Travelling Australia - Journal 2009
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23 April 2009 - Lake Mungo to Mildura (not towing)
We packed the Pathfinder then walked over to the dining room for breakfast on the final morning. After paying our bill I commented to the manager that the New South Wales National Parks Service had put a lot of effort into making Mungo National Park more interesting than many other parks. I had read that Mungo is one of the two major tourist attractions for Mildura (the other is houseboating on the Murray River) and I asked if there were any plans to completely seal the road from Mildura so more people could gain easier access. This initiated a long conversation about the road to Lake Mungo; I later had the same conversation with the manager of the Mildura caravan park. The issue of sealing the road to Lake Mungo is far from simple.

An important factor is that Mungo is in Balranald Shire while the road is mostly in Wentworth Shire but carries traffic between Mildura (in Victoria) and Mungo. Wentworth Shire would bear the cost but there is no return to that shire in paying for a road running to a park in Balranald. Balranald Shire equally has no incentive to pay for the road since Balranald residents and business would not benefit from it. The main beneficiaries would be accommodation business (motels, hotels and caravan parks) in Mildura but the idea of Mildura paying for a road running 100 kilometres into New South Wales is improbable to say the least. We were told the Mungo road is only graded about every two years when the Commonwealth Government makes a special grant for that purpose; probably sealing the road would have to be paid for by the Federal Government if a case could be made for the expenditure. But even that would not be simple because several parties have a vested interest in leaving the road alone. Indeed, it is not easy to find any organisation which would clearly benefit if the road to Mungo was sealed and a visit could easily be made in a day.

The National Parks Service is reputed to be happy with visitor numbers and unlikely to welcome the demand for additional facilities and staff if access to Mungo became easier. At present, the access road serves as a filter ensuring that only "serious" visitors reach the park and enhances Mungo's mystique. But visitor numbers are already fairly high judging by what we saw; often there were up to six 4WDs parked outside the visitor centre and meeting other people in remote parts of the park was not unusual. From another viewpoint, the manager of Mungo Lodge was adamant that he did not want the road sealed because visitors would not stay at his lodge if they could drive back to Mildura in comfort in an hour or so. As well, several Mildura-based tour operators rely on the road's reputation to deter visitors without 4WDs from driving themselves; these visitors pay for day-tours from Mildura in 4WD buses.

Probably the only people (apart from the visitors who appear not to have a say) who would benefit by sealing the road to Lake Mungo would be accommodation operators in Mildura but this sector of Mildura's business appears to be doing well already. There is already a number of tourist attractions in and around Mildura and there is unlikely to be much interest in agitating for another one. The outcome appears to be that the Lake Mungo road will remain corrugated.

After that interesting discussion we set off along the road in question, shaking on the corrugations and leaving a trail of white dust. The weather was bright and sunny with a slight breeze blowing the dust off the road almost as soon as a vehicle passed. We passed half a dozen vehicles going to Lake Mungo and two others going to Mildura passed us. I set 64 kph on the cruise control to minimise the effect of the corrugations. At this speed we were not really comfortable but slowing down to negotiate each cattle grid and enduring the jolting at lower speeds confirmed higher speed as more comfortable on the corrugations.
Field Work Farmer spraying a wheat paddock near the limit for cropping along the road from Mildura to Lake Mungo. This is as far as the bitumen road from Mildura reaches, from here to Lake Mungo is a corrugated gravel road. The mallee in the background indicates the former native vegetation.

Arriving in Mildura we returned to the caravan and unpacked. We spent the rest of the day re-organising and began cleaning dust off the Pathfinder. One of the benefits of the trip to Lake Mungo had been confirmation that the Pathfinder was dust proof - there was no sign of dust entering the vehicle although a lot of dust was caught against rubber seals and the exterior was coated in white dust; the engine bay was dust-free. The weather remained warm and sunny.

That night it rained heavily throughout the Mildura area (9mm in our rain gauge). Roads within the Mungo National park and the access road from Mildura were closed, and remained closed for several days. Our timing had been just right; if we had remained for another day we would have been stuck at Lake Mungo for several extra days.
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