WRITTEN BY: Marcus Craft
Get some sand under the axles in the Myall Lakes National Park—a sea-and-surf playground within shouting distance of Australia’s largest city.
Before you go: Visit the nationalparks.nsw.gov.au website to check on park, camping and beach-driving permits, as well as to keep up-to-date with any park-specific alerts.
When a local fisherman slowly shook his head at us as we trucked past him, we should have known strife was coming. He’d parked on the sand only metres away from where Mungo Beach 4WD access track opened out onto the beach proper. We, however, chugged past the fella, waved (got his lazy head-shake as a response) and continued on. Bad move, because 100 metres or so along the beach one of our convoy – let’s call him ‘Old Mate’ to protect his identity – became well and truly bogged.
We should have taken note of the fact that even this local head-shaking bloke hadn’t driven far past the beach start point. But nothing noteworthy has ever been achieved by anyone sensible. Right?
Driving on beach sand is a lot of laughs and getting bogged is simply part of the fun—it happens to everyone, no matter how great a 4WDer you are, or think you are. Luckily, my mates and I thoroughly understand this principle. Getting bogged wasn’t really Old Mate’s fault because we had dropped tyre pressures on all three vehicles in our travelling pack to 18 psi (pounds per square inch, if you give a hoot – also known as 124 kPa). He wasn’t being an idiot (at the time, anyway), but the sand was very chopped up and very, very soft. Deceptively so.
It was just that he’d gotten jammed up a bit too close to the water’s edge for comfort—and surging waves were lapping the sand near his stuck vehicle. Cause for concern? Nah, we’ve all recovered vehicles in trickier spots than this. Lots of fun? Absolutely. Did we help Old Mate get out? Or did we perhaps leave him there stranded so we could go and enjoy the many other delights of the Mungo Brush and Myall Lakes region? Could we be so cruel? Bloody oath.*
When to go
Mungo Brush is part of Myall Lakes National Park, near the town of Hawks Nest on NSW’s mid-north coast. It’s about 250km north of Sydney and also where former PM John Howard took his holidays every summer for about 20 years – even while in office. (He favoured the modest and convivial lodgings of the Ocean Side Hawks Nest Motel.)
Go there any time of year as the temperatures are never outrageous either way: maximum 27°C in summer and minimum 10°C in winter. The last time we camped there was in July and even the youngsters didn’t whinge about the temperatures. Unusual.
What to expect
Myall Lakes National Park has one of NSW’s largest coastal lake systems and encompasses more than 40km of beaches. The Myall Lakes cover 10,000 hectares and make up the state’s largest natural fresh-brackish water system. They’re listed as wetlands of international importance. The park has three precincts – Myall River and Bombah Broadwater; Boolambayte and Bombah Broadwater; and Sugarloaf Point to Shelley Beach. Mungo Brush and Mungo Beach are part of the Myall River/Bombah Broadwater precinct.
There are sealed roads to, from and through Myall Lakes NP and the region offers a binge-worthy range of activities including swimming, surfing, bush-walking, kayaking and fishing, among other things. (Note: Make sure you’ve paid for all parking, camping and beach-driving permits that apply to your stay before you head off to enjoy yourself—you will get Blackfellows Bay at its peaceful best. rousted by the rangers.)
Mungo Brush campground in Blackfellows Bay makes an ideal holiday HQ. It has 78 campsites and the waters of Myall Lakes are a fantastic spot in which to swim, kayak or fish along the lower Myall River. To the north is the leisurely Mungo Rainforest walk or head south to Tamboi walking track and Mungo walking track. Mungo Brush is also an ideal base camp for plenty of beach-driving shenanigans, so if you get tired of all that bushwalking, start thinking about a Mungo Beach excursion.
There’s an abundance of wildlife in the region, the bushland is lush and it’s all very stunning, but if you’re keen on beach-driving and fishing then, if you’re in the know, you head straight for Mungo Beach. At a touch under 17km long, this is NSW’s third-longest beach and, as such, is a beach-driving playground.
There are several access points along the beach, but we prefer Lemon Tree 4WD beach access track to get to Dark Point Aboriginal Place, or Mungo Beach 4WD access track, which is just up the road from Mungo Brush campground, to get to Big Gibber Headland.
Parts of this beach have periodically been closed to the public due to erosion, but on our most recent visit, every section we drove was open. Remember: never drive on the headland or over into the dunes and avoid vegetated areas and back tracks. The beach speed limit is 40km/h, beach pedestrians and wildlife always have right of way and vehicles must stay at least 15m away from beach pedestrians and more if you spot wildlife.
On our recent visit, the sand around the beach-access point was soft and choppy, as it often is around a beach entrance, but the sand further along the beach proper was firmer. We turned left on the beach and headed towards Dark Point Aboriginal Place (AKA Little Gibber).
Dark Point Aboriginal Place
You can reach this spot via sealed road if you drive along Mungo Brush Road from Hawks Nest for about 15km and turn into the carpark on the right—but where’s the fun in that? Mungo Beach is a top beach drive, so get the most out of your D-MAX or MU-X and hit the sandy stuff on the way.
The dunes on Mungo Beach, some of them high and steep-sided, flank your left side as you drive north along the shoreline towards Little Gibber. During one of our drives along this stretch, we saw a trio of white-bellied sea eagles, wheeling, ducking and diving at each other high above us as they tussled in mid-air for possession of a bush mouse one of them must have caught moments before.
This area, declared an Aboriginal site of significance in 2002, has been a gathering place for the Worimi people for more than 4000 years. It’s where they met in clan groups “to feast on the abundant seafood”, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Traditional burial sites, as well as middens, have also been found in this area.
On an earlier visit to the Mungo Brush region, we met a walking group of locals who were collecting rubbish as they hiked along the coast on the way to Dark Point Aboriginal Place. After having a bit of a chin-wag with them, we scrutinised the on-site information board, and then took a load of beach debris off their hands—a win-win for everyone.
(* Rest assured, we didn’t leave Old Mate. Of course, we helped to extricate him … and then we mercilessly stirred him for days about that particular bogging.)