It was a full day's drive from Canberra to Balranald, with time only for a coffee stop in Wagga Wagga, icecream and diesel in Narandra counts as a stop. The Blessed Bean Cafe is conveniently on the highway west of Wagga. There were several accommodation options in Balranald. Had it not been closed due to rain we would have stayed at The Willows, a free National Parks spot on the side of the Murrumbidgee River out of town, so we went to the riverside Balranald Caravan Park instead . On our way to meet up with friends at the Shamrock Hotel Bistro, we realised that there is free van parking, with showers, behind the information centre. Or we could have stayed at the Shamrock Hotel/Motel.
My impression, driving west was of green turning toward brown, despite recent rain, and of hills flattening slowly into the Hay Plain, an unimaginably wide expanse of flat ground that goes on for hours.
1) It is well-run and tightly controlled by NSWNPs and the Indigenous Elders.
2) It is home to a wealth of flora (slideshow) and fauna that are at home in arid areas as the lake has been dry for 10,000 years since the end of the Ice Age.
3) It has some stunning natural landscapes, especially the lunette at the lunette NE of Lake Mungo, shown white in small map (slideshow).
4) t is a case study of desertification brought about by overgrazing in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a reminder of how tough it was for the uninvited settlers, (slideshow).
5) It is the location of Australia's oldest prehistory. The discovery of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man pushed back the dates of Australian prehistory to 42,000 years ago.
We were extraordinarily lucky! Arid areas get very little rain, but the week before we went the roads were closed because of rain until the morning we arrived. The recent rain meant that grass was growing and small flowers were blooming. We stayed four nights and the evening before we were due to leave, they announced that the park would close again.
On the way home we stopped at Hay to visit the restored railway station and the Dunera Boys Museum housed there. We spent a night at the Griffith Showground and enjoyed traditional Australian Inland Chinese Food at the Happy Dragon Restaurant, drove around the city of Griffith noting how Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin left their mark on Griffith town planning. Banna Avenue has a large number of international restaurants and we stocked up on fresh Indian groceries at the Veggie Basket Indian grocery store. There was an interesting exhibition, Concrete: Art Design Architecture, at the Regional Art Gallery in Banna Avenue.
The towns we passed through after Griffith all require revisiting: notably Barellan, with its Big Tennis Racquet in honour of Evonne Gulagong, Stockingbingal, which seemed particularly charming, and Harden-Murrumburrah with the Light Horse Hotel and bronze sculptures that tell stories from the Australian campaign in Gallipoli.