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Top 10 places to discover the great outdoors

Woomargama National Park. Image credit: Elisha Jewel Bradford

15 Sep 2022 by Kate Hunter

Top 10 places in to discover the great outdoors

When you want to feel the enormity of the sky, tap into the rhythms of nature and connect with yourself and the people you’re with, spend some time in the national parks of The Murray.

While each one offers natural beauty to take your breath away (while equally making you breathe deeply) they’re all different in their ecology, accessibility, visitor facilities and activities.

Whether you want to scan treetops for rare birds, explore the bends of the river, sleep in a swag under an ocean of stars or tackle a steep bush track by 4WD, there’s nowhere like the national parks of The Murray to experience the unmatchable joy of being outside.

1. For the largest protected area west of the Great Dividing Range - Woomargama National Park

Located close to the town of Woomargama, this is the largest protected area west of the Great Dividing Range in south-eastern NSW.

Here you can spend happy hours bush walking, lingering over a picnic, horse riding, honing your photography skills, diving deep into cultural heritage, 4WD driving or even dirt-biking.

Birdwatching has become especially rewarding in Woomargama National Park since local community members began a re-birding project – so keep your eyes peeled.

2. For a full palette of colour, particularly pink - Murray Sunset National Park

In Victoria's far north-west corner, this is in one of the few remaining semi-arid regions in the world and visitors quickly understand they’ll need more than one day to explore Murray Sunset National Park.

Pull on your boots and set off an adventure, pitch a tent and let the whispers of the desert lull you to sleep or take to one of its designated tracks in a 4WD.

There are so many places to explore, but a must-see are the Pink Lakes which transform throughout the year from deep pink to glistening white. Springtime visitors will be dazzled by blankets of wildflowers of indescribable beauty.

3. For modern explorers wanting to discover The Murray their way - Yanga National Park

Off the Sturt Highway near Balranald and one of NSW’s newest national parks, Yanga is the place for fishing enthusiasts, history-buffs, bird-lovers and anyone who wants to wander under a vast blue sky.

From Aboriginal families to early explorers, shearers to rabbit trappers, fishermen to campers – people have been visiting the area for millennia.

You might feel like you’re the first, but Burke and Wills pitched their tents in 1860, no doubt marvelling like modern campers do at some of the 150 species of birds, the mysterious wetlands and maybe even enjoyed a few yabbies for their dinner.

4. For the world’s largest river red gum forest and an adventurer’s paradise - Barmah National Park

Three hours from Melbourne, Barmah (together with Millewa Forest in NSW) is home to the world’s largest river red gum forest, precious wetlands, many rare and threatened animal species and several important Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.

If you want to do more than soak up the serenity from your camp-chair, Barmah has plenty to offer; check out the bushwalking trails, pack a picnic, bait a hook or go searching for that elusive bird. Park tracks make 112 kilometres of river frontage accessible, with a series of walks close by the Dharnya Centre being particularly flat and easy.

5. For lovers of waterways, wildlife, wildflowers and walks - Hattah-Kulkyne National Park

The mallee country of Hattah-Kulkyne, with its low scrub and open native pine woodland is home to countless birds, animals and plants perfectly adapted to thrive in the region’s sandy soil and searing summer temperatures.

The Hattah Lakes are filled by a network of creeks, providing the perfect habitat for an astonishing variety of waterbirds and fish. The lakes can remain full for up to ten years, making pretty much any time a good time to visit.

Camping, walking, bike riding and canoeing are popular here and in the adjoining Murray-Kulkyne Park. Time your visit for spring to see wildflower displays, especially after good winter rain.

6. For Australia’s largest inland island - Gunbower National Park

Along with the adjoining Gunbower State Forest – Gunbower National Park includes the largest inland island in Australia. It’s a floodplain, forest and Ramsar-recognised wetland. It’s also paradise for campers, bushwalkers and birdwatchers.

The traditional home of the Barababaraba people, Gunbower today is home to over 170 species of birds, 24 reptile species, countless fish and around 200 plant species. Exploring Safe’s Lagoon and Gunbower creek by canoe are unforgettable experiences. Alternatively, take a leisurely drive through the forest; remember to pack a picnic and make plenty of stops.

7. For protected red river gums and wetlands - Murray Valley National Park

The eco-certified Murray Valley National Park was set up to protect the majestic river red gum forests of the Riverina's Ramsar-listed wetland. The region is important to Aboriginal people and hosts an extraordinarily diverse ecosystem with over 60 threatened animal species and 40 threatened plant species.

Things to do are all around. Walk along the tranquil Gulpa Creek trail, fish for your dinner or simply paddle a canoe or kayak. Birdwatchers can head for the Reedbeds Bird Hide, being sure to look out for the yellow rosella on the way.

8. For the best of The Murray - Murray Valley Regional Park

Comprising a couple of large areas around Mathoura as well as several smaller sections, Murray Valley Regional Park is especially popular with campers and day-trippers looking for adventure close to towns; there’s no shortage of boat ramps and picnic areas.

While pets aren’t allowed in national parks, dogs (with their owners) will love the Gulpa Creek walk, and you can even camp with your best friend at Edward River Bridge campground, Willoughby’s Beach campground, Mulwala campground and Benarca campgrounds.

The Park also offers fishing, birdwatching and boating. If you enjoy pedal power, hit the Five Mile Mountain bike trail, or if the car is more your speed, take The Gulpa Island drive – best enjoyed slowly with the windows down.

9. For Victoria’s most important stand of white cypress pines – Terrick Terrick National Park

Less than 10 km from top to bottom, Terrick Terrick is a pocket of paradise in the central north of Victoria; home to some of the last remaining native vegetation on Victoria’s northern plains as well as dozens of rare or threatened species of birds, insects and animals.

Walkers can follow tracks to Victoria's most significant stand of white cypress pines, and clamber over and around granite boulders to take in the views.

At the north-eastern end of Terrick Terrick find the ruins of Davies Homestead the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the best of the region’s grasslands. If exploring on foot isn’t your thing, take the car - just drive slowly and pull over often to take in the sights and sounds of The Murray.

10. For an ancient history and landscape - Mungo National Park

42,000 years ago, this area was home to Mungo Lady and Mungo Man whose remains are amongst the oldest ever found. They’re a reminder of the timelessness of the land and the importance of Indigenous history in the story of Australia.

Mungo National Park today is a place of sculpted sand dunes, hardy gnarled trees, grassy woodlands and age-old lakebeds. It’s fascinating to try to understand what feeds the kangaroos and pink cockatoos – you’ll be surprised and delighted by the abundance of wildlife.

There’s lot to take in, but one of the best introductions is a guided tour to the Walls of China, where erosion has sculpted sand and clay into fragile yet imposing formations.