Only "discovered" in 1983, the beehive-striped Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park is a fascinating and enduring Australian story.
By Stephanie Williams
It's been around for 350 million years and revered by its Aboriginal custodians for at least 40,000 years, but the striking Bungle Bungle Range ('the Bungle Bungles') in World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park was a secret from the outside world until 1983. Today this maze of orange and black striped karst sandstone domes, often likened to giant beehives, is one of the best loved attractions in Western Australia's Kimberley region. It's a spectacular landscape of sculptured rocks rising 250 metres (820 feet) above the surrounding semi-arid savanna grasslands and the most outstanding example of cone karst in sandstone anywhere in the world.
HOW TO GET THERE
Purnululu National Park is found in the Kimberley region, which takes up the entire north-west corner of the Australian continent. The park is located in the East Kimberley, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the town of Halls Creek and 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the town of Kununurra. You can fly into Kununurra from Perth, Broome and Darwin. Skippers Aviation offers a flight between Broome and Halls Creek via the town of Fitzroy Crossing. You could also fly into Broome and drive to Purnululu National Park; the drive along the Great Northern Highway passes through a classic Outback landscape (wide and flat, with red earth) and stops at a handful of towns along the way. It takes about 10 hours. The final 50 kilometre (31 mile) track to the park's entrance is not sealed; you'll need a 4WD to gain entry.
- Get an idea of the scale of the Bungle Bungles on a helicopter flight.
- Go off-road on an overnight adventure to Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge.
- Visit Cathedral Gorge, an incredible natural amphitheatre of red rock.
Purnululu National Park highlights
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PURNULULU NATIONAL PARK (BUNGLE BUNGLES)
See the Bungle Bungle Range from the air
The Bungle Bungle Range was only known to local Aboriginal owners and pastoralists until a documentary team brought it to the world's attention in 1983. Director Guy Baskin was filming a documentary called Wonders of WA[Western Australia] when the crew saw the incredible formations from the air. While there are plenty of things other than the Bungle Bungle Range to see in Purnululu National Park, you shouldn't miss this striking sight. Take a scenic flight over the incredible sandstone formations of the Bungle Bungles, thought to have been forged more than 350 million years from the sediment of an old riverbed. The orange, grey and black stripes are the result of alternating bands of sediment, each with different clay content. Departing Kununurra, the Aviair Bungle Bungle Adventurer itinerary will take you over the formations, nearby Lake Argyle and the Ord River Irrigation Area. The Bungle Bungle Range is located in the park's south. Helispirit offers tours via helicopter over the Bungle Bungles leaving from Purnululu National Park, Warmun, Lake Argyle or Kununurra. Kingfisher Tours and Kimberley Air Tours have a range of flight options from Kununurra too.
Rest and restore near Purnululu
Inside the park boundary you can stay at the tented Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge, camp at the public sites Walardi and Kurrajong, or at the private campground, Bellburn. About 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Kununurra is the private wilderness park, El Questro, a million acre (4047 square kilometre) property boasting waterfalls, majestic gorges, forests, savanna plains and four different river systems, along with a range of accommodation options dotted across the property. You'll find camping and comfortable rooms at The Station and tented cabins at Emma George Resort. Or you can splash out at the luxurious six-star retreat, El Questro Homestead. Scenic flights over the Bungle Bungles also depart from here, at the station’s private airstrip; book flights at The Homestead or The Station. Alternatively, book a package experience with East Kimberley Tours, which combines guided exploration with a night in the eco-friendly Bungle Bungle Savannah Lodge inside the Purnululu National Park World Heritage Area, and a scenic flight over the area.
Learn about the area's Aboriginal heritage
Aboriginal people are thought to have lived in this region for more than 40,000 years, and the park holds rich, enduring traces of their life. Ancient rock art and burial sites can be found across the park and you can visit some of the sites with a local Aboriginal guide on a Bungle Bungle Guided Tour. They offer three tour options, from easy to challenging. You’ll forage for bush tucker and hear stories of the Aboriginal customs of the area, the flora and fauna, and the six weather seasons life is rhythmically centred around. You'll also find tour operators based near the national park and others in the regional hubs of Kununurra and Halls Creek.
Tour the park on foot
Early morning is a beautiful time to be in Purnululu National Park. With a 7am start from the Bungle Bungle Station Stay Caravan Park, the Bungle Bungle Expeditions 4WD Bus day tour is a great way to experience the park, with an experienced guide sharing their knowledge. You'll have plenty of time to walk the rock formations, see Cathedral Rock and the photogenic Echidna Chasm, where, at some points, you can reach out and touch both sides of the soaring chasm walls. To explore the park at an even deeper level, you can join a multi-day guided walk with World Expeditions. For five days you'll be based at a bush camp in the upper Piccaninny Gorge and enjoy daily exploratory walks, finishing your week with a scenic flight over the region.
See the park's other incredible highlights
In the southern part of Purnululu, hike into enormous Cathedral Gorge, known for its incredible acoustics. Stop to test out your vocal cords, then tackle the scenic trail to Piccaninny Creek, a three kilometre (1.8 mile) return loop. Experienced walkers can press on to the soaring Piccaninny Gorge, a 30 kilometre (18.6 mile) overnight trek. You can spend days exploring this remote trail to the spectacular Piccaninny Gorge; you must register at the visitors centre before departing. In northern Purnululu the narrower gorges offer a completely different experience. An easy two kilometre (1.2 mile) walk leads into Echidna Chasm, where you can stare up in awe at the sheer rock walls, towering 100 metres (330 feet) on either side of you. Or try the five kilometre (3.1 mile) return hike to Mini Palms Gorge, home to clusters of slender Livistona palms and a traditional Aboriginal fertility cave.
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