Tucked up in the north west of Victoria, the Murray Sunset and Hattah-Kulkyne National Parks offer a secluded place to recharge and reconnect. Georgia trail runs through the region and along the Murray River, where the only calls come from birds and the wind through the gums.
- Best of the Mallee and river-red gum bushland
- Remote atmosphere
- Flat, long stretches for distance runners
Waking Up In Murray Sunset National Park
Every dawn, a pied butcherbird perches above our tent and sings over the campsite. It’s my morning alarm to get out running.
If you’ve never heard a butcherbird before, it’s one of the most beautiful bird songs in Australia. It’s somewhere between the ringing of a tuning fork, and a set of wind chimes. It’s eerie and hypnotic, and reminds the listener of the age of the country. At camp, it reminds us of the remoteness of where we are as guests, sleeping on the shore of the Murray, in the lands of the Jarijari First Nations’ peoples.
As the sky is starting to haze at dawn, I pull my shoes on, and set out along the dirt track under the river red gums, out towards the drier Mallee.
I’m following the course of the Murray River, and its winding path will take me past the middens of First Nations’ groups from centuries before, where the shells of their long-past meals are still scattered on the banks. The Murray River was a refuge from the harshness of the surrounding Mallee and from clashing tribes. Now it provides a limited glimpse of what the country used to look like.
As I run, the river provides incredible species to see — eucalypts, acacias, lichens and fungi, wallabies, emus, kangaroos — and birds. Spectacular birds. Little corellas in huge flocks cast their shadows overhead, red-rumped and regent parrots scatter from the undergrowth, and splendid fairy-wrens flash blue in my periphery as I move through the park.
The red Mallee stretches out before me, flat, diverse and offering spectacular views to the distance. The trees cast some relieving shade in patches, but for now, the dawn is fresh, and the open sky above me affords me a spectacular view of the sunrise, and the mist that coils off the surface of the river.
This is trail running at some of its best and most surreal. A moonscape for adventurers who like to go ahead by foot, fast or slow.
Camping In Hattah-Kulkyne National Park
In September this year, we camped on the bank of the Murray in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. We drove out from Melbourne and ran every day we were here, on roads and trails that braid against and away from the river, taking us through all the different ecosystems of this amazing national park and state forest. Then we skipped along the road to drive into the distant center of Murray-Sunset, lands of the Latjilatji First Nations peoples, to see the pink salt lakes and to explore the other reaches of the Murray.
Safety Tip: Be aware of where you pitch your tent — River Red Gums have been termed ‘Widowmakers’ for their tendency to drop huge branches without warning. Pitch in a section camp with a clear sight line to the sky, and make measured judgments about the closeness of horizontal branches of nearby trees.
The two parks frame the Victorian side of the windiest north-western section of the Murray River near Mildura. Murray Sunset National Park is a huge section of preserved bushland, nearly 6500 square km of precious Mallee country. The smaller but equally beautiful Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and State Forest is about 480 square km. Both parks are diverse with refuges for campers (and runners) along the riverbanks.
The Murray is the colour of clay and nippy, perfect for a cool-down after a day exploring the trails. The access roads and anabranch tracks of the national park offer some awesome trail runs that are flat, long and perfect for any runner; beginner, intermediate distance or flat-out, Jurek-inspired ultra runners. These trails weave against and away from the river, taking you between the best of the open Mallee and the cooler river bush. In the mornings you’ll see the sunrise starting as a line on the horizon and as you run towards it, watch as the light show spreads, engulfs the stars, and the morning properly sets in for a day of adventure.
The dry open bushland of northwestern Victoria is unlike any other region of the country. Run by day, cook and wind-down by night while listening to the nightjars and the insects living by the mighty Murray. Get out in it and be rewarded with incredible swathes of landscape to explore, trees to climb, birds to spot, and trails to run.
- Running Shoes (I wore my Barefoot Vivos Primus Trail SGs. On the sand they were deliciously tactile and comfortable, but on more gravelly sections I copped a couple of pebbles to the ball of my foot. Something hardier may be recommended for the gravel sections, maybe light Merrell joggers, or standard trail-running shoes).
- Layered clothes
- A means of contact or a stop off point for a ride home (if going one-way or a long distance)
- Headtorch if running at night
- Hat, sunscreen if running during the day
- A comfy camping rig, set up for you to come back to post-run for a well-earned dinner.
How To Get There
Hattah-Kulkyne and Murray Sunset National Parks are about 5 hours Northwest from Melbourne, or 30 minutes south of Mildura. Car access is decent, but the area is remote from mechanical help and the sand on some tracks can be deep. Consult maps of Murray-Sunset National Park online at Parks information to find camping spots and the better nooks of the Murray for exploring.
- Wide sandy beaches (perfect for sunbaking hangs, frisbee/volleyball matches)
- Bird watching
- Long or short trails
Skill Level & Distance
To be customized at your leisure. Hattah-Kulkyne & Murray-Sunset both allow you to choose the distance and difficulty of the trail running you’d like to explore.
First Nations regions sourced from the AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia.
Explore The Murray In Victoria