Purnululu National Park & Bungle Bungle Ranges in Western Australia

The Purnululu National Park was listed as a World Heritage site in 2003 for the unique nature of the Bungle Bungle Ranges which form the major part of the 2400 square kilometre park. The rounded weathered hills of red rock, striated with horizontal layers of black rise some 300 metres above the plains of the dry inland Kimberley and are visible from 50 miles away, resembling a scrum of giant bumble bees head down in the sandy savannah. The ranges are some of the most unusual rock formations of Australia, being formed of domes of eroded sandstone which was once an ancient river bed 360 million years ago.

"To walk in there today and see the 360 million years of erosion across that sandstone range and the development of deeply incised gorges and chasms- the colour of the rocks and the banding - it just makes you feel good just to be walking amongst it"
Linsday Brown, Senior Ranger Purnululu

Caves at Bungle Bungles in Western Australia. Photo by Nick Haslam For more than 20,000 years the Bungle Bungle ranges were home to the indigenous Kija people who moved between uplands in the wet season and along the river in the dry, using fire to conserve and manage the rich savannah grasslands.

Today, many of the high chasms and enormous caves deep in the ranges are classified as aboriginal sacred sites and are out of bounds for visitors, but with the increase in indigenous people working as tour guides it is hoped that more trails will be opened in the near future.

For most of the 20th century the spectacular domes, wet season waterfalls and gorges would have been seen only by the occasional jackeroo mustering steers from one of the huge cattle stations of the Kimberley and it was not until a TV documentary was broadcast in 1982 showing spectacular aerial shots of the hills that the unique value of Purnululu was recognised. The park itself was created in 1987 and following its listing as a World Heritage site it has grown in popularity, now receiving nearly thirty thousand visitors a year.

On the eastern edge of the Kimberley the Park is 250 kilometers on the sealed Great Northern Highway from Kununarra, but there are still 53 kilometres of unsealed road from the turn off into the park and so a 4 wheel drive is obligatory.

The Bungle Bungles range in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia When to go: The park is closed during the Wet season (from November until the beginning of April although these dates are weather dependent). The best time to go to Purnululu is in the beginning of the dry season in May, when plains around the park are full of acacia bloom.

This is also the best time to see the fauna of the park, from rainbow bee-eaters to nailtail and rock wallabies. It can be hot, with daytime temperatures over 30 degrees Centigrade but in the shaded canyons of the ranges there is still enough water in the rock pools to swim.

In winter, from June until November the park is at its busiest with visitors, many of whom fly in from Kununarra. Be warned - it can get cold at night, sometimes even dropping below zero as cold frigid air from the vast inland Tanami desert works its way north and so a thick jacket and a good sleeping bag are an absolute necessity.

Camping: There are two public camp grounds, plus a private permanent tented camp site at Bellburn Creek which has to be booked in advance. The park visitor centre has information about the park and the Kimberley in general but note that there are no shops - campers must bring all provisions with them, including firewood.

The park is divided into north and south sections and walking trails lead from car parks just below the hills. These are some for the best walks:

Cathedral Gorge in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia
  • The Cathedral gorge is aptly named for its huge natural amphitheatre resembles a vast nave curving around a deep pool.

    Deep channels running down from the walls give an idea of the immense quantity of rain which falls here in the Wet season. The acoustic qualities of the rounded red chamber are extraordinary, with sound reverberating for what seems like minutes in the huge space. The return walk is only 3 kilometres from the car park but make sure you allow time to absorb the atmosphere.

    Sitting on the ledge which forms a handy seat around the chamber it is worth thinking that you are just one in a succession of other visitors who have been coming here for more than 20,000 years.

  • The Piccanny Creek walk leads into the centre of the range and is not for the fainthearted. To complete the whole trail means sleeping a night in the gorge but it is possible just to walk in for an hour or so and then return. The trail runs along a river bed of thick gravel and involves scrambling over large slabs of sandstone but it is one of the most beautiful walks of Purnululu and even during the high season has less walkers than other parts of the Park.

  • The Echidna chasm is one of the most impressive easy walks which takes about an hour. The track follows a deep fissure into the side of the hills which opens out into a high narrow chamber lit by ochre tinted sunlight reflected down from the sandstone walls. Try to arrive in the chasm at midday when the sun is at its highest and the play of colours at its most spectacular.

  • The Mini Palms walk close by is 5km long and leads into a steep sided valley where the high 150 metre high cliffs are studded with tall Livingstone Palms. The path here is not easy, leading through narrow gaps so narrow that walkers have turn sideways to squeeze between boulders.

    Make sure you don't miss the sunset from the Walanginjdji Sunset lookout 3 kilometres from the visitor centre. From its comfortable vantage point the western side of the Bungle Bungle range goes through an incredible spectrum of orange fading to red as the sun goes down.

    Lindsay Brown
    Linsday Brown, Senior Ranger at Purnululu National Park
    "To walk in there today and see the 360 million years of erosion in deeply incised gorges and chasms - it just makes you feel good"

    Read more about nature & wildlife in Western Australia
  • Responsible Travel would like to thank the Western Australia tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
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