It may not be a widely visited or promoted park, but Coongie Lakes National Park, with its isolation, undeveloped character and unique natural environment, is one of Australia’s most attractive outback destinations.
Malkumba-Coongie Lakes NP is located 1290km north of Adelaide. It is reached by main road to Lyndhurst, the Strzelecki Track to Innamincka and the 4WD Coongie Track for the last 110km.
This access road is prone to inundation by floodwaters from Cooper Creek and has been closed for extensive periods over recent years.
The park covers an area of 26,661ha and together with the surrounding Innamincka Regional Reserve (1,354,055ha) forms one of South Australia’s largest contiguous protected areas.
The Malkumba-Coongie Lakes NP lies within the traditional lands of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka Aboriginal people, to whom the lakes and associated wetlands are a deeply spiritual place. In their culture, the Cooper Creek system is a Dreaming serpent and Malkumba is the body of water where the serpent rests.
During times of flood, the serpent comes to life and winds its way from western Queensland to Lake Eyre.
Despite the unpredictability of this land, the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka people lived and thrived around the Coongie Lakes for thousands of years before European incursion. Cooper Creek was a major Aboriginal trade route and the lakes area was a traditional meeting place, particularly after flood events when food and resources were abundant.
Their use and occupation of this country are evident in many sites, including middens, artefact scatters, rock engravings, stone arrangements, burial sites and quarries. Unusually large shell and bone middens in the Coongie Lakes system suggest large prehistoric populations settled the edge of the Strzelecki
Desert despite the harsh environment of extreme temperatures and unreliable supplies of raw materials. Field surveys in the wetlands reveal several aspects of Aboriginal adaptation in this arid zone that are unparalleled anywhere in the archaeological world.
Despite dispossession by European pastoralists in the 1870s, the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka people retained a strong connection with their ancestral lands, such that formal arrangements have been established for their joint management of the park with the South Australian Government.
SETTING UP CAMP
About 25km south of Coongie Lakes, on the edge of the park, Kudriemitchie campground offers low-key camping (no facilities) on Cooper Creek, where campfires and generators are permitted. Innamincka has campgrounds, a hotel, general store, fuel, toilets, showers, phones, ranger station, information centre, rubbish disposal, and mechanic and tyre repairs.
Near Innamincka, the beautiful Cullyamurra Waterhole has lots of space and several toilets, while Minkie Waterhole and Kings Site are smaller with no toilet facilities.
Visitors can experience the natural beauty of the Coongie Lakes by bushwalking, canoeing, swimming, photography and birdwatching.
A WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
More than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the park, some resident and others nomadic, all of them using the wetlands as a feeding, resting and breeding site, sometimes congregating in numbers exceeding 70,000 at one time.
The park is also home to an array of other wildlife species that includes 20 mammals, eight frogs, 17 fish and 50 reptiles, including the world’s most venomous snake, the inland taipan.
People don’t come here for five-star amenities but to immerse themselves in the park’s peaceful seclusion and natural splendour, away from the bustle of urban life.
It’s off the beaten track, to be sure, and the access road is sometimes closed when “the serpent” wakes, but once you get to Coongie Lakes you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.