When I thought of the Australian Outback as a child, I imagined a land of endless red dirt. Uninterrupted by life, colour or oasis of life-giving water, it wasn’t a place I ever cared to visit. What possible charm could a place like that hold? That’s why when I got the opportunity to visit Mildura, tucked away in the north-western corner of Victoria, I didn’t expect much.
What revealed itself when I arrived, however, was a place filled with sensory delight. From out of the dust emerged a town surrounded by rows of orchards stretching into the distance, a fruit bowl bursting with colour, fragrance and sweetness, brought to life by the great Murray River. The local market turned out to be the best place to shop for local delicacies. Try the saltbush, a native herb used for seasoning. You’ll also find figs, grapes, oranges and capers bursting with flavour. Local eateries like Stefano’s Restaurant make the most of the exceptional local produce to create delicious meals.
A short drive out of town there are a number of national parks worth exploring. The Murray-Sunset National Park is a photographer’s dream. It’s here that you’ll find magnificent lakes of pink salt during late summer. Lake Hardy and Lake Crosbie become crusted over with salt when water evaporates in the summer heat. They’re given their pink colour by algae that secrete carotene. Colourful parrots can be spotted in the trees lining the lakes, while kangaroos, emus and reptiles also abound.
And as for the red dirt… yes, I found some. But this turned out to be one of the most exciting parts of the trip. The Perry Sandhills, located a short drive from Mildura, are ancient red dunes covering over 400 acres. Once used by Aboriginal tribes as a hunting ground, the area is now popular as a filming location. Visitors can sandboard down the steep dunes or explore the wildflowers. Remains of ancient mega-fauna have been found here. The area feels mysterious and ancient, especially as the dunes light up in the last rays of the dying sun.
The bright midday sun gives the dunes a yellow appearance. Wildflowers and small shrubs pepper the peripheral dunes on the way to the big ones, more suitable for boarding. Photo credit: Michelle Leech