Our timing was perfect. The lakes were brimming with water from late spring rains and the algae that gives the shallow lakes their colour had been hard at work turning the waters to varying hues of pink.
This feature was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s May 2011 issue
Recent rains had transformed the surrounding sandy plains and dunes into a rich tapestry of green, and the occasional bunch of flowers added striking contrast to the scene. There are four lakes that make up Pink Lakes: Hardy, Becking, Kenyon and the biggest, Lake Crosbie.
Pioneer graziers came here in the 1860s with their sheep and cattle and in 1916 the first salt was harvested from the lakes. A small town and a school grew up on the edge of Lake Crosbie, and the work was hard and tough on men and machines, as the rusting remains of some of the machinery on the edge of the lake can testify.
Salt harvesting continued until 1979, when the area around the lakes was declared a state park. In 1991, this relatively small park was incorporated into the then-proclaimed Murray-Sunset NP which, at 633,000ha, is Victoria’s second biggest national park.
While there are about 600 species of plants within the park, salt-tolerant species dominate the area close to the lakes. Mallee woodlands cover most of the dunes away from the lake shores, while pleasant pine and buloke woodlands are found in more fertile pockets throughout the mallee scrub. Over 70 species of plants found here are considered significant and these include Victoria’s largest flower, the Murray lily, the restricted silver emu-bush and the blue-leafed mallee.
The park is also home to a number of threatened animal species, including a small carnivorous marsupial the size of a mouse, the paucident planigale; the slender yellow and green regent parrot; and the Millewa skink. Other notable birds found in the area include the shy mallee fowl, the delightful and raucous pink cockatoo, the smaller white-browed tree creepers and beautiful mallee emu-wrens. Grey kangaroos are common, while red kangaroos can be spotted on the more open plains, especially further north in the park.
There are several pleasant spots to camp within the park that are close to the lakes, while walking trails take you along the edge of all four lakes. Interpretative signs along these walks help you get more from your visit as you pass through different types of vegetation or along the old historic tramways and mine sites.
A number of 4X4 tracks radiate from near here to all parts of the surrounding park, and it’s a pleasant return day trip north through the park to Mt Crozier, Mopoke Hut and on to Rocket Lake. From here you can return on different tracks south to your camp, or exit the park to the north or to the east. Other tracks in the region will keep you entertained for days.
What more could you ask for – a good spot to camp, pleasant natural surroundings, historic sites, wildlife, walking trails and some interesting 4X4 tracks. We’ll be going back!
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WHEN TO GO
Autumn to late spring is best. Summers can be hot and very dry.
Access to Pink Lakes from Linga on the Mallee Hwy to the south is via a good dirt road. North from the lakes into the heart of the Murray-Sunset NP is 4X4 country with soft, sandy tracks.
PERMITS, ACCESS AND CAMPING
No permits are required to travel and camp in the Murray-Sunset NP, of which Pink Lakes is part. The tracks and roads in the national park can be closed after rain – for the latest road closures, call 13 1963 or visit parkweb.vic.gov.au.
There are a number of camping sites around Pink Lakes. The Lake Crosbie camping area has toilets, gas barbecues, fireplaces and picnic tables.
Ensure you carry enough water, food and fuel for your entire stay in the park.
ACCOMMODATION AND FACILITIES
The closest supply point to Pink Lakes is Murrayville, which is about 70km west on the Mallee Hwy. Ouyen, 90km to the east on the Calder Hwy, offers a wider choice of supplies, fuel and accommodation. Heading north through the park, Cullulleraine, on the Sturt Hwy, has a basic range of supplies and facilities for travellers.
INFORMATION, MAPS AND GUIDES
The best map is Meridian Productions’ Victoria’s Deserts 4WD Map and Touring Guide. Best book is Mallee Tracks, by J Nickolls and A Angel.