km from Sydney. Closures to local roads are common after wet weather so check with the Balranald Visitor Information Centre for the latest information before setting off.
There’s never a bad time to visit this incredible part of Australia, but if super high temperatures and swarms of flies aren’t your idea of a good time, maybe avoid summer. Spring is our pick; comfortable temperatures in Mungo, the native flora will be blooming and it’s bird breeding season in Yanga. And as always, when driving in remote locations; make sure you’re well stocked with food, fuel and water, and watch for wildlife.
Live that road trip lifestyle