RoadTrip21: Mungo National Park and Balranald

May 19, 2021 | 15 Comments

Visiting Mungo National Park was one of the big things on my wish list when I started planning this trip. In fact, it was during the early stages of working out where I would go that I discovered it. I had never heard of it before but wow! It looked spectacular and maybe the closest thing to Northern Territory we have in NSW.

The Walls of China (the most spectacular part of the National Park) is a 2 hours drive (on mostly unsealed road) north of Balranald so I didn’t want to drive that. Instead I joined a day tour which began at 10am. But first I had to drive across the Hay Plain for 1.5 hours to get to Balranald.


I left Hay at 7:30am and really enjoyed the drive. There is something really special about the feeling of openness and remoteness… it’s hard to put into words, but I loved even minute crossing the Hay Plain.


It was a bit surreal being able to see so far ahead especially seeing the trucks like boxes on the horizon. When I started the drive there were five trucks (big B-doubles) ahead of me which I overtook one by one. Lots of trucks (and a number of road-trains) coming the other way as well and a few cars.


Mungo Tour

As mentioned above, we had a 2 hour drive from Balranald to get to Mungo National Park and most of the way it was similar landscape.  Apart from one pub 20 minutes north of the small town of Balranald, we didn’t pass any town or houses but at two spots on the road there were emergency water tanks. This is truly remote and it is called the Outback.

This photo shows lots of old man saltbush which sheep can eat. We did pass some sheep belonging to Bidura Station which is 24,550 hectares in size (which I think is 60,000 acres).


We only passed one waterhole – and we were told that it is unusual to see so much water here.


On the other side of the waterhole we saw 4 emus! We also saw another one, 1 kangaroo, 1 goat and a flock of Mitchell Cockatoos on the drive.


I loved looking out the window and noticing the changes in the vegetation. Such beautiful colours too!


We made two short stops in areas where there were some trees. These are mallee trees with spinifex on the ground.


A little ‘bush tucker’ (forest food) – this tasted like honeydew fairy floss!


The next stop was Belah Woodland with Casuarinas (I recognised them) and blue bush ground cover. It was great to have a guide explain what we were looking at and it made me think of my sister and all the bushwalks (hikes) we did years ago.


I tried to record these two areas (with limited success) and it was fun to compare the main colour schemes of both.


Most of the drive was on very rough unsealed roads… and we were only in a minibus so it was a noisy and bumpy ride.


And after two hours we arrived at the visitor centre. The sands of the Walls of China can be seen in the distance.


I quickly walked about the exhibit (all about the oldest human remains found in Australia) so that I could do a sketch of the woolshed before lunch. It was hard to see what I was doing in the bright midday sun.


This is an aerial photo showing the extent of the sand dunes – called lunettes – around the edge of Lake Mungo (a totally dry lake). It’s only a narrow band of sand and as you will see shortly much smaller than you would think from all the marketing photos! But it was still very impressive!


Driving towards the Walls and the dust clouds every time we passed another vehicle.


Walking towards the walls…


Getting closer!

Okay, time to start thinking about my sketching. I’m a little surprised that I didn’t prepare myself for the tour of the Walls and think about how I was going to sketch it. I had a very specific strategy when I visited the Wellington Caves a few weeks ago, but I just didn’t think about it until this moment!


I grabbed my brown ochre watercolour pencil and my fude pen and then decided that I really wanted to use my watercolour paints – not just watercolour pencils.

The guide said that I was free to do my own thing but I decided to stick with the group so I got the commentary and saw everything. But involved going ahead sometimes and then lagging behind at other times so that I could maximise time for sketching.


Walking up one of the ravines….


Quick sketch looking back.

This sketching was really hard… I was wearing sunglasses (which I normally don’t wear when sketching) but the sun was still very bright. The shadows looked really dark and my palette was dirty (if I had thought about it beforehand I would have cleaned my palette) and my water was dirty too!

But even though it was challenging it was super special to be able to sketch the Walls of China as it made me feel really connected to it – more so than if I had just taken photos.


On the top of the lunette it was more desert-like. Our guide said that there used to be more vegetation on the sand.


A quick sketch of the dunes


and the nice shaped one we walked up.


As I was sketching I didn’t walk as far as others in the group.


Before long it was time to go back down….


It was hard to know what to sketch and whether I was wasting time sketching something that wasn’t as dramatic as something that might be just around the corner. This is one of the fun challenges when sketching during a guided tour. (BTW you can not go onto the Walls of China without a guide!)


I’m including a person in this photo so you get a sense of scale – the features were not as big as I thought they would be… but still very impressive!


A quick sketch before I headed down. I only managed the first pass of paint at the time.


And the most dramatic part of the tour was right at the end. I only drew on location and then painted afterwards.


Here I am with the final two sketches. Wow! an amazing experience – not only to visit this incredible place but also have a chance to sketch it.

I’m using my Stablo with an additional clip to secure my paint tin. My water container with blu-tac came out when I needed it and was put away when I was going up and down the ravines.

I should also mention that as well as the bright sun, it was quite windy at times. So this was truly one of the most challenging but rewarding sketching sessions I have had.


Final view before we drove off…


And then it was the long and bumpy drive back. We got some dramatic lighting which was nice!


And to pass the time I tried an idea of Richard Briggs trying to gently draw a horizontal line across my page and recording the bumpiness of the road! I was laughing out loud at times.

See one of Richard’s ‘Movement Lines’ pages here.


The final part of the tour was pizza and a drink at the Homebush Hotel.

And here are the finished spreads in full.


Yanga Woolshed

The next morning before leaving Balranald I stopped at a nearby historic woolshed. It is over 100m long and I recorded some crazy stats about the property it was on – 90,000-100,000 sheep, 1,000 cattle and 150 horses.


It was really impressive inside…


How much fun would that be to draw??? Maybe next time?


And outside…


… more beautiful colours.


Here is my sketch of the exterior. It started to rain just after my first pass….


I came back to the sketch after I had explored the inside and added more washes over the top, but the rain texture is still visible!


Balranald is the last town on the Murrumbidgee River.


I’ve grown attached to the river this trip so I had to do one final sketch of it. But I didn’t have a lot of time…


….so I did a really free and loose sketch recording the main elements. This only took me about 10 minutes and I really loved doing it!


Here is the final woolshed spread with a plan of the shed.

I had such a fantastic time in Balranald and I’m so happy that I was able to visit Mungo. I’m not sure when I will be able to return to this part of NSW but it’s definitely something I would like to do.


  • Martine says:

    So lovely to read about your travel adventures and this episode really reminds of the outback part of my big Australia trip I did almost twenty years ago. Have fun and safe travels!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Martine. Great to hear that you went Outback. This is the most Outback I’ve been.

  • Isabelle lantieri says:

    This is so inspiring! Love to follow you through your journey! And of course your sketches are awesome. I start painting long time ago but discorde your classes some years ago. Since then I learned so much and you inspired me. Thank you Liz and bon voyage !

    • Liz Steel says:

      THanks Isabelle! Its been great to be able to blog so much this trip so glad you are enjoying it!

  • Isabelle lantieri says:

    Typo : discovered

  • Chris Nykoluk says:

    I’m really enjoying your trip!

  • Sandie Ingram says:

    WOW! Liz! What a wonderful trip and you are doing it justice with your sketches, let alone the photos and comments! Wish I could take this tour. I love the colors in this post…so much of seeing desert/outback/dunes is shadow, and it’s so hard to see in the brightness that contrasts. You have captured it! BTW, the photo of you is lovely! I am so enjoying this vicarious adventure. Thank you. Take care, and please keep sending all!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Sandie!!!! Hope you are doing okay! Miss having livestreams with you and the gang! 🙂

  • AJ Skamser says:

    What a delight to see how you handle what I call HOT FOOT SKETCHING. No chance to stand still, walk & sketch, 10 min watercolor, WHEW! I have some favorite travel sketches done on the move, some of my best travel memories. Aren’t we lucky to have sketching!

  • Cynthia Lynn Salaski says:

    Thank you, Liz, for sharing so very much with all of us. Your deep Christian roots show through with every kind, loving thing you do. God bless you!

  • Stephanie Trimas says:

    Hi Liz
    I don’t often respond to things online but I’ve been enjoying your trip photos and sketches of your country trip so much
    especially now that we’re all back in lockdown.
    I grew up in country NSW living in a number of different country towns like Leeton, Griffith, Forbes and Dubbo because of Dad’s job. We also lived on the Murray and visited relatives on a property near Finley so I’m very familiar with the flat plains in southwestern NSW. I’ve never got as far as Lake Mungo though.
    This year I went to Carcoar, Mudgee and Gulgong on a couple of short sketching trips with Cilla Campbell which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a different world once you cross the Blue Mountains. I’ve also loved seeing your sketches and your use of watercolour

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks Stephanie – so interesting to hear about your background. yes, so interesting to cross the blue mountains. I haven’t done it often but hope to explore this part of NSW more in years to come!

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