Lying in Victoria's northwest corner is Murray-Sunset National Park, an untouched semi-arid wilderness known for its low-lying Outback landscapes and entrancing pink lakes.
What to expect
Considered to be the centre of Victoria's Outback, Murray-Sunset National Park is best visited during April to October, ensuring you steer clear of the hotter months.
The Pink Lakes get their colour from an algae - Dunaliella salina - that grows in the clear, salty water. The colour is heightened by water flows into the lakes that feed algal blooms. The main walks around the Pink Lakes area are 45 minute to one-and-a-half hour strolls through this fascinating country, with views over Lake Kenyon, Lake Crosbie and Lake Becking. There's also a multi-day hike along the Sunset Remote Walking Track.
Image: Camping at Mopoke Hut Camping Area
Cycling is comfortable on Pioneer Drive, but not on the sandy tracks to the north.
Much of the mining machinery was abandoned when operations ceased, as were some salt stockpiles, so wandering around these relics and reading informative storyboards is great fun for visitors.
Exploring the park
The southern section of Murray-Sunset National Park is easily accessed via a gravel road from the hamlet of Underbool where there are limited supplies. There is a scenic AWD Pioneer Drive loop around the Pink Lakes and several short walks to lookouts. North of Pioneer Drive the tracks are quite different and a 4WD is required. The tracks traverse quite steep dunes at times, with very soft, sandy stretches that demand high ground clearance. Some track sections are muddy after light rain and firmer sections are corrugated.
Leave Pioneer Drive to head north on Mt Crozier Track to Underbool Track. Continue along Underbool Track past the western end of Pheenys Track to the turn onto the eastern end of it a short distance later. Head east on Pheenys Track then turn north onto Rocket Lake Track.
After skirting the dry Rocket Lake, continue north to Midnight Tank Track to turn west again back to Underbool Track. Follow the track south back to the western end of Pheenys Track. Pheenys Track cuts through the seemingly endless stands of mallee trees and scrub of the Sunset Wilderness Zone. A GPS is handy for locating your position in this arid region.
Image: Mopoke Hut
Next, turn off onto North South Settlement Road then cut across past Shearers Quarters to Millewa South Bore Track. Loop back past Rock Holes to head south past the western end of the Sunset Track then follow Murrayville North Road into Murrayville.
Camping in Murray-Sunset National Park
The park's camping areas feature basic facilities: Rocket Lake, Lake Becking, Pheenys Track and Mount Crozier (fire pits, picnic tables and toilets), the Shearers Quarters also has showers and accommodation, while Lake Crosbie only has toilets.
Salt mining history
The increased demand for salt during WWI inspired Underbool storekeeper Ebenezer Jones to start commercial harvesting in the Pink Lakes. Initial 'mining' was done with picks and shovels, and planks were laid on the salt lake bed so that wheelbarrows could get to the shore. It must have been hell for the workers in the summer.
In the 1920s, horse-drawn scarifiers and scrapers were introduced and Afghan camel teams hauled the mined salt to rail sidings at Underbool and Linga. Although a tram line was built from Lake Becking to Linga the service was plagued by mechanical problems and drifting sand that blocked the line, so the camel trains continued until they were eventually replaced by the trucks in the mid 1930s.
Another World War increased the demand for salt and Italian internees were then put to work digging. After the War, ICI took over mining operations and increased the degree of mechanisation. Mining activity declined during the 1960s and ceased altogether in 1979, when the Pink Lakes was declared a State Park. In 1991 it was incorporated into Murray-Sunset National Park.
Murray-Sunset Maps & Navigation