DESTINATION: HATTAH-KULKYNE NATIONAL PARK, VICTORIA

By: CLAUDIA BOUMA, Photography by: CHRIS BOUMA


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Hattah-Kulkyne National Park is a slice of the Victorian outback, not far from the banks of the Murray River.

DESTINATION: HATTAH-KULKYNE NATIONAL PARK, VICTORIA
DESTINATION: HATTAH-KULKYNE NATIONAL PARK, VICTORIA

· Bush camping
· Lake Hattah
· The mighty Murray River
· Amazing sunrises and sunsets

A unique park with an impressive network of freshwater lakes, Hattah-Kulkyne National Park is a wonderful place to experience the Victorian outback. Just a one-hour drive from Mildura, it is a beautiful spot to visit for a day or to spend a weekend camping near the water’s edge.

After enjoying four relaxing days in Mildura, we packed up and headed south. We took a short break in Red Cliffs to admire Big Lizzie – a black mechanical monster that weighs 45t and is powered by a 60hp Blackstone crude oil engine. Big Lizzie was originally constructed to transport wool from the station properties adjoining Broken Hill and had a top speed of 3km/h. She is 30m long when both trailers are attached. In November 1917, Lizzie arrived in Mildura but was forced to remain on the Victorian side of the Murray because it was in flood. Her potential for clearing mallee land was soon recognised and she was used to pull out stumps – Lizzie could pull up to eight stumps at a time. Today, she stands proudly in Barclay Square and has become one of the icons of the Red Cliffs district.

Half an hour after leaving Red Cliffs, we arrived at the Hattah store, where we turned left towards Robinvale. Another 4km and you reach the turn-off to Hattah-Kulkyne National Park, which is well-signed. The road is sealed and goes past the visitor information centre. You then pass the picnic area where the track turns to sand, and the honesty box signals the start of the campground.

The Lake Hattah camping ground was fairly quiet and we set up camp in a spacious area. The kids had the largest sandpit of their lives at their feet, and we were relieved not to see or hear any feral bees after experiencing them in Wyperfeld National Park. The only disappointment was the view of the lake – there was none. The lady at the Hattah store had explained that last year’s floodwaters caused the mallee eucalypts’ seeds, which had been dropped onto the dry lakebed, to germinate. Hundreds of new eucalypts now grow along the water’s edge, making it next to impossible to see the lake.

The picnic area down the road is the best place to admire the lake without the trees. It is also the ideal spot to watch the sun come up. The Warepil lookout is a great location for a sunset and it can be accessed via the Old Calder Highway. A gentle 300m climb will reward you with great views of the surrounding mallee region.

The park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with more than 200 species of birds recorded, including the endangered mound-building mallee fowl. Apostle birds frequent the campground, so keep an eye on those sausages because they might disappear. Pelicans can be seen on the lake or soaring high in the sky. Kangaroos and emus live in the park, but you won’t encounter too many inside the 34km kangaroo fence. The fence is an important part of the park’s management and is essential to the survival of many sensitive mallee plants and animals.

The next morning, we jumped in the car to check out Lake Mournpall. The campground there was a lot busier because you can camp closer to the water’s edge. Facilities include a long drop, picnic tables and fireplaces (but you need to bring your own firewood). On the way back we figured it was time for a bit of adventure, so we turned on to Yerang track. Passing through a dry creek bed, we followed the track until we hit a T-junction. We turned right onto Boolungal Track and spotted three emus, which posed long enough for Chris to take a photo. Our 4WD adventure came to a sudden end when a closed gate stopped us in our tracks. A sign advised us of construction work in the area and the closure of all the 4WD tracks to the Murray River. Disappointed, we turned around and headed back.

The construction works are part of The Living Murray program which aims to ensure water is used efficiently and ecological benefits are maximised. A pump station, four regulators and three stop banks will be constructed to retain water within the Hattah Lakes area. The works commenced in early 2012 and it is not known when the project will be completed. For up-to-date information on road access, visit www.parkweb.vic.gov.au.

The Hattah Nature Drive is an absolute must, so we headed down the sandy track early the next day. The 6.5km drive takes you past the remnants of a Victorian Railway pump house, which was used in the early 1900s to pump water from the lake to the Hattah railway line to refill the boilers of the steam locomotives.

We drove past sand dunes and through a floodplain before seeing Lake Hattah on our left and Lake Bulla on our right. Lake Hattah is one of 12 lakes in the park that are listed under the Ramsar Convention, which aims to conserve wetlands of international importance. The lakes in the Hattah-Kulkyne system fill via Chalka Creek when there is a major flood in the Murray River, but this has only occurred a few times since the 1956 record flood levels. Thankfully, last year’s floods reached the area and it may take up to eight years for the lake to dry up completely.

The kids were eager to see the mighty Murray, so we headed out of the national park and turned left onto the Hattah-Robinvale Road. After about 20km, we spotted the Murray-Kulkyne sign on our left and hit the dirt. Another couple of kilometres took us right down to the river and a large log was the perfect spot for the kids to watch the fast-flowing water. If you’re an enthusiastic bush camper, there are plenty of beautiful spots to pitch your tent, but you’ll have to make do without toilets or any other facilities.

That afternoon, the weather suddenly changed. The blue sky and bright sunshine disappeared and dark thunderheads gathered. The wind picked up, and sand was being blown around everywhere. The sky turned into a mass of brown – a dust storm was underway – but thankfully, the worst of the storm passed us by. The next day we were told Mildura copped the brunt of it, with visibility limited to less than 100m. Welcome to the outback!

On our last day, we relaxed at the campsite and enjoyed pancakes for lunch. The kids’ favourite pastime was throwing sticks into the lake. That night, we were treated to an amazing sunset. The last rays coloured the clouds in a soft pink and we watched the spectacular display until darkness descended. A camping trip into Victoria’s outback is sure to create unforgettable memories that linger long after you’ve come home.



MEET LYNDA AND IAN

Lynda and Ian from Cohuna, Vic, have been caravanning for many years. They bought their current van 12 months ago and are pleased with their new rig. "I wanted a shower and a toilet, and Ian’s only requirement was a TV to watch the footy," Lynda said with a smile.

They don’t get out as often as they would like, because Lynda still works part-time as a teacher. "I love the work too much," she said.

Next year they hope to do the Big Lap and spend six months going up the centre and down the west coast. "We did a similar trip in 2004, but it was way too short," Lynda explained. "We were on a tight schedule and in most places we could only stay overnight.’"

Ian is happy to let Lynda do most of the talking and is an easygoing guy who will go anywhere as long as he can watch his favourite sport.

They like to stay in national parks whenever possible. "I like the concept of protecting the environment and it gives you a fairly close-to-nature experience," Lynda said. "Hattah-Kulkyne was the obvious choice this time because it is close to home and we both love the bush."



FAST FACTS

· Hattah-Kulkyne National Park is 74km south of Mildura, 6km east of the Calder Highway.

· There are two campgrounds in the park. Lake Hattah campground is accessed by a sealed road (dirt for the last 100m) and has toilets, picnic tables, fireplaces and bins. Lake Mournpall campground has the same facilities, but can only be reached via a 9km dirt road. Taps with creek water are suitable for dishwashing and showering. Camping fees apply at Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. Fees are $14.50 per site per night. Self-registration is available at both campgrounds. The best time to visit is autumn, winter or spring.

· Be completely self-sufficient with food and water. It is advisable to bring recovery gear if you intend to hit the 4WD tracks.

· The Hattah shop on the Calder Highway has basic groceries and fuel (6km).

· Most tracks in the park are suitable for 2WDs, but some are sandy and may become slippery or impassable after heavy rain.

· Phone Parks Victoria on 13 19 63 for more information about the park and current road conditions, or visit www.parkweb.vic.gov.au and download the park notes.

Originally published in Caravan World #509, December 2012.