Australia is well known across the globe for its outback, but when’s the last time you went? Nick and his mate Dyl set off to experience the great Australian outback in Mungo National Park, NSW.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Paakantji, Ngyiampaa, and Mutthi Mutthi Nation, the traditional Country of the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa, and Mutthi Mutthi people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Back in December, when we thought COVID would soon be a thing of the past, I ran off to Mungo National Park with my mate Dyl during a period of no restrictions. We were seeking desert, desolation and drastic landscapes and got just that. Despite both having extensive travel experience, neither of us had been anywhere quite like Mungo. The complete outback experience was at our fingertips – just mere hours from home.
Keeping the Stoke Burning Hot
A year ago it was a minor headline and then COVID-19 quickly took over our lives. The changes brought on by the pandemic will probably be around for longer than we imagine. We’ve had every reason to sit at home, eat junk food and complain about how nothing will ever be the same again as we dream of our unrestricted lives of the past.
The other option, however, was to keep the stoke burning hot, which, for me, is achieved through exploring places that I would have overlooked before this all happened. In many parts of Australia, travel within the state or territory that you live in is totally acceptable and so my mate Dyl and I took advantage of a five day weekend strategically planned between our regular days off, public holidays and one day of annual leave.
Exploring My Own Backyard
I’ve done a good amount of travel in the past four-and-a-bit years since I took off on what was supposed to be a short celebratory trip after completing my university studies. I’ve bikepacked across Central Asia, North America, and parts of Europe, spent three months diving off a Croatian island, worked at sea on superyachts and now I’m a forest firefighter.
Most people I meet, who haven’t been to Australia, have similar questions. They ask about the beach, the kangaroos, and the outback. I have plenty of experience with the first two, however, embarrassingly having not explored my own home. I decided that things have to change.
An Adventure Begins
We’d loaded the car the night before and wearily filled the Klean Kanteens with coffee early in the morning. So early in fact, we got the wheels rolling before the kookaburras and rosellas had sung their first chorus. Living on the western side of the Great Dividing Range in the Snowy Valleys of NSW, we’d decided to head towards the outback.
The sun meandered towards its zenith as nature’s palette shifted from purple to blue, to emerald green, vibrant yellow, and deep orange then blended into a red to match the dirt on my boots.
Mangled trees stood twisted, missing limbs here and there from the droughts of the past. I lit the Trangia and prepared the Aeropress, enjoying the drifting aroma of coffee mixing with the desert air.
Read more: How To Brew The Best Camping Coffee Outdoors
Dry Dry Country
Ants rambled across the dry and cracked clay that looked like it hadn’t seen a drop of rain in months. I walked, read, sipped, and stretched while waiting for my mate Dylan to wake from his cosy swag-induced slumber. Early mornings are a must in the outback – it’s too bloody hot to do much in the day and we had plenty of places to explore.
Our brains rattled along the corrugated red dirt roads, as we rocked out to Led Zeppelin and Eagles. As we proceeded into the nothingness, the ruggedness of the landscape became obvious as sun-bleached skulls littered the lands where livestock had seemingly once flourished.
Property boundary fences continued, the combination of blaring heat and massive expanse of flat country made it seem like it’d never end. Not much grows out there – mulga, mallee, saltbush, and a handful of other stunted scrub and grasses.
We entered Mungo National Park and stood in awe, admiring the formidable remoteness of the Willandra Lakes. A bright white stationary wave runs through the Mungo Lunette, also known as the Walls of China. It was caused by the prevailing westerly winds pushing the earth into piles as the water receded from its highest point between 22,000 and 18,000 years ago. The reason it’s so white is because of the constant beating and weathering it receives from the sun, and wind gusts that have driven the red clay away.
Out there is where the Mungo Man and Lady were found, giving one of the oldest known evidence of humans in the world. The Mungo Man has been dated to about 40,000 years ago.
Becoming One With the Landscape
We walked along a track through the desert, observing Major Mitchell cockatoos and Eastern rosellas swiftly darting around the limited foliage. Dyl and I sat downwind in the shade and enjoyed watching a mama and joey Red kangaroo drink from an ‘earth tank’ (a naturally occurring depression that causes a dam).
They were difficult to spot, blending in with the burgundy sand. Knowing they were being watched, the big one’s ears twitched independently, showing the white fur chinstrap that wrapped around her face as she scanned for any danger. Meanwhile, the little fella continued to lap up the water unphased.
I suggested that we find somewhere outside of the park to get set up for the night and have some time to enjoy the sun setting over the desertscape. We followed a rough track that traced the remains of powerlines and pulled up under a grove of mallee.
Dyl rolled out his swag as I pegged out my tent and we enjoyed a quick feed before the big show. We sat awestruck as the sun began to drop in the west and the moon rose over the purple-tinged scene of barren desolation to the east. As the vibrancy of the sky faded, the persistent westerly blew threw my open vestibule and the first stars of the night began to glisten as I dozed off to sleep.
I’m not sure if anything could have made me happier than that.