Sand is a destination.

There’s a park called the Perry Sandhills just outside of Wentworth in New South Wales, Australia. Tomato-red sand dunes rise like standing waves above the saltbush plains, then collapse into the Murray River. There is wildlife too, but the main reason you travel there is to see the sand.

see red sand dunes Australia

Perry Sandhills, Image by Wildlife Guide Michael Williams

I can think of no other soil type that people go out of their way to see. Just imagine saying to the family: “let’s go see the black dirt!” or.. “why don’t we travel to the grey mud?”

But “let’s go to the red sand dunes”… that’s an idea with merit.

The Perry Sandhills are around 40,000 years old.  We visit these ancient sand dunes on the Mungo Outback Journey.

close-up red sand dunes Wentworth, Australia

Image by Wildlife Guide Janine Duffy

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At Vigars Well, another of our travel destinations on the Mungo Outback Journey in Mungo National Park Australia, huge sand dunes appear like a distant snow-capped mountain range. Distances are deceiving in the heat shimmer, and the snow caps are just white sand shining in the sun.

travel sand dunes Australia Emu

Emu at Mungo, Image by Wildlife Guide Martin Maderthaner

This white sand dune has a different history to the red Perry Sand Hills. It travelled from the bed of Lake Mungo, when it last dried out about 20,000 years ago. The south west wind blew the pale sand and fine grey clay into a lunette – a crescent-shaped dune – on the east side of Lake Mungo.

Read about the complex Outback dunefields of Australia here (with fantastic maps!)

sand dunes Mungo Australia Red Kangaroo

Image by Wildlife Guide Janine Duffy

Similar lunettes formed along the eastern shores of all the lakes of the World Heritage Listed Willandra Lakes System. But the Mungo lunette is special. The oldest human ceremonial burials on earth have been exposed on this sand dune’s surface.  There are also hand (see pic below) and footprints – some of the oldest and most numerous in the world.

Read about the fascinating human history of Mungo here. 

human hand print in sand dunes Mungo Australia

Image by Wildlife Guide Janine Duffy

These burials lay undisturbed for over 40,000 years, in a layer of sand called the Mungo Formation. Then around 1864, European farmers brought sheep and rabbits to this delicate part of the country. Overgrazing caused erosion of the Mungo lunette, which exposed the bones of ancient people, and mobilised the white sand at Vigars Well.

Walking up onto these sand dunes is hard to resist. We go gently, and follow the established track, but the whole vast dune is being moved constantly by the wind and traffic by Red & Western Grey Kangaroos and Emus. The going is hard, but the summit always seems close, and the view improves with every step.

On the dunes, wildlife is present – White-backed Swallows hawk overhead, and the world’s most beautiful cockatoo can sometimes be seen eating paddy-melons.

travel sand dunes Australia

Image by Wildlife Guide Michael Williams

Dry Lake Mungo stretches out to the west, its rim only visible with the benefit of distance. At height it is possible to imagine the lake full of water, with ducks and pelicans swimming, and Aboriginal People fishing. Where we stand would have been a low mallee* forest, and the white sand we are standing on was down below, on the beach.

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Note: The human burials can’t be seen at Mungo – they are carefully protected by the Traditional Owners, and rightfully so. But the ancient bones of animals can still be seen on the dunes.

*Mallee forest: a low-height forest of hardy eucalyptus trees that still dominates the plains around Mungo.  Mallee is very rich in wildlife.  Read about the wildlife of the mallee here.

 

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NOTES & REFERENCES:

Read about the many colours of sand here: https://www.sandatlas.org/colors-in-sand/

Australian Dunefields: https://serc.carleton.edu/vignettes/collection/35438.html

Formation of ancient dunes of the Murray Basin: https://www.eassoc.com.au/mallee-dunefields-of-the-murray-darling-basin/

Visit Mungo website: http://www.visitmungo.com.au/signs-from-the-past

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