The Mallee includes the one genuinely empty part of the state (wilderness known as 'Sunset Country') and the sense of isolation and expanse is exhilarating you don't have to visit central Australia to get a taste of the outback.
The Mallee takes its name from the mallee scrub that once covered the region. Mallee gums are canny desert survivors 1000-year-old root systems are not uncommon and for the Aborigines the region yielded plentiful food. The sky seems vast as you drive through the area, surrounded by horizon, dead-flat semi-arid land and twisted mallee scrub.
The farmers of this district have been doing it hard after years of drought, and consequently many towns are also failing. In just 150 years many small towns in this region have been founded, prospered, peaked and now lie all but abandoned, decaying in the mallee scrub. As you blast up the Sunraysia Hwy, through towns like Speed and Tempy, with their massive grain silos standing idle beside the railway tracks, you can't help but feel there's something sad and broken about this area.
Big Desert Wilderness Park
This 113,500-hectare park is a desert wilderness with no roads, tracks, facilities or water. Walking and camping are permitted but only for the experienced and totally self-sufficient. In summer, temperatures are usually way too high for walking. Notify the ranger's office
(03-5395 7221) at Yaapeet
before heading off.
The area is mostly sand dunes, red sandstone ridges and mallee, but there's an abundance of flora and fauna, and some unusual wildlife, such as Mitchell's hopping mouse.
A dry-weather road from Murrayville on the Mallee Hwy (B12) to Nhill separates this park from the Wyperfeld National Park. Parts of the road are very rough and may be impassable after rain.
There are basic free camp sites at Big Billy Bore, the Springs, Moonlight Tank and Broken Bucket Reserve, all on the eastern side.
Murray-Sunset National Park
The 663,000-hectare park is arid and mainly inaccessible. An unsealed road leads from Linga on the Mallee Hwy up to the Pink Lakes
at the southern edge of the park, where there's a basic camping ground. Beyond this you must have a 4WD. The Shearer's Quarters
(03-5028 1218; groups $55) has basic accommodation on the park's western side.
For more information contact the rangers in Underbool (03-5094 6267; Fasham St) on the Mallee Hwy, or in Werrimull (03-5028 1218) on the northern side of the park.