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Pink Lakes are the focal point of Murray-Sunset National Park, drawing thousands of visitors every year. The lakes do not offer sandy beaches, boating or fishing. What they do offer are spectacular pink hues, best seen at sunrise and sunset. The Pink Lakes are some of Australia's most photographed natural features.
The four lakes - Lake Crosbie, Lake Becking, Lake Hardy and Lake Kenyon - all lie within walking distance of each other in the far southern portion of the Murray-Sunset National Park. On the shore of Lake Crosbie, the outdoor Salt Museum features huge salt piles and old mining equipment left over from the commercial operations that began in 1916 and lasted until 1979. Salt mining was never very profitable here due to the difficulties of scraping the salt from the shallow lake beds and surrounding salt flats by hand, bagging it and transporting it on camel back to the nearest railway. Large equipment mining was never an option, given the unstable surface of the covering salt crust and wetland areas bordering some of the lakes. In 1979, Victoria took over the area and created Pink Lakes State Park. In 1999, the state park became part of the 1,564,160-acre Murray-Sunset National Park stretching to the north clear to the Murray River.
The Pink Lakes are a popular place for camping and hiking. Two campgrounds are located here, one at Lake Crosbie and another at Lake Becking. Although rest rooms, gas barbecues, fire pits and picnic tables are provided, there is no potable water available, so campers must bring their own supply with them. Summers get very hot, and strenuous hiking is not advised during the hottest months. As the lakes dry up to nearly nothing in late summer, exploring the salt beds of the dry lakes is popular. Three reasonably short hiking paths are provided among the lakes. Kline Nature Walk takes about an hour-and-a-half, strolling along the eastern shore of Lake Crosbie, the western water line of Lake Kenyon, and circling back past the Salt Museum. The Nature Walk around small Lake Hardy also takes about an hour and a half.
Lake Becking Nature Walk is the shortest of the three, circling three-quarters of Lake Becking parallel to an old abandoned tramway and skirting some ruined salt mining structures near the Lake Becking Campground. The western end of the Lake Becking Nature Trail marks the beginning of the much longer three-day Sunset Remote Walking Trail, a hike that takes considerable preparations and plenty of water to be carried along. Those planning this hike should make contact with a park ranger before starting out. Water tanks are located along the longer walking route and maintained by the rangers. All of the walking trails allow hikers the possibility of seeing many of the unique plants and animals living here. Western grey kangaroos, echidna, emu and bearded dragons may be glimpsed along the trails. Winter rains bring forth multiple wildflowers such as azure sun-orchids, spider orchids, poached-egg daisies, desert heath-myrtles, blue-leaved mallee and desert baekia. Over 600 salt-tolerant plants share the varied terrain around the Pink Lakes, while a multitude of rare and exotic birds inhabit the low brush and sand hills.
Much of the national park is included in the Murray-Sunset, Hattah and Annuello Important Bird Area and of great interest to bird watchers. The mallee habitat supports several threatened bird species that depend on the mallee-the low eucalyptus shrubs and trees that dominate the land cover. Some that harbor here include the mallee emu-wren, black-eared miner and the malleefowl. Other birds found near the Pink Lakes include rainbow bee-eaters, pink cockatoos, mallee ringnecks, red-rumped parrots, white-fronted chats and spotted pardalotes. Bird watching tours are often arranged into this bird-rich environment. A number of sand roads are available to 4WD vehicles, but good maps and the advice of the rangers are always a good idea before starting out. The Pink Lakes can be accessed by car along a gravel road from the town of Linga, and Pioneer Drive around the Pink Lakes is passable by car during most seasons. Pioneer Drive is also a popular cycling route. Some roads are only suitable for 4WD and may be impassable during wet weather.
The closest larger town is Ouyen, about 40 miles to the east on the Mallee Highway. A small farming town, Ouyen holds a unique, restored theater in the tropical style with tall, shuttered windows on two sides that can be opened to cool patrons in the heat of summer. The Roxy recently re-opened, run by volunteers as a community project. October brings the Mallee Wildflower Festival to Ouyen, with an Autumn Art Show each April. The City of Mildura is another 65 miles north, and Melbourne is 275 miles southeast of Pink Lakes. Mildura is located on the Murray River and noted for its wineries and citrus groves. Tourists love Mildura for its restaurants and outdoor recreation opportunities afforded by the Murray River. Many visitors choose lodgings in Mildura and rent a car for the visit to Pink Lakes.
As are all known pink lakes, the four lakes in the Pink Lakes group are very salty. The pink hue isn't the water, as that is usually clear. The red coloring comes from a form of salt-loving algae that grow on the bottom of the lakes. The algae, dunaliella salina, only grow in saline lakes. The shades of pink vary according to recent rainfall and the way the light exposes them. As the water in the lakes is only a few inches deep, the lakes often take on a vivid pink color, startling against the clear blue sky. The four lakes in the group lie among low sand hills without inlets or outlets. Their waters are nearly all captured rainwater, and the salt results from evaporation in the hot, arid summer. By fall, much of the lake surface dries up, to be replenished by winter rains. For nearly 70 years, the lakes were the site of commercial salt extraction. Now they are the perfect site for bird watching, hiking the mallee, and photography. So pack the camera and the hiking boots and head for the airport. The Pink Lakes await.
*Statistics are for Lake Crosbie only, taken as rough estimates from a 1942 government report on the area.
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