Little Desert: little in name only
November 19, 2018 • Glenn Marshall
6 min read
So, you missed out on the Madigan Line this year but still hanker for some sand challenges? The Little Desert in Western Victoria punches well above its weight when it comes to sandy tracks.
When it comes to sand, Little Desert is the place to go
Little Desert is the place to head to if you want to improve your sand driving techniques. Once you leave the bitumen and enter the park, it’s high clearance 4wd only due to the deep sandy tracks. So, reduce your tyre pressures, switch off your traction control, lock it into low range and enjoy the fun of first-rate sand driving.
The drive up the Western Highway to Dimboola is an easy four-hour drive from Melbourne. Directions to the park aren’t hard to miss with a large “Welcome” sign just off Dimboola’s main drag. This road leads to two campgrounds on the banks of the Wimmera River, Horseshoe Bend and Ackle Bend. Permits must be purchased online prior to arrival.
Heading in the right direction
At $26.80 per night per site, it is a bit rich with flush toilets at Horseshoe and drop toilets at Ackle, some tables and a few firepits the only facilities. I prefer to either free camp at Kiata campground or camp at the Riverside Holiday Park in Dimboola and enjoy the well set up camp kitchen for $20 a night (unpowered).
Little Desert was established as a National Park in the late 1960’s, although it’s a desert in name only with an average annual rainfall of 400mm. During winter a few tracks may close but generally wet sand is easier to traverse. Late winter is a great time to visit as the temperatures are more comfortable and the flowers and blossoms are blooming.
If those clouds let go, this swamp will become a little tricky
I started exploring the eastern section of Little Desert. The Wimmera River drive is suitable for all vehicles, but as soon as you turn off onto the tracks, the fun begins. As well as locking in low range, I prefer to reduce my tyre pressures to 18PSI when driving in the sand to increase the footprint, allowing my tyres to float across the sand instead of digging down into it.
Driving in the ruts is a good move too and getting a hang of the momentum needed to traverse the sand and climb the dunes will make your drive easier. Speed needs to be kept down due to lower tyre pressures and this helps in reducing the amount your gear moves around in the back of your vehicle. A good tip is to blow air into an empty wine cask bladder and place it in your fridge, this will prevent breakages and frothy beer at happy hour.
Scars from recent fires still linger
Having climbed One Tree Hill and checked out Eagle Swamp I explored a few more tracks on my way to the Kiata picnic ground. For a good introduction to the flora and fauna that inhabits Little Desert, the short Keith Hately nature walk is a great option.
Kiata campground is nearby and as mentioned, I love camping here as it is a great base from which to explore the eastern and central blocks. There are drop toilets, picnic tables and fire pits dotted around the campground and after rain you may even get to roll the swag out onto green grass. Albrechts Mill is a short drive from the campground and this old watering point is a reminder of the early attempts to run sheep in the area.
Recent rain made driving these sandy tracks simpler, but in the warmer months, it is treacherous
The Stringybark Walk is located on Goroke Road near the Little Desert Nature Lodge and shows a wide diversity of plant life found in this section of the park. Best visited in spring when the wildflowers and small orchids are out. Also, off Goroke Road in the central block are two concrete structures that are all that remains of a gunnery and bombing range that existed in the area during WW2.
Little Desert Nature Lodge is set on 117 hectares of natural bushland and is the best place to observe the ingenious Malleefowl. You can tour the Malleefowl aviary that’s the only captive breeding program in Victoria or the Malleefowl Discovery tour that provides an opportunity to get up close and personal with the endangered birds in the wild. Bookings are essential prior to arrival and are subject to availability.
The dunes aren’t huge, but they can be soft
A little further south along Goroke Road is the turnoff to the strangely named McDonald Highway. This extremely challenging sand track runs in a straight line dissecting the central block. Only 30kms in length, allow a few hours to reach Broughtons Waterhole, a great spot for lunch or to set up camp amongst the Yellow gums.
The western block of the park is generally more overgrown in places, but it is well worth driving to Mount Moffatt, the highest point in Little Desert National Park. From here you are close to the South Australian/Victorian border. For many years the placing of the border was in dispute from 1836 until 1914. South Australia had to hand back territory to Victoria and the dispute concluded when South Australia was awarded damages of £215,000.
Kiata campground is my “go to” camp
With so much great sand driving under your belt, you should have sated your thirst and prepared yourself for that Simpson Desert crossing next year. If you’re anything like me, you will just enjoy coming back to Little Desert time and time again.