The problem with living in Melbourne is that sometimes there’s so much to see and do in the city, with events constantly popping up, that you can forget about the amazing sites the rest of Victoria has to offer. With a diverse geography that includes mountains, deserts, pristine beaches, snowfields, rainforests and vineyards, there’s a lot to explore and, because Victoria is Australia’s smallest mainland state in terms of total land area, these sites are easily accessible. This means there’s a lot you can pack into a weekend getaway from Melbourne.
When my partner and I decided to spend a weekend exploring the salt lakes in the northwest of Victoria, we received incredulous looks from people we told. After all, the closest city in the area, Mildura, is so far away from Melbourne that it’s the only Victorian city considered regional enough for Australia’s regional airline, Regional Express, to fly to (outside Melbourne as the base).
It’s a long drive but by breaking up the trip it didn’t feel like we drove nearly 1200kms over two and a bit days.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s a lot of sitting in the car but we also had plenty of time for sightseeing and stops, and we didn’t feel too rushed. If you can spare an extra day or two though, I would highly recommend you take them as there’s plenty of small towns to explore along the way.
We left Melbourne on a Friday after work and immediately hit the peak hour traffic. Despite this, we made it to our first stop in Sea Lake in around four hours, which was only a 10-minute drive the next day to the first salt lake of our trip, Lake Tyrrell.
Lake Tyrrell is the largest inland salt lake in Victoria and in winter the surface can turn mirror-like when it becomes covered in shallow water. The water creates an environment for pink micro-algae and red marine phytoplankton to grow, which gives the lake a pink colouring.
Unfortunately, we missed the optical illusion period of the lake but we did witness the red algae, which gives the lake the look of a lunar landscape.
You can walk (but not drive) on the lake and once you’ve persevered through the thick mud at the edges you’ll find yourself standing in the middle of an endless view of champagne-pink crystals.
Apparently Lake Tyrrell has become something of a tourist mecca after reflection photos went viral, but we saw only one other car while we were there. Since the lake is so large, and there’s a designated road that takes you part way around the lake, it was easy to find our own spot and feel like we had the place to ourselves.
We then took a small detour to check out artist Rone’s mural of a local farming couple on silos in Lascelles, which form part of the Silo Art Trail. Located next to train tracks, the large-scale murals are incredibly detailed and actually look like they were created with the silos.
We loved them so much that we drove half an hour on to another silo mural in Patchewollock. This one was created by artist Fintan Magee depicting local sheep and grain farmer Nick Hulland in full colour. There’s six murals in total that make up the Silo Art Trail, created by six different artists, and based on the two we saw, they are well worth any detour.
An hour north of Patchewollock was the main stop on our trip, the Pink Lakes of Murray-Sunset National Park.
Depending on the weather, the lakes actually change colour from white to deep pink so you’re not guaranteed to see pink lakes while there. The colour will be most intense after rainfall, which triggers growth in the red algae that gives the lakes their pink colour.
We went in late spring when the dry weather is settling in so the lakes were more white with tinges of pink. They were still an incredible sight though and the salt crust patterns are thicker and more distinct than on Lake Tyrrell.
There are four lakes in the park – Lake Hardy, Lake Crosbie, Lake Becking and Lake Kenyon – all within easy driving distance of each other. You can walk around the smallest, Lake Hardy, but there are also hikes along the other lakes where you can see ruins from when the area was part of a commercial salt mine. There are also four campgrounds around the lakes and three of these require a 4WD.
We didn’t see a single person while at Murray-Sunset National Park and this remoteness, combined with the red earth, blue skies and prickly shrubbery, make you feel like you’re in outback Australia.
I won’t lie, this was a long day and if you have more time, it would definitely be worth camping at the park here and watching the sunrise over the lakes, bringing out the pink colour.
However, we headed two and a half hours south east to Lake Boga, just outside Swan Hill, where we stayed the night in a picturesque B&B.
In fact, the whole Swan Hill region is picturesque, with historical buildings, the Murray River, lovely walking tracks, a relaxed vibe and of course, the Giant Murray Cod.
After taking the obligatory tourist shot with the 14m long and 5m high fish, we started the trip back to Melbourne, passing through Bendigo to check out the 1800s architecture and grab a pie for lunch at the famous Beechworth Bakery (though this isn’t the original).
We did the trip in a 2WD (a Ford Focus to be specific) and while there are a fair few dirt roads, they’re well maintained and we never had any issues. There is no entry fee to visit Lake Tyrrell, any of the sights on the Silo Art Trail or Murray-Sunset National Park.
Where to stay on the way
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