Mutawintji National Park ....great camping and walks

Thursday, Jun 21, 2012 at 21:21

Member-Heather MG NSW

On two previous occasions while in Broken Hill we have been unsuccessful in getting to this park located North East of that city due to road closures following rain. It is third time lucky it seems, as after a night spent in a caravan park in Broken Hill to stock up on groceries, water and diesel we set out North along the Silver City Highway on 4th June 2012 in fine clear weather. It was 4 degrees when we woke. I checked the current road closures on the morning and all were open.

We stopped for a short time to collect firewood at a creek crossing before leaving the highway, as collection of firewood is prohibited within the park and we knew camp fires were permitted. It is one reason we love staying in National Parks but fewer of them allow it these days.
The road surface was sealed until about 10 kms after the turn from the highway (along the White Cliffs Road) and at the beginning of the dirt, we stopped to cover the van door and exhaust vents, and also to put the shadecloth stone guard on the van and lower the tyre pressures on both vehicles.

The dirt road was in very good condition when we travelled it with few corrugations and we were pleasantly surprised however conditions can change very quickly after only a small amount of rain.

On arrival at the Visitor centre which is unmanned, we collected the pamphlet detailing walks and information and stopped to talk to an Aboriginal man, who introduced himself as Badger, from Wilcannia. He was in the process of making an artwork on the pavement leading into the building and told us he had also been responsible for artwork at Mungo and in Broken Hill. He seemed up for a talk and would still be at it had we not excused ourselves politely and climbed back in the car.

Homestead creek campground is about two kms from the visitor centre and the 'used to be sealed' road was potholed and rough in places. The campground was deserted when we pulled in around midday and we had our pick of the sites so chose one at the end with a fireplace, table and seats and views of the now dry sandy creek bed with huge red river gums. Its a large flat area with sites to suit all sorts of campers...vans, motor homes, tents and campertrailers, even large groups butt they are very close together and numbered and if it was busy could feel a bit like staying in a van park! We spread ourselves over two and set up the awning. There is water (untreated) free gas BBQ's, garbage bins and flushing toilets and solar showers...all for $5 per adult per night plus vehicle entry fee of $7 daily.

John did not take too much convincing to put up the shadecloth walls for some protection against a bone chilling icy wind, and as we set up the van the clouds rolled in and blue sky was replaced with grey! By late afternoon it was raining...and very cold. In between squalls both of us visited the amenities and had a shower but the water is solar heated and it was only just warm enough to be comfortable, despite a sunny morning! Still, showers and flushing toilets are not very common place in National Park campgrounds so we were not complaining!
Back in the van I piled on merino thermals and numerous other layers, beanie and scarf in an effort to stay warm and we even resorted to lighting our gas heater for a while.

At this point we didn't think there was much chance of having a meal cooked on the camp fire however the chief fire tender and camp oven watcher is not one to be deterred by cold, rain and gale force wind and he eventually got the fire lit and dinner cooking. Every now and then he took shelter in the van annex and tried to warm up a bit. We ate out of the wind in shelter but did not linger too long outside afterwards!

Retiring to bed we convinced ourselves that the sun would be shining when we woke as this rain was not forecast and rain does not fall all that often here. During the night several times I heard raindrops falling, and we awoke to very dark cloudy skies. Outside it was misty and cold and my hopes of doing one of the walks faded. Bugger!
A 4WD with a slide on camper had parked near the amenities, arriving just on daybreak and the couple told us they had parked on a bitumen patch near a grid overnight to one side of the road. The radio informed us that roads in the area were closed so they werent going anywhere further, and were using the showers! Not much hope of us getting a hot one today, and now even less!

Although the cloudy skies persisted, it did not rain and we donned our waterproof jackets and hiking boots and set out to the Day use area along the link walk (800m.) to find that it and the access road had largely been washed away during the last flood earlier this year. It was still possible to do the Homestead Creek walk

along one side on a good almost wheel chair accessible path to a cave named Thaakatjika Mingkana. (or Wright's cave, so named because William Wright had visited here twice and marked the cave walls with his initials and the year in roman numerals enclosed in a triangle). Wright was the leader of a party which set out from Menindee to find Burke and Wills who had not returned to the camp on Cooper Creek, after their expedition to cross the continent from South to North. One of the marks is directly on top of the earlier aboriginal artwork which kind of shows the atitude the Europeans had about the Aboriginals at the time.
The cave also has quite good examples of hand stencils and engravings and is only one of many significant art sites in this rugged Byngnano red Range. Permanent water holes here have supported the indigenous people for thousands of years, as well as animals.

From here we continued a short distance up the creek and followed the markers up the rocky track and along a short loop walk past round rock holes full of water. As we walked higher there were some great views over the almost bare rocky red hills with the occasional tenacious pale trunked tree clinging precariously to the rocky slope. Also good views into the adjoining maze of valleys and creeks lined with beautiful red river gums.
The return track retraced our steps however towards the end, the man who prides himself on his bush skills took a wrong direction and had I not noticed, would have had us doing a very long loop walk back to the camp! I soon pulled him up and he grudgingly admitted his mistake...a rare moment!!
We returned about lunch time to the campsite and enjoyed a hot lunch of toasted sandwiches and hot drinks feeling good to have done some exercise for the first time since leaving Mungo a few days previously.
The afternoon was spent with me baking a raspberry and apple cobbler and preparing our evening meal...mint and balsamic glazed rack of lamb and vegetables roasted in the camp oven. Once again this was cooked under rather trying conditions...mostly icy winds...but we persevered and it was worth the effort. We used water from the tanks near the BBQ area to heat over the fire for washing up and a body wash each, conserving our tank water for drinking.

The night was another cool quiet one and it was 7 degrees when I got out of bed and lit the gas heater early on Wednesday (6th June).I had lain there listening to the thump thump of roos tails as they moved around the campground in the breaking light, also the occasional emu 'glonk'. We could also hear goats bleating and this park is unfortunately overrun with huge numbers of these feral animals. The park signage explains that efforts are being made to round them up and sell them for meat for export but in the four days we were there we saw no sign of this. As well there were feral cats lurking in the dark to steal any morsels of food left by campers so we decided that the endangered fat tailed dunnart or whatever the tiny animal was that is supposed to inhabit the park would by now be extinct!
Bring on controlled hunting of feral animals in National Parks ASAP I reckon!They must be causing so much environmental damage.

Our second morning was a much more pleasant one with cooler temperatures and morning mists hovering on the ridgelines around the campground. We set out after breakfast to do the loop walk up onto the ridgeline near the camp, walking at a very brisk pace to keep warm. Also I wanted to get back to the camp to join a tour of the Historic site which apparently contains significent aboriginal artwork. The tour supposedly calls into the campground around 11am on its way through from Broken Hill to check whether anyone wants to go. Large groups were required to book, but not a single person like me!

The walks guide said the ridgetop walk would take two to three hours return however we did the six kms in one and a half and I still managed to take photographs and enjoy the views once the fog lifted. We saw plenty of grey kangaroos and even more goats. On our return I waited in vain for the tour leader to arrive but was disappointed so can only surmise that there was no one interested in Broken Hill and the tour did not run that day.

After an early lunch we set out to do the walk up Mutawintji gorge, driving along the 4WD track for a couple of kms until we reached the car park. This return 6km walk was mostly on flat ground and easy walking but it was hot out in the sun until we reached the shade of the trees in the creek. There was a short section of sandy walking along the floor of the creek, some pebbles, and finally some rock hopping and boulder climbing past water filled rock pools. Finally, when we could go no further, there was a large pool of water and a sandy beach with tall red rocky walls each side. It was very pricturesque and worth the walk...so calm and quiet.

The rocks along the gorge floor were many hues; deep reds, greys, white and pale ochres, some with multi coloured layers.
After a short rest we retraced our steps, my feet beginning to feel the effects of walking 12 kms in one day with little training!
The remainder of the day was, spent relaxing. We managed to get an almost hot shower after lots of sunshine and spent a pleasant afternoon sitting around the campfire while our dinner bubbled away.

Much of our final full day in the park was spent doing the full Byngnano range loop walk. We packed drinks and snacks and set out around 9.30 when there was still frost on the ground in the shady patches. We also did the short walk to the end of Homestead creek Gorge which probably made ithe distance we walked close 9 kms.
It was a spectacular walk. We climbed up rocky hillsides composed of lumpy conglomerate after leaving the gorge floor, then along the ridgetops from which there were expansive views over the maze of valleys and gorges to the plains beyond. We glimpsed the Visitor information centre roof at one point like a dot in the distance.

On the descent, there was a rope to assist us down a huge rock, a squeeze through a narrow rocky chasm and much rock hopping on boulders along the creek beds of small gullies which feed into Homestead creek. Much was pretty uneven walking.
There was evidence along the way of the recent rain too; inky rockpools, some large and deep others tiny, also tracks of roos, emu and of course goats.
My left heel which requires me to wear orthotics like an old woman (as I guess I am getting close to being) started to give me pain but there was no alternative other than to complete the walk. As well I felt quite lethargic and in hindsight feel we should have taken lunch and had longer breaks. John, being trained as an infantryman when undertaking National Service in readiness for his Vietnam 'holiday', just kept on walking, as he does!
It was with some relief that we rejoined the track out of the creek and were soon back at our van, able to remove the boots and socks for a while.

We enjoyed a well earned lunch and I sat in the sun and had coffee, did some reading, watched birds. The cold morning had well and truly given way to glorious blue skies and almost too much heat! We had wonderful hot showers and got the campfire going early, determined to enjoy our last one in a while.

The following day we packed up and headed towards Tibooburra for new camping in Sturt national Park where fires are prohibited, and where more wonderful landscapes and interesting historical markers were waiting to be explored.

We will long remember our wonderful walks and enjoyable camps here.
Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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