It was the crack of dawn but Peter and Jeanie Kelly from Murray Offroad Adventures were on time and ridiculously chirpy. All it took, however, was a dash down the Mallee Highway and a quick pit stop at the Hattah General store (Jeanie phoned our coffee order ahead, the star) for those early-morning dozy feels to disappear as the day started to brighten and the temperature began to rise.
The route to get to the Pink Lakes from Mildura takes you past reminders of Australia’s history as towns such as Walpeup and Underbool stand as stark reminders about how the winds of change effect everyone.
Where once thriving farming communities existed, there are now reducing populations and deactivated grain silos. These hulks stand out against the backdrop and dominate the skyline; the track that leads into Murray Sunset National Park leads you past one of these concrete ghosts.
Did You Know Australia Has Pink Lakes?? You Have To See These To Believe!
Travel to Murray Sunset National Park
The dirt road to Murray Sunset National Park takes the bus past a seemingly endless landscape that changes incredibly quickly: from lush green to outback khaki in a couple of minutes and this means that every time you drive down these routes you’ll be greeted with something different.
None of that gets you ready for the giant expanse of Lake Crosbie, though, as it unveils itself in front of your eyes. Not only are the relics left behind from the salt mining industry enchanting, but the blue/pink swirls among the crystals are gorgeous as well.
The landscape looks post-apocalyptic and honestly it wouldn’t be a surprise if you found out it was used for a Mad Max type film.
The Salt Lakes of Mallee
Due to the 99% purity of the salt here, the area was mined commercially from 1916 until 1979. Before the Ice Age, this area of Australia was under the sea. But as it dried out, large pools of salt water were trapped by porous sand and as millions of tons of sand were stirred up by the wind and deposited across the Mallee, it built up a field of sand dunes.
Underground water then made its way into depressions between the dunes and over the next thousands of years it evaporated, creating the perfect salt lakes. Every winter the underground water rises and seeps out onto the edge of the lakes, and when this evaporates it leaves behind a fresh layer of salt.
They get their colour for a pretty melancholic reason actually: because the landscape is so harsh, the only thing that can survive is a single-celled alga called Dunaliella Salina.
This naturally produces Beta-carotene, which is a red colouring that is also found in carrots, egg yolk and lobsters. That alga loves the conditions the lakes provide, which is why there is such a spell-binding pink glow.
Breakfast Amid a Spell-Binding Pink Glow
All that initially beauty is complemented perfectly by the Kelly’s bacon and eggs breakfast (a breakfast of Champions, if you ask me). But don’t worry if that’s not your scene as the breakfast also came with the option of homemade granola as well as stewed home-picked peaches.
The whole meal was cooked on camping equipment that just kept on rolling out of the back of the van and made Mary Poppins handbag’s capacity look like small change in comparison. Tables, chairs, gas stoves, frying pans, coffee cups – you name it, Peter and Jeanie had it. And watching them put it all back was like witnessing a Tetris master at work.
After breakfast was done and everything was packed back into the van, Peter took the wheel and guided the van through an extensive off-road section flanked by lush green trees that looked like sentinels guarding the route through the National Park.
The rolling, undulating landscape offered plenty to see along the road, from iguanas to emus and kangaroos. Peter even stumbled across a Mallee Fowl nest – where the eggs are covered in sand until they’re ready to hatch, after which the chicks dig themselves out and it’s everyone for themselves in the dog eat dog world of the outback.
And then we emerged onto Lake Harding, but this one was different. With water in the middle and rings of blue and pink encroaching into the middle it looked like the inside of a princess fantasy gobstopper.
The salt crust sparkled like the glint in Prince Charming’s eye and the view would have made anyone putty in his hand. With an endlessly blue sky, the reflections that came off the surface onto the lake were gorgeous.
Finally, we were taken to the lookout at the top of the park, which had outstanding views across the whole of the park and allows you to take in all the views in all their splendid panoramic glory.
The entire system of lakes across the Murray Sunset National Park is truly breathtaking and if you let your mind wander and set your imagination loose you can see this vast expanse covered in water. Ponder that on the ride back to Mildura.
For information on Mildura accommodation, attractions, food & wine, events, etc, head to visitmildura.com.au.
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