Visiting the Mungo National Park in outback New South Wales (NSW) is an otherworldly experience. That’s due to a few reasons. First and foremost, the captivating scenery has to be seen to be believed. Mungo National Park and its main attraction; the Walls of China, are a mesmerising sight to behold. It’s the places natural beauty that initially draws visitors in. But once you learn more about the historical and archaeological findings here, the incredible landmark takes on a whole new level. Although typically explored in a 4×4, our guide will detail a Mungo National Park 2WD trip. But be warned, it’s not for the fainthearted.
Amazingly, there is evidence that Mungo National Park is one of the oldest places in the world (outside of Africa) to be occupied by the human species. It’s estimated that the Indigenous people of Australia lived here between 50-60,000 years ago. There’s also incredible archaeological findings of bones and artifacts belonging to the now-extinct megafauna. These gigantic animals that once existed alongside the Aborigines. It was a time when there was actually water in the lakes! An ecosystem and environment that has significantly changed since then.
This guide doesn’t aim to thoroughly explain the history and archaeological findings of the area. Just by visiting, you’ll learn a lot about those things. So if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle, buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This Mungo National Park 2WD itinerary, set within the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area, will take you along the 70km Mungo Loop Track. This self guided drive will detail the main attractions, walks and highlights of the area.
Mungo National Park 2WD | Self Guided Day Trip
Admittedly, visiting the Mungo National Park will be much more comfortable in a 4WD. That’s because all of the sandy roads in the national park are corrugated. For an explanation of how soft surfaced roads become corrugated, read Practical Motoring’s musings. Anyway, whatever scientific explanation there is for the corrugation of roads, just know that in a 2WD, it’s a VERY bumpy and slow drive.
Additionally, it’s not uncommon for the Mungo National Park to be inaccessible due to road closure as a result of wet weather. Literally as I write this article, the park’s closed because of this. Even when the park reopens, a 4WD is a much better option. You’re less likely to damage your vehicle, get stuck or need assistance. However, on a dry track, it’s totally doable to complete the Mungo Loop Track in a 2WD.
SIDE NOTE: Personally, without much experience driving on corrugated roads, we had to take it slow. Whilst all the 4×4 vehicles zoomed by, we were able to slowly but safely explore the area. If you choose to do the same, you can only follow this Mungo National Park 2WD guide in dry conditions when the roads are safe. Don’t be surprised if you are the only ones out there in a 2WD!
Either way, in a 2WD or 4WD, this guide will detail the self guided drive set out by NSW National Parks. Their website has an excellent interactive map of the Mungo Track which we suggest you check out. But be warned that you won’t have any phone reception when you’re there. For additional directions and maps on how to actually get to Mungo National Park, check out our Google Map directions.
There were some other walks on offer but they were either too long or didn’t look as interesting. This included the Zanci Pastoral Loop, Foreshore Walk and the Grassland Walk. For more information on these short walks, Visit Mungo has a nice summary of them.
1. Mungo Lookout
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 200m
- Time: 5 minutes
- Accumulated elevation gain: None
- Difficulty: Very Easy*
- Trailhead:Mungo Lookout Car Park
Before arriving at Mungo National Park, you’ll be treated to the unique atmosphere of a place, in the middle of nowhere! Barren and arid soil, shrubbery and trees surround you. The orange dust so synonymous with the outback occupies the lands with a brown tinge. It makes you aware that although you’re in bloody woop woop, you’re still a long way from the vivid red soil of central outback Australia.
So after a tediously bumpy drive, you’ll be relieved to arrive at the Mungo National Park. Most people will head straight to the Mungo Visitor Centre, which is generally the start of the 70km Mungo Track self drive loop. Before heading there, quickly stop at the Mungo Lookout. It technically falls just outside the Mungo Track. From the lookout, you will have a nice preview of what is to come. Views of the desert landscape residing over the now dried Lake Mungo and the most famous lunette of them all, the Walls of China, are just visible.
Without there being an extensive walking track here, you’ll soon be in the car heading to the Mungo Visitor Centre. Unfortunately, our trip coincided with the closure of the facility due to COVID-19. So we could only check it out from the outside, plus use the bathrooms. Usually, it’s recommended to pop in for some information brochures, maps and to get a lowdown of the area.
2. Mungo Woolshed
Even if the Mungo Visitor Centre is closed, be sure to park there as the Mungo Woolshed is situated next door. Built in 1869, you’ll have a much more recent history to learn about. The woolshed was creatively made of locally harvested cypress pine using a drop-log construction. Taking a step inside the sheep shearing quarters is like taking a step back in time. The woolshed doesn’t look like it has changed too much over the years. It’s only the safety signs and information plaques, teaching you about the pastoral history, that is evidence of interference of the original interior setup and design.
So you’ll have a truly authentic experience checking out the woolshed and reading more about it. In its heyday, the woolshed was a busy place. There could be upwards of 18 men shearing approximately 50,000 sheep. The once hectic and lively ambience is a stark contrast to the quiet and peaceful visit we had. Only Beck and I wondered the woolshed, merely imagining those more impressive scenes from another time. As the floorboards squeaked and screeched, our appetite for nature grew. We were quite excited to check out the lunettes and epic desert scenery coming up next.
3. Walls of China Viewing Platform
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 750m
- Time: 0.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: None
- Difficulty: Very Easy*
- Trailhead:Walls of China Car Park
Once you’ve left the Visitor Centre Car Park, your Mungo Track self drive is in full swing. Expect to see kangaroos producing clouds of orange-brown dust as they bounce through the dried shrubbery. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at the main attraction; the Walls of China. There is a large car park here. This attraction will be the most crowded. After seeing only a handful of people during the trip so far, we were surprised at how many cars were here. There were probably 30 vehicles here, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But considering we were in the outback, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was relatively busy.
Walls of China Boardwalk
There is a slightly longer walk to get to the Walls of China viewing platform compared to the Mungo Lookout. But it’s still a very short walk. You’ll be mesmerised the entire time by the alien-looking landscape on display. There are mounds of red rock with rippled textures scattered throughout a yellow and brown coloured desert. The lunettes resemble a fascinating lunar like presence. Without seeing much of the Australian outback before, we were blown away.
The views from the Walls of China lookout are epic, but a bit far away to truly observe the interesting shapes and structures. Wandering the Walls of China without a tour guide is trespassing. It’s a big no-no. In the past, and still to this day, lunatics roam these fragile areas on bikes and other vehicles, leading to its destruction. Currently, guided tours of the Walls of China are the only legal way to get near them. In turn, this reduces foot traffic around the lunettes, which helps with conservation efforts.
Long story short, we explored Mungo National Park much earlier than we had anticipated due to a change of plans around COVID-19 travel restrictions. So it meant we hadn’t enough time to plan for a guided tour. When we arrived at the Walls of China lookout, we realised that only tour groups were allowed to explore the area in more detail. If we had our time over, we would have included a guided tour as part of our own self drive adventure. This would have allowed us to get closer to the Walls of China, meaning more epic photography.
You’ll still have a great time doing a Mungo National Park 2WD self exploration trip without a guided tour. Luckily, you’ll have a chance at seeing similarly stunning scenery at some of the other lookouts on this self drive itinerary.
4. Red Top Lookout & Boardwalk
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 500m
- Time: 0.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: None
- Difficulty: Grade 2
- Trailhead: Red Top Lookout Car Park
For those who haven’t organised a group tour, you’ll definitely want to check out the Red Top Lookout. This boardwalk takes you a lot closer to the lunettes and other lunar type landscape than the Walls of China boardwalk. For that reason alone, we actually preferred checking out the Red Top Lookout. You’ll find another generously sized car park here. Upon arrival, you’ll notice the rippled textured rocks are very close. Whilst still respecting the boundaries, you’ll have better photography opportunities here, even without an official guide.
As you wander the short boardwalk, your visual senses will be overloaded. The foreign and bizarre-looking desert is so unique. Give it some time to register and sink in. Other than the Pinnacles in the Ben Boyd National Park, Beck and I can’t recall another moment during our South Coast NSW / Victoria road trip when we were so lost for words.
5. Mallee Stop Walking Track
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 1km
- Time: 0.25 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: None
- Difficulty: Grade 3
- Trailhead: Mallee Stop Car Park
The Mallee Stop walking track is the only real bonafide walking trail that we decided to do. Most of the other walks have been short boardwalks designed for lookouts. At least the Mallee Stop Walking Track was a genuine trail through interesting terrain. Our first and only real opportunity at a speed hike. Well, lasting only 15 minutes or so. But it was a nice way to get the body moving after driving most of the day.
WHERE IS BEST TO SPEED HIKE? There are no hard and fast rules as to where is best to speed hike. As long as you’re on a trail, you can speed hike until your heart’s content. In the case of the Mallee Stop Walking Track, despite being a tiny trail, we wanted to cover the walk quickly as 1) we were hungry for lunch and 2) we wanted to crack on with the day’s itinerary. All wonderful excuses to turn up the speed with walking.
Parking is more limited here. But we’re sure you’ll be able to find a park close to the trail. A picnic area is positioned by the start of the trail. An orange dusty track will lead you through areas of shrubbery and trees. Small information boards describing wildlife are evenly distributed along the trail and are worth the read.
After the magnificence of the Walls of China and Red Top lookouts, don’t be surprised if you’re a little underwhelmed by this walk. Nevertheless, it’s worth visiting, for at the very least, it could be a perfect stop for lunch. Otherwise, close by is the next stop; Vigars Well Picnic Area, an alternate place to eat.
6. Vigars Well
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 1km
- Time: 0.5 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 3Minimal
- Difficulty: Easy*
- Trailhead: Vigars Well Picnic Area
It’s been approximately 15,000 years since the Willandra Lakes region held water. When you’re exploring this area, it’s truly hard to imagine that this now desert landscape was once submerged underwater by Lake Mungo. But when you arrive at Vigar Wells, you get a small insight into how this land was once saturated with water. Originally this area was a natural spring used by the Aborigines during times of drought. But since then, it was dug in the 1930s by Roy Vigar and turned into a well. It became a reliable source of water used to wash horses and bullocks.
The stop at Vigar Wells was actually one of our favourite parts of the itinerary. Not because of the well. But because the picnic area is a gateway to exploring some more of the iconic lunette walls. Once you arrive at the large car park, you’ll see a series of large sand dunes. Walking up them takes a bit of effort but you are rewarded with fantastic panoramic views of the wondrous landscape. Continuing on the sand dunes takes you deeper into the lunar-like terrain.
We aimlessly wandered the lunettes for half an hour or so. The size of the lunettes was larger than we had expected. Their textures and shapes incredible, plus their varied colours consisted of a palette of orange, green, yellow and brown. Self exploring this area conjured an otherworldly experience difficult to replicate elsewhere. Perhaps only in other desert landscapes will you have the chance to enjoy this sensation.
FYI there is a drop toilet at this location. Although you’re not far from the end of the self drive loop, where you’ll find bathrooms at the Mungo National Park Visitor Centre.
7. Zanci Homestead
The final stop of the Mungo National Park 2WD self drive is the Zanci Homestead. The site is made up of a few original buildings, some refurbished whilst others remain as ruins. Although the refurbished constructions accurately reflect what it used to look like, we generally prefer the ruins of any given place. It often gives a place an edgier, real and older ambience. In this case, perhaps the combination of refurbished buildings and original ruins provided an appropriate mix of both worlds.
Make sure to descend the stairs into the well maintained dugout. You’ll experience a drop in temperature. It’s surely a welcome reprieve on a hot day. Checking out this area takes around half an hour. But this really depends on how much time you spend at the Zanci Woolshed. Once part of the Mungo Woolshed, it was relocated and rebuilt on this site. Inside the woolshed are numerous information boards detailing the pastoral history of the Willandra Lakes region in great detail.
This part of the tour wasn’t a highlight. But, it’s still worth a visit. You will leave the Mungo National Park with a greater understanding of the pastoral history. Plus, a great insight into the construction of this time.
Mungo National Park 2WD Self Drive Recap
Even after one hell of a bumpy ride to and from the Mungo National Park, you’ll thoroughly enjoy your time here. As discussed, consider a 4WD for comfort. But do know that the trip is possible in a 2WD, if the roads are open! The epic scenery and panoramic desert landscape on offer are truly mesmerising. Plus, the history and archaeological findings of the area add even more layers of amazement to this already stunning place. Barren, desolate, but beautiful.
For more information on how to get there, where to stay and total costs, please read below.
Getting to Mungo National Park
From the major cities: Despite being located in NSW, Mungo National Park is much closer to Adelaide in South Australia and Melbourne in Victoria. The drive time from Sydney is around 11 hours, from Adelaide is 6 hours and Melbourne is 7 hours. So it’s probably too far to travel for a weekend trip from these cities.
With its location in the outback, your Mungo National Park 2WD self drive might have to be tied into a longer trip from either of these cities. The closest town to base yourself for this trip would be Mildura in Victoria or Wentworth or Hay in NSW. With a 4WD, expect the journey time from Mildura and Wentworth to be around 1.5 hours. From Hay, expect a 2.5 hour trip one-way. With a 2WD, you’re looking at 2.5 hours from Midura and 2 hours from Wentworth. From Hay, somewhere around 3-3.5 hours. Mildura is by far the bigger town with more accommodation options, so consider driving to the Mungo National Park from there.
For overseas travellers or those further away interstate, you’ll want to fly to either Adelaide or Melbourne to do this trip. Use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search. Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money on international travel. If you’re interstate, subscribe to I Want That Flight for the best domestic flight deal alerts.
Getting There From Mildura or Wentworth
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, we were unable to stay in Victoria. This meant we couldn’t stay in Mildura as planned. This is the ideal launching pad for a day trip to the Mungo National Park because it’s a bigger town with cheaper accommodation options. But instead, we based ourselves in the nearby town of Wentworth. It’s a small historic town in NSW just across the border and a mere 25 minutes from Mildura. The plus side was that staying here meant a shorter drive to the Mungo National Park. Let us explain.
Although Mildura is geographically closer and a shorter drive (118km) to the Mungo National Park, 88km of this route is on unsealed roads. So even in a 4WD, it’s much slower. For a 2WD, you wouldn’t even consider this option. Far better, is the slightly longer drive (129km) from Wentworth, but with only 59km on unsealed roads. To complete this route, follow our Google maps directions.
Google Maps Directions From Wentworth
You’ll essentially drive towards Pooncarie. At 22km south of this town is a turnoff to the Mungo National Park. So if you have a 2WD and are staying in Mildura, it’s best to drive this route via Wentworth as to maximise your time on sealed roads. This will make the overall time shorter even though you end up driving further. So in fact, for those with a 2WD, staying in Wentworth will shave around 25 minutes off the journey to Mungo National Park! For more information on options for getting there from Mildura and other relatively nearby towns, check out Visit Mungo.
If you don’t have a car, use RentalCars.com to find one! We hired a car using RentalCars.com for our road trip in Tasmania to see Cradle Mountain and Bruny Island. They were easy to book with, reliable and trustworthy.
Of course, where you base yourself will dictate where you drive from to reach Mungo National Park. There are basically three options. We have discussed staying in Mildura and Wentworth. The third option is actually staying in Mungo National Park itself. Let’s go through all of those options.
Being the largest town relatively close to Mungo National Park, you’ll have the most options here. We had initially booked a private cottage using Airbnb for $38AUD/night ($27USD). There were a few other similar places to stay around Mildura for a similar price, also on Airbnb. Because of this great find, we didn’t seek any other options.
Although we had planned to stay in Mildura, we had to cancel our reservation in the end due to the NSW/Victoria border closure. Through Airbnb, we were able to get a full refund.
Being a small country town, we couldn’t find any Airbnb options here. So we used Booking.com to book Two Rivers Motel. It wasn’t the cheapest stay at $93AUD/night ($67USD). However, after many days of car camping during our South Coast NSW / Victoria road trip, it was a nice change to stay in a decent motel with a comfy bed.
The staff here were friendly and accommodating. The rooms were very spacious, had sufficient heating during winter and had all necessary amenities. Plus, the motel is rated ‘very good’ on Booking.com with a score of 8.0 with over 100 reviews as of August 2020. If you’re looking for a cheaper option altogether, there are camping and cabin options at Mungo National Park.
Mungo National Park
- Camping: There are two campsites here. As of August 2020, the Main Campground, located 2km from the Visitor Centre is $24/night per site ($17USD). Otherwise, the Belah Campground located along the Mungo Loop Track is $12/night per site ($8.50USD). Although the Belah Campground is very basic with only picnic tables and non-flush toilets, apparently there are hot showers available at the Visitor Centre. In comparison, the Main Campground have those facilities, plus BBQs and an amenities block. But again, to have a hot shower, you’ll need to head to the Visitor Centre.
- Lodge/cabin: There are an additional two options for accommodation in Mungo National Park. It’s actually possible to stay in the Mungo Shearers’ Quarters. Unfortunately, it’s closed during the pandemic with no re-opening date. However, it’s usually $60AUD/room ($43USD) for two occupants. The accommodation is simple but has all of the necessary amenities similar to that of a hostel. Staying in the Shearer’s Quarters would surely be a cool experience! Alternatively, there’s Mungo Lodge. It’s certainly the most expensive option at $295AUD/night ($212USD) but it’s by far the nicest accommodation available.
Mungo Lodge Tour Options
It’s actually through Mungo Lodge that you can organise a Walls of China guided tour. You should definitely consider doing a guided tour as part of your self-drive itinerary. This will allow you to get up, close and personal with the magnificent Walls of China. Plus, you’ll learn even more about the Indigenous history of this area. For instance, you’ll likely hear about the fascinating and ancient Mungo Man and Mungo Lady.
Otherwise, like us, you’ll only be able to see them from afar at the viewing platform. If you can drive yourself to Mungo National Park, the tour is only $49AUD ($35USD). The tour departs from Mungo Lodge’s reception at 11am. You could then complete other parts of this Mungo National Park 2WD self drive around this guided tour.
For more information on this tour, check out Mungo Lodge tours. There is also a sunset and full moon Walls of China tour for $65AUD ($47USD) respectively, that both look amazing too!
Generally speaking, travelling in Australia is expensive. So we usually pack our own food to cook. Mildura has all of the groceries stores you’ll need. We generally shop at Aldi for the cheapest prices.
- Accommodation: $186AUD ($133USD) for two nights for two people
- Petrol: $30AUD/person ($21USD)
- Food: $20AUD/person ($14USD)
= $118AUD/person ($85USD)
Most of the activities on this Mungo National Park 2WD self-drive itinerary are for free. So the total costs were fairly low. But accommodation ended up being a lot more expensive in Wentworth compared to Mildura.
Additionally, we do recommend a guided tour of the Walls of China. So those costs need to be factored in as well. Plus, parking in the Mungo National Park is $8AUD ($5.50USD) daily. However parking on the day would be for free if you have a NSW National Parks Pass. So buy the 1 year Multi-Park Pass for $65AUD ($36USD) if you visit NSW national parks regularly. It’s totally worth it!
Five Essentials for Mungo National Park
Keep in mind that during winter, even during the day, it can be really cold in the outback. So you’ll need some warm layers. But during summer, it can get stinking hot! Because we travelled in winter, some of our gear essentials for Mungo National Park are clothes you wouldn’t dream of wearing in summer.
For a more comprehensive packing list, please check out the Ultimate Packing Checklist. It’s a great general summary of everything you’d need for a trip. For even more information check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. We go in-depth into what hiking and camping gear we use.
- Nikon D3400 Digital SLR Camera – you’ll want a camera to capture the magical lunettes and desert landscape.
- Beam Electronics Car Phone Holder – this will be really handy if you’re following directions on your phone.
- Ray-Ban Polarised Clubmaster Square Oversized Sunglasses – during summer, you’ll need a pair of these!
- The North Face Men’s TKA Glacier Snap Fleece jacket – you’ll be surprised how cold it gets during winter at the Mungo National Park.
- Patagonia Men’s Down Sweater Jacket – in winter, you’ll need some layers!
All of the short walks in the Mungo National Park are very easy to follow. So you won’t need any help with directions. However, there is no phone reception at Mungo National Park. So for the self-drive, you may want to download a general map of the area on Maps.me to use just in case. Otherwise, you can use Google Maps to at least get you to Mungo National Park. From there, the self-drive is very easy to follow.
- Check NSW National Parks website: Before visiting Mungo National Park, check the NSW National Parks website. It doesn’t take much rainfall for the roads to be closed. This means you cannot drive to or access Mungo National Park. Fingers crossed your trip isn’t affected by rain. The website has current alerts to let you know if the roads are open or closed.
- Double check for road closures: The morning you intend on going, double check the roads are open. Sometimes after a rainy night, the NSW National Park website might not be updated. So for the latest updates on whether roads are open, check this number list and call to ensure you can go ahead with your Mungo National Park 2WD journey.
- Do a guided tour of the Walls of China: Our biggest regret was not doing this tour. It meant we didn’t get to see the Walls of China up close. For photographers, definitely do a guided tour as part of your overall itinerary!
We hope you enjoy your Mungo National Park 2WD adventure. Please comment below if you did a guided tour to tell us more.
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