Purnululu and the Bungle Bungles

About 4 hours from Kununurra, just over the NT/WA border,  is Purnululu National Park, in which sits the famous Bungle Bungle Range, or Bungle Bungles. The highway through the Kimberley Region is very good and picturesque, so the time passes easily. We stopped at Turkey Creek Roadhouse for a stretch and that had food and accommodation for those needing it.

The 1km road into Bungle Bungle Caravan Park was pretty corrugated and we set up on the large, unshaded block before quickly asking about the condition of the road into the National Park. We were pretty inexperienced 4×4 drivers and wanted to decide if we should be doing the $380pp tour instead. Encouragement and approval of our vehicle was not lacking and we made nervous plans for the following day, while the desert sunset brought an unexpected chill.

What an adventure! If you’re an avid off-roader you’d have given it an 8, I think, as those who’d just come off the Gibb River Road said it compared to that journey’s detour tracks. What are we talking about? 1.5 hours (53km) of heavily corrugated road on entry and exit, for which we lowered the psi to 25, and five river crossings not requiring a snorkel, but we weren’t stopping. Other corrugated sections of varying degree, making it a rattling good trip.

Don’t be deceived, the water came up to the top of the bonnet: straight down and straight back up again.

We followed the tour plan and, after calling in at the visitor centre to record our names and our pass, went south first, to Piccaninny Creek carpark to see the Domes and Cathedral Gorge. The former is what has made the Bungles famous in the late 1980s, when a film crew flew over it and  ‘discovered’ the beehive-shaped sandstone hills. Capturing the expanse of the range is very difficult with a standard lens, as you can see in the header photo.

The average height of the domes is 250m and the distinctive orange and black towers are fragile. As the sign on the walk says, “… each encased in a thin, protective skin of orange bands of iron oxide and grey to black bands of cyanobacteria. A skin is deposited on the surface by water seeping through the sandstone. If the banded skin is damaged the sandstone is rapidly eroded away.” Another sign informs us that the foundations were laid down 360 million years ago and flood waters have brought deposits and formed deep gorges.

From the carpark, both walks are very easy, on flat paths, well-signed. You’ll be unprotected from the sun in many places, so remember hat, sunscreen and water. After you reach the pool in the Domes, the path to Cathedral Rock, back and to the left, is along some sections of dry river bed, so use good walking footwear for sandy and uneven surfaces.

There are ladders to help negotiate difficult terrain.

The sun glows off the walls like molten gold.

Cathedral Gorge is unexpectedly stunning, but you have to get in and under the Ridge to fully appreciate it. Many people just sit for a time, absorbing the extraordinary peace and beauty. You first encounter the amphitheatre and the still pool in the centre.

Venture in
And look back out
Not so bracken that the fish had all left

We ate our lunch in the shade, here, then headed for the northern end of the National Park and Echidna Chasm.

From the carpark, you follow the dry creek bed, over mostly rocky terrain, through palms bordered by the orange sandstone cliffs, showing signs of erosion.

The river bed and walls are made up of conglomerate, formed by pebbles and boulders that have been embedded over millions of years.

It isn’t too long before the path narrows and you read about large, falling boulders, causing a little increase in your pace.

The light and the decreasing width of the path is beautiful and highlights this impressive weakness in the Bungle Bungle Ranges.

When you get to the end, it’s quite obvious there is no going forward, so back you go, still able to admire the glowing cliffs.

Near the start of the riverbed is a sign directing you to the Northern Escarpment Walk which is a very short (5min) trip to look over the landscape. In the distance are ranges that are billions of years old and information boards explain the changes in the environment and the practices of the Aboriginal people of the area. There is a move back to involving the original inhabitants in the preservation of the area, as their knowledge of watercourses, in particular, is crucial to the health of the region.

It isn’t a trip for the feint hearted and is one to put on your bucket list, but only if you can be rattled around a bit. You need to time it, as the park is closed between November and April, roughly, but we were here in October one year and the high temperatures meant it was closed. So, do a little research.

Travel safe. Take your hat, water and sunscreen, and maybe a spare tyre.