I am deep asleep, warm and cosy in my sleeping bag, a chirpy "Good Morning Mummy" brings me back to reality. I open my eyes and the first thing I see is the milky waters of Lake Panamaroo not 10 feet from my toes, glowing pale pink in the early dawn, small wavelets slapping against the shore in a soothing rhythm, birds whistle sweet tunes, I could sleep for several more hours in these conditions, but it's not going to happen.
An hour later we are fed, packed up and back on the road. Only a short first leg today, just down the road to Kinchega National Park, in particular to its historic woolshed, which had more than 6 million sheep pass over its boards in it working history, from the 1870's to 1969. The drive from Menindee to the woolshed is just 12kms. We follow the foreshore of a few more lakes, filled with a myriad of birdlife. We also see huge Red Kangaroos, well over 6ft tall, the biggest I have ever seen, and they are plentiful, as are the emus, snakes and lizards of all descriptions. We arrive at the woolshed and are instantly impressed by the size of the shed, 26 stands. The western end is dug into a red sand dune, with the eastern end some 20 feet off the ground, with a large ramp of hand-hewn timber giving access for the sheep. I walk into the shed, it stills smells of lanolin, my eyes adjust to the dull light, and I am instantly in love with the old timbers with patches of warm morning light falling in light and shadow across the building. The shed is surprisingly intact. We explore the shed, the yards, the old steam engines that powered the board and the outbuildings. I think I will be back here in the near future. In what feels like no time at all, but is really an hour and half, we bundle back into the ute and head back to Menindee before continuing South to Pooncarrie.
We arrive at Pooncarrie, a small village on the banks of the Darling River, for an early lunch. We are also in need of bread and drinking water. Most shops in the town are closed, another example of small towns in decline out here. We head the local pub, The Telegraph Hotel, where the staff are most helpful, selling us a few loaves of frozen bread and directing us to a nice park with free drinking water. The Park is exceptionally clean and well appointed, including a large children's play area, much to Alli's delight.
From Pooncarrie we head East. Heading along more bulldust coated roads towards the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area and Mungo National Park. Arriving on the western edge of the park by early afternoon we make for the Information Centre, pay camping and day use fees then head off towards Mungo's most renowned feature, The Walls of China, stopping on our way to explore the historic Mungo Woolshed. A Luna landscape rises from the low saltbush plains, tall white sandstone cliffs and strange mounds that stand like giant termites' nests. I would love to venture from the marked trail and explore, but this is forbidden without the guidance of one of the local aboriginals. As we are heading back to the car park we spot huge clouds of dust rising from the horizon, the tour group was on its way, 20 or more cars filled with people heading in our direction. We vacate quickly, continuing South around the 70km loop to our next stop, Red Tank Lookout. Here we get a much closer view of the "giant termite mounds" as they have now been dubbed, truly spectacular and a real must see. The walk is short, around 100m, and follows a boardwalk for the most part.
Back in the car again make our way to the Belah Campsite, about halfway around the Mungo circuit. The campsite is quite busy, with many families already installed, but it is a large area and we soon have ourselves a great little spot amongst the trees. Once again, our camp is up and ready to use in no time at all, so we start dinner and settle down for a game or two of Uno. After several vicious games Alli is dubbed the Uno champion. The wind has picked up and the sun is starting to set. I think the thermometer is dropping as quickly as the sun is from the evening sky. It really is true what they say about desert nights. Absolutely freezing! We scoff into our hot dinner and head to the warmth of our beds as quickly as possible.
Extract from 'Headed South' Available from Amazon
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