DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
For years we’ve driven past NSW’s Yanga National Park en route to more distant places, but our OTA Team members Sheree and Simon Martin spent five days there in 2020. It’s a Park that’s well worth a visit.
Queensland National Parks has been resuming some significant agricultural and pastoral properties and converting them into national parks for many years and NSW followed that example with the inauguration of Yanga National Park in 2007.
Yanga National Park is located very close to the township of Balranald in south-western New South Wales. It covers an area of 66,734 hectares, including 1932 hectares of Yanga Nature Reserve and has a frontage of 170 kilometres along the Murrumbidgee River.
It is largely located in the Lower Murrumbidgee Floodplain, which is included in A Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia, because of its importance as a breeding site for waterbirds when flooded.
Yanga National Park is part of the larger Murrumbidgee Valley National Park that was created in 2010 and protects the largest continuous tract of river red gum forest in the world.
Yanga was formerly an important pastoral station, established by William Charles Wentworth – better known as one of the three explorers who blazed a path across the NSW Blue Mountains in 1813 – and was the largest privately owned station in the southern hemisphere, covering 85,000 hectares.
Yanga homestead was first built around 1870 and can be visited today. The site was mostly freehold except for the 1932 hectares of crown land of Yanga Nature Reserve and more than 90-percent of the land was used for grazing.
Yanga Station later became part of C B Fisher’s pastoral empire.
Yanga National Park lies within the traditional tribal areas of the Muthi Muthi people and there is an Aboriginal sites register covering the park. The register currently includes mounds, scarred trees, historic sites, burials and middens.
Yanga National Park incorporates 12 different wetland types according to the Ramsar Convention classification system, including inland wetlands and man-made wetlands. The Park embraces four significant lakes – Yanga Lake, Tala Lake, Piggery Lake and Irrigation Lake – as well as hundreds of canals and creeks, and extensive river red gum forest along the Murrumbidgee River.
It is one of the most significant wetland habitats for waterbirds in eastern Australia and is home to the State’s largest known population of the endangered southern bell frog.
Seventeen vegetation classes have been identified in the Yanga National Park, with more than 300 plant species being recorded. River red gum forest and woodland, black box woodland, lignum/nitre goosefoot shrub-land, and spike rush-dominated sedge-land are important vegetation classes in the area.
Yanga National Park and the surrounding floodplain is habitat for 24 reptile species; 18 fish species (unfortunately European carp dominant) and 33 mammal species (unfortunately including red fox, red deer, feral cat, brown hare, rabbit, house mouse and the destructive feral pig).
A total of 64 waterbird species from 14 families has been recorded in the Park, but changes to natural flow regime over the past 30 years have reduced wetland availability, leading to an 80-percent decline in the number of waterbirds recorded in the area.
Since the purchase of the property in 2005, more than 200,000 megalitres of environmental water has been delivered to Yanga wetlands by both the Australian and NSW governments through the Rivers Environmental Restoration Program. The water has delivered benefits to wetland vegetation, black box woodland, river red gum forests and supported populations of the nationally threatened southern bell frog, and maintained nesting sites for many waterbird species.
Yanga National Park may be one of the state’s newest parks, but this area has significant history and Aboriginal families have lived here for millennia. From the early1800s, explorers, pastoralists, shearers and rabbit trappers trekked here and, more recently, fisher-folk and campers take their turn to camp by the banks of the Murrumbidgee, like Burke and Wills once did.
Bird watchers have a field day, with up to 150 species of birds flocking in the park’s trees, skies and ecologically-important wetlands. Along the Yanga Lake walking track there’s Yanga Lake Red Gum bird hide to make bird-watching less invasive.
Spring and autumn are great times for birdwatching, when the lakes fill with series that include white-bellied sea eagles and great crested grebes.
Yanga Homestead harks back to a time when Yanga Station was one of the Riverina’s most productive pastoral stations. The homestead was built around 1870, along with station outbuildings including stables, a gardener’s shed and station store.
The Homestead was built using Murray pine ‘drop log’ technique. This ‘mortise and tenon’ construction method used trimmed logs that slotted into vertical beams.
The buildings are in excellent condition for the most part and there are also rose gardens, restored and maintained by volunteers.
You can wander around the grounds at any time and enter the cook’s cottage display, but to see inside Yanga Homestead you’ll need to pick up an audio guide and key from Yanga National Park Office, open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.
Located on a bend in the Murrumbidgee River, Yanga Woolshed was built in the late 1800s. Once the largest, most modern woolshed in the district, it could house 3000 sheep and provided work for up to 40 shearers at a time.
Its location on the River was ideal for transferring baled wool to the barges hauled by paddle steamers that took the wool west to the Murray River junction and east to Echuca, for transfer by rail to Melbourne and eventual export.
As was said at the time: “Australia rode on the sheep’s back”.
Today, you can wander through the Woolshed on a self-guided tour, exploring its runs and pens, while getting a smell and a taste of Australian history. There’s a viewing platform where the old wharf stood.
Unlike nearly every National Park in Australia, visiting and camping at Yanga is free. Also, campfires are permitted, outside the fire-ban period from October until April.
The main 14-site campground is Mamanga that has fire places, ‘long drop’ toilets, rubbish bins and limited phone service. Areas for large groups are also available.
The Willows 11-site campground features a smaller shearing shed in picnic area, fire places, long drop toilets, with large flat open areas for groups and smaller areas.
Woolpress Bend picnic area and remote campground features three fireplace sites and long drop toilets. There is no phone service and all sites must be booked in advance, because of limited space.
All of the roads into this area are well maintained red clay that makes access definitely dry weather only.
In addition to these formal campgrounds there are also Cooba Bend campground, Keenes campground and Sandy Bend campground.