Tough Country

Judbarra (Gregory) National Park

Bullita Stock Route, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Bullita Stock Route, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Judbarra National Park is the second largest park in the Northern Territory. It is divided into eastern and western sections separated by several hundred kilometres. Most of the larger western section is remote and rarely visited and access to large areas is limited to rough 4WD tracks which generally follow old stock routes. It is a dry and hard land! The sign at the old Bullita Homestead says it all.

“It’s tough out here. It’s hard, hot and dry and when it rains it floods.

In places the ground is so hard that even the cattle need shoes to walk over it. Everything gets so hot and dry that you get thirsty just looking at the land.

At a glance it seems lifeless, but wildlife is hidden through the vast woodlands, crowded along the creeklines and even sheltering in the endless spinifex.”

It sounds like just the place for us to explore on our way east between Katherine and Kununurra.

The 4WD tracks we decide to explore in the western section can all be accessed from the Bullita Access Road which leaves the Victoria Highway a short distance east of Timber Creek and we leave the Troopie in Timber Creek to be picked up later. The Access Road is easy going and soon we are turning on to the 8 km track into Limestone Gorge. The first section is very easy but then we get a taste of what we can expect over the next few days. The dirt and gravel track gives way to a track made entirely of river rocks which has to be negotiated very slowly in first gear, low range. The very rough section only continues for a kilometre so we are soon gazing into the crystal clear waters of a billabong near the end of the track wishing we could swim but not willing to risk the presence of crocs. The campsite is not far past the billabong and we settle for a spot in the shade instead.

Limestone Gorge, Judburra (Gregory) NP, NT

Limestone Gorge, Judburra (Gregory) NP, NT

Back on the Access Road next morning we continue to the old Bullita Homestead. National Parks have a great display inside the old home and we spend quite a while reading the information about the land and its history and wandering around the old buildings and stockyards. Copies of letters from early settlers give a taste of how tough life was out here and we both leave with a great deal of respect for Charlie Schultz who ran Bullita Station and the adjoining Humbert Station with the assistance of the local aborigines.

Bullita Stockyard, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Bullita Stockyard, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

The easy roads finish here and we head off to follow the Bullita Stock Route. It’s only 93 km long but will take around 8 hours so as it is already midday we’ll camp along the way. The crossing of the East Baines River near the homestead is easy as the water level is very low and we follow a sweeping track across flat rocks easily avoiding the uneven sections. If the water was above the rocks it would be very tricky picking the right line to follow as this is certainly a river that would be tricky to wade across, not to mention the distinct possibility of crocs hereabouts. The track takes us through rugged country with boabs lining the rocky ridges and dry grass and sparse trees struggling to survive amongst the rocks. It’s hard to imagine cattle being able to survive here.

Bullita Stock Route, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Bullita Stock Route, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

The track is one way as there is a river crossing and a jump up which can only be tackled in one direction and even going the easier way we need to pick our way very carefully. We set up for the night in a camping area just past the second crossing of the East Baines River and as we’re watching the sunset another couple arrive. We haven’t seen anyone else since we left the homestead and they are just as surprised as we are to see somebody else out here. We sit and chat around the evening campfire but once they head off in the morning we continue on our solitary way.

The Stock Route eventually delivers us back to the Access Road and we are soon heading off on our next 4WD track. The Humbert Track is only 62 km but should take around 6 hours to drive. It takes us south through the Fig Tree Creek valley then east along the Humbert River valley to the boundary of the national park and Humbert Station. It also has its share of rocky sections and tricky descents to creek beds and we both thoroughly enjoy the journey and the country. We make camp half way along the track and this time we are not surprised by any other campers although we do pass one group heading the other direction.

Humbert Track, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Humbert Track, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Next day after we have passed through Humbert Station we reach the Buchanan Highway and head north toward the Victoria Highway. 40-50 km south of the Victoria Highway the road passes through Jasper Gorge on the eastern boundary of the national park. Our camp site at the southern end of the gorge offers a shady spot overlooking Jasper Creek and the 10km drive through the gorge next morning offers loads of fabulous views and stunning country. It makes a lovely finish to our side trip into this section of Judbarra National Park.

Jasper Gorge, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Jasper Gorge, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

It’s not far back into Timber Creek and with the Troopie under tow we head east toward the other section of Judbarra National Park. Victoria River Roadhouse has a large open camping area and with a few days to fill in before we can drop the Troopie at the auto-electrician in Katherine it’s a good place to set up camp and explore around here.

Victoria River, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

Victoria River, Judbarra (Gregory) NP, NT

You can read about the Troopie’s tale of woe and our time around the Victoria River Roadhouse in the post “The Best Laid Plans”.

Farewell to the West

08 Gibb River Road (32) Pentecost River

After more than twelve months wandering up and down various dusty tracks and bitumen highways it is time for us to turn our trusty vehicles east and leave the state of Western Australia. For now that is, because, although we’ve seen quite a lot, there is plenty more to see and plenty we will definitely want to revisit in WA.

Since we crossed the state border at the end of May 2014 we have so many good memories of the areas we have visited that we can’t hope to mention them all. Favourite times for both of us include:

  • A leisurely crossing of the Gibb River Road with side trips to Mitchell Falls, Kalumburu and Mornington Station,
  • Exploring the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome and camping for a while in places like James Price Point, Whale Song and Gumbarnum,
  • Discovering rugged new country in the inland of the Pilbara at Carawine Gorge, Running Waters and Desert Queen Baths,
  • Sheltering from the wind while staying in a humpy at Red Bluff on the coast just north of Carnarvon,
  • Finding a hut in the forest near Walpole where we could hide from the summer crowds and unseasonal cold weather and spend Christmas and New Year with Paul’s son Sean, and
  • Travelling 2,000 remote kilometres through three deserts, unexpected rain and mud and across countless sand dunes along the Canning Stock Route.

Julie visited friends and family in the eastern states and spent two months in Malaysia while Paul continued the WA journey and during this time his highlights included flights in a gyrocopter over Esperance with Vince and a slow journey from Cape Leeuwin to Dunsborough finding loads of places to inspire his photographic creativity.

We’re looking forward to new adventures now but Western Australia will always be a place we’ll happily revisit.

1206 DSCN1302 Red Bluff

A Bend in the River

Reflections from a camp on the Ord River in Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Sunset on the Ord River

We have spent a lot of time near the sea in the last year so it was a very different experience to camp on the banks of a large inland river in the north of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This was not our original intention when we left Kununurra though!

On the recommendation of the “Unimog Mob” (who we met on the Canning Stock Route) we thought we might head to Cape Domett on the coast about 150km north of Kununnura. Unfortunately we discover that the access road to the coast passes through private property and the owners have closed it to the public. So instead we continue west along the road towards Carlton Hill Station and then, on a whim, turn south along a bush track for five kilometres and find a very quiet spot on a bend in the Ord River where we camp for three nights.

Sitting beside the river we are fascinated by its rythms. The liquid patterns of the currents and eddies on the surface of this broad river flow past in an ever-changing continuum. Patches of calm water and turbulence form and re-form around rocks, fallen trees and in the shallows. However long you watch you can never be sure that the flowing lines, textures and light ever repeat themselves in quite the same way. After a day or two it seems to us that the river has created its own subtle definition of time that has become the measure of our day.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

currents and eddies in the Ord River

It is also the centre of life for an abundance of wildlife. Black Kites and Whistling Kites quarter the skies above us, instinctively flying the angles across the breeze for lift and speed. A Black Kite drops briefly to the river bank to drink some water then flies a short distance to a dead tree higher up the bank. It waits there until a gust of wind blows along the river and provides the lift for an almost effortless take off. Within seconds it has climbed many metres above the river.

On two occasions we watch some Brolgas, beautiful pale grey storks, come down to drink at the river’s edge. Both times they are accompanied by one or two small kangaroos which hang back until the Brolgas have finished drinking. This takes a little while because their beaks are so long and they are so tall. They scoop small amounts of water up and then throw their heads back to swallow. We saw several kangaroo on the drive in here and we hear several more in the brush behind our camp. Their tracks and droppings are everywhere.

On the first two days we watch a Whistling Kite eating its catch on a branch over-hanging the river very close by our camp. On the first day he eats a fish, but on the second day he has caught a small bird, the plucked feathers floating in the breeze until they come to rest on the surface of the water and float on down river.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas and Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos fly overhead at dawn, catching the early light on their snow white feathers, and several times a day fly down to the sandy bank on the far side of the river to drink. They stand in the shallows at the edge of the river, dip their thick beaks in the water, then lift their heads too swallow.

Ord River, Kimberleys, Western Australia

Corellas

For the first two days we don’t see any crocodiles at all. On the third day as we walk along the river bank in the shade of some large paper-bark trees we hear a big splash from around the bend in front of us. We look for tell-tale marks along the bank to see if we can spot the tracks and slide marks where a croc has entered the water but it is very difficult to be sure as there are plenty of kangaroo tracks along the bank as well. A little later, on our return walk, we spot a croc on the far bank of the river and assume that this is the one we had disturbed earlier.

Saltwater Crocodile, Ord River, Western Australia

Saltwater Crocodile

When we get back to camp and we are sitting having coffee another crocodile launches itself from between some rocks and then walks up onto the sandy bank opposite us and lies there sunning itself for a few hours. It is a fair sized saltwater crocodile (a “saltie”) so Paul is a little more vigilant when he is filling buckets from the river.

A hundred metres to the north of our camp a dead kangaroo is lying in the middle of a section of dry river bed. In the early morning we see eagles and kites feeding on the carcass but they don’t stay long because they get too hot if they stay at ground level in full sun for very long.

On our way here, to get to our camping spot under some shady trees, we drove for a while along and then across part of the dry river bed, picking our way over the harder stone and rocks, and avoiding the softer sand beds. Such a beautiful spot. We see several willie willies pick up a lot of dust as they travel across the sandy river bed behind us and over the far bank of the river. Apart from providing shade the trees around us act as a wind break and keep most of the dust away from our camp although once or twice the wind does shake things up a bit.

In the shallows of the river opposite our camp are three elongated rocks in a line, the first smaller than the second and the second smaller than the third. In the low light at dawn and dusk they look like the back of a gigantic, partly submerged crocodile. Another large rock extends out from the opposite bank and I take a few photos of it. Towards the end of our stay we find out that the place is called Skull Rock and named for this rock.

Skull Rock, Ord River

Skull Rock

As we sit in our camp and look down river to the west we see tree-lined banks and a hill behind the bend at the far end of our view. In the evening the sun sets behind this hill giving a red glow to the sky and turning the length of the river gold. Green and blue reflections light up the river during the day. On our first and last night we cook on a camp fire. Then after dinner we sit and watch the stars and their reflection in the river.

Front Row Seat

Front Row Seat

All around our camp the trees are stacked up with flood debris. Twigs, branches and whole trees are strewn about. In the wet season we figure that the area we are camping in will be underwater when they release water out of the Argyle Dam. At least it makes collecting firewood easy.

One afternoon a pair of Jabirus (Black-Necked Storks) fly up river from the west. They don’t see us sitting in the shade of our camp until they are directly opposite. One of them gives a short squawk and then they pass behind some trees overhanging the river.

When we leave we both agree that we will make an effort to return to this part of the Ord River when we travel through Kununnura.

The Beef Road

Duncan Road, Halls Creek to Kununurra

Old Ord River Station

Old Ord River Station

It’s after dark when we reach the Great Northern Highway on our way out of Purnululu. My brakes are almost non-existent so we are going to spend the night in the nearest roadside rest stop. In the morning we have a choice to travel north to Kununurra or south to Halls Creek. We are planning on spending some time in and around Kununurra and if we head north we’ll be there in 4 to 5 hours. Nope, too easy and besides we did that last year. Instead we are heading south back to Halls Creek and from there we will take the gravel Duncan Road to the Victoria Highway in the Northern Territory then head west into Kununurra. We’ll probably end up spending somewhere between 4 days and a week on the trip. An added bonus is having a shorter distance to travel before being able to get my brakes fixed in Halls Creek.

In the morning it’s an easy run of about an hour into town and although the two mechanics in town are busy we are able to get my brakes back in order by late afternoon. It’s after 5.00 by the time the repairs are done and we’re topped up with food, fuel and water. We had four nights here in Halls Creek before we visited Purnululu so we are heading to Caroline Pool 15km east of town along Duncan Road to spend the night.

Duncan Road, previously Duncan Highway and also known as the Beef Road, was specifically built and developed during the 1950’s and 60’s to serve the needs of the cattle farmers of this part of the East Kimberleys. It is a well-made and maintained road and suitable for all vehicles unless seasonal rain has caused washouts and it may then be closed to all or some vehicles. From Halls Creek it heads roughly east for about 170km and then turns north for 325km. As it travels north it runs roughly parallel to the Ord River which forms the eastern boundary of Purnululu National Park. It crosses into the Northern Territory, crosses back to Western Australia then recrosses back to the Northern Territory before ending at the Victoria Highway east of the state border. We’ve been looking at this red line (gravel road) on the maps when we’ve been in this area on previous visits so when we were told it was an interesting drive with some nice camp sites it didn’t take long for us to work out how to add it to our route.

The road to Caroline Pool winds between rocky hills and provides some interesting views in the late afternoon light. It’s a picturesque drive and, provided it’s not taken too fast, an easy road for any vehicle. That’s obvious when we arrive and find half a dozen other groups of campers including back packers packed into station wagons and tents and caravans … definitely not built for off road conditions. As well as a small area at the end of the road you can also camp on the dry and rocky bed of the river and we soon find a spot for ourselves. The full moon is just rising, huge and yellow, and soon it is illuminating our camp.

Caroline Pool, Duncan Road

Caroline Pool, Duncan Road

In the morning we are in no rush to move on. Paul has been up early for shots of the gorge with its small pool in front of a rocky face and we relax in the sun over our breakfast. We’re planning a short drive today which works out just perfectly for both of us. Julie is happy to start travelling reasonably early but likes to stop early as well, preferably at lunchtime while Paul likes a relaxed start to the day with tea followed by breakfast followed by cappuccino before starting to think about packing. Our drive today starts late, proceeds through interesting hills and includes a stop and wander around the remains of Old Halls Creek, then finishes at lunchtime at Palm Springs just 30km further along Duncan Road.

We have a choice of spots to camp and they are all good. Gee life’s stressful when you have to pick between all these good options. First is an area on the side of a wide river with lots of trees around and a range of hills in front. Second is Palm Springs, a roadside rest area next to a pool fed by springs with trees, palms and reeds all around and a red rocky hill directly behind it. Third is Sawpit Gorge, 3 km down a side track through a gap in the range next to Palm Springs. Here you can cross a small creek, camp beside a pool of water and watch the numerous birds. Tough choice but Palm Springs won the vote, partly because while you could swim at the others the swimming at Palm Springs is fabulous and also because it is the best place for evening photos and it is only a very short drive to the river crossing for morning photos.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Exploring the different campsites enjoying a swim and taking in the views easily fills in the afternoon. Two other couples have also stopped here for the night and in the early evening we join them around a campfire. In the middle of the night the stars and moon are so bright and beautiful that Paul spends an hour taking photographs and then is up again at early light for more. It is too nice here to rush off so we have another leisurely start and eventually head off mid-morning stopping to explore the remains of an old market garden as we leave the area.

The first section of our day’s drive continues with the road winding around hills and through gaps in the ranges. When we leave these behind it becomes obvious we are in beef country. It is very flat country and if trees used to grow here they have been long since cleared so that all we can see in every direction is miles of pale yellow grassland. What a change from the country we have been travelling in for the past weeks.

During the drive the grass land starts to get more broken and rockier and the miles of grass are replaced with scrubby bush, still OK for cattle but obviously harder going for them. We had hoped to camp at Marella Gorge in this section as it had been highly recommended but the Visitor Centre staff told us camping was no longer allowed so we have to continue on. We reach the intersection with the Buntine Highway where Duncan Road turns north. The Buntine Highway heads east from here, crosses the Buchanan Highway at Top Springs, and eventually reaches the Victoria Highway fairly close to Katherine.

By now we are starting to look for a place to camp for the night but it takes a while longer before something suitable appears. 80km north of the Buntine we cross a river bed and at the top of the bank a side track takes us west to the ruined buildings of Old Ord River Station. Two buildings have wide walls constructed from flat stones gathered from the area and joined with a rough cement. One has no roof and the fairly new tin roof on the other is missing in parts allowing creepers to grow into the empty room beneath. Vacant windows frame views of boabs set in the dry and barren country. An old stone oven stands alone and to the side a tin shed containing an old range oven shows where the kitchen used to be. The old kitchen window provides the best view of the escarpment above the river and the trees and water in its bed but even having a great view wouldn’t have been adequate compensation for the conditions the cook would have had to work in during the middle of summer.

Old Ord River Station

Old Ord River Station

We have another short drive the next day, just 70km to Negri River. There is no water at the crossing itself but a very short distance downstream there is a good amount of water. Birds frequent the area around the water and the trees along the banks in search of food. There is a flat camp site with good shade and a great view, unfortunately it is occupied by a couple from the Northern Territory or we would very likely end up there for a few days as they have been. We find another spot, not quite as perfect but still very nice and enjoy the shade and views through the warm afternoon. There’s plenty of firewood around so we cook a marinated butterfly lamb on a campfire and spend the evening watching the flames.

Negri River, Duncan Road

Negri River, Duncan Road

Behn River is another 70 km along Duncan Road. We’re happy with our late starts and short drives and have it in mind for our next night. We’re there in time for lunch and while it could be adequate neither of us is terribly interested in stopping so we continue up the road. Zebra Rock Mines run a campsite and conduct tours of their mine and fishing trips on Lake Argyle. They are just a few kilometres off the road so we drive in to see if we have a chance of sunset views over the lake. No luck with the views and the camping ground is pretty busy so as we aren’t interested in a tour we drive back to Duncan Road and continue north. Only a few kilometres up the road we reach the end of Duncan Road and suddenly we are back on bitumen. Rest areas along the Victoria Highway will be crowded but at the intersection behind the Beef Road monument a short track leads to a clearing with just one caravan pulled in so we’ve found our spot for the night.

From here it is less than 70km to Kununurra but we decide to visit Keep River National Park on our way rather than leaving it until we are heading east toward Darwin. Cockatoo Lagoon is our first stop in the park. Black cockatoos fly from a tree as we approach the lagoon and stately Brolgas stride away from us but plenty of other bird life stays so we can watch them and take photographs. When we return to the carpark we find the black cockatoos in the trees there, love the flash of red as they fly.

Cockatoo Lagoon, Keep River NP

Cockatoo Lagoon, Keep River NP

There are two campgrounds in the park and we plan to spend a night at each. The first, Gurrandalng, is quite small and is about half full when we arrive but we find a nice shady spot to set up our camp. There is a short (2 km, 1 hour) walk from the campground but we relax in the shade until later in the afternoon before setting out. Noisy bower birds are plentiful but they aren’t in their courtship phase so we don’t see them in their purple plumage displaying their bowers as they try to woo a mate. Willy wagtails are a common sight all around Australia but they still delight as they hop around, tail flashing, catching flies and other insects.

By 4.00pm the temperature is more pleasant for walking and the light will soon be changing as the sun begins to set. There is a lot of variety in the vegetation and views for such a short walk. At the beginning of the walk the country shows the impact of a controlled burn in the area. Park-rangers burn sections of the land around here on a three year cycle and although there are a few flashes of new green growth it looks like it was burnt after the end of the last wet season. Stark black trunks, branches and spinifex roots contrast strongly with white trunks and limbs above the burn line. Look deeper and more colours come to view when you add in the creams, oranges and reds in the rocks and soil, the brilliant blue in the sky, the deep green of old leaves and the russet of scorched leaves, the pinks and purples of flowering shrubs and the pale yellow-green of sunburnt spinifex.

With all these colours and with a walk which takes us up a ridge and between twisted rock formations it is not surprising that the sun is dropping when we are only part way around the walk. This brings even more colours into view and while Julie opts to be on level ground and on the way back to camp before the light fades too far it is quite dark before Paul finishes his photos for the evening.

Next morning we drive further into the park to the Jarnem campground. This is a bigger and bushier campground. The sites are larger and wider spaced and there are far more trees around. It’s a place we could both imagine spending a number of days relaxing, especially as there is good drinking water available and firewood can be collected within the park to use in the fireplaces provided. We’re only here for a night though as we want to head into town tomorrow. In the meantime we spend our time being entertained by more birds, still plenty of bower birds but they are joined by loads of honeyeaters, rosellas and parrots.

Jarnem Camp, Keep River NP

Jarnem Camp, Keep River NP

The walk here can be done as an 8km loop walk or as two shorter one-way walks. We end up tackling the loop walk leaving at 5.30 next morning to catch the sunrise from the lookout and to avoid the heat of the day. Once again there is a lot of variety along the walk. It begins crossing a flat grassy plain at the base of a range then the path rises through a gap to a saddle and lookout. A thick cloud cover allows a short period of vivid colour as the sun rises above the horizon before it disappears behind the cloud. There are views across the plains to ranges many kilometres to the east and west and to the south is the range we will be walking to next. Its banded domes are similar to those found in the Bungle Bungle Range. It’s a place to sit and enjoy and having missed breakfast we share some fruit and other snacks before we continue our walk.

We descend from the lookout and cross the plain enjoying the changing vegetation. Soil and rocks types differ and they allow different types of vegetation to grow. Helpful signs explain some of what we are seeing, just as well as we are both somewhat horticulturally challenged. The path reaches the range at a small Aboriginal art site then continues at the base of the range for about a kilometre. The range and palm trees tower over us as we walk with frequent stops to enjoy the views and take photos.

It is well after 9.00 by the time we reach the camp, well past coffee time so first priority is for Paul to have his cappuccino and Julie her black coffee. Then it’s time to pack, return to the highway, pass through the quarantine station into Western Australia and then into a caravan park in Kununurra and enjoy a long hot shower.

 

 

About Purnululu

Why Go, How to Get There, Where to Stay, What to Do

Located in East Kimberley in the far north of Western Australia between Kununurra and Lake Argyle to the north and Halls Creek and the Tanami Desert to the south, Purnululu National Park covers an area of 239,723 hectares and the Bungle Bungle Range covers 45,000 hectares of the park. Within the range are striking orange and black banded sandstone domes, 200 metre escarpments and spectacular chasms and gorges. These exceptional natural formations are the reason the park was World Heritage listed in 2003. This part of Australia was inhabited by Aboriginal people for more than 20,000 years. The first colonial exploration was in 1879 and it was followed by gold mining and later a pastoral industry which continues in the region today. While Aboriginals and pastoralists were aware of the formations, knowledge of their existence didn’t reach the broader public until the early 1980’s and tourism to the area has been growing since then.

Paul and I spent almost a week in the park when we entered Western Australia 12 months ago and we had both been twice before that but this is such a special place we couldn’t miss revisiting it while we were in the area. Travelling independently and camping in the park is the best way to experience the magic but if you can’t do that then it is well worth visiting with a tour company who have their own permanent accommodation in the park or at least taking a day trip. That can be done either in your own 4WD vehicle or on tour buses running from the caravan park located next to the highway. Many people who camp in the park stay for just a couple of nights and that length of time will allow you to visit most of the attractions and some of the walks but more time will allow you to experience it more fully.

Access is from the Great Northern Highway 269 km south of Kununurra and 108 km north of Halls Creek and is only possible during the dry season. Actual dates can vary according to seasonal and road conditions but it is usually open from 1 April to 30 November. The weather can be very hot, particularly early and late in the dry season. From the highway a 53km track passes through Mabel Downs Station to the Visitor Centre. This track is only suitable for 4WD vehicles and single-axle off-road heavy-duty trailers. Track conditions change depending on when it was last graded and what the weather conditions have been but you can expect rough sections, corrugations, dust and several water crossings. The track is not difficult if taken slowly. Reduced tyre pressure will make the ride more comfortable and can reduce the chance of punctures.

You will need to allow at least 1½ to 2½ hours for the journey from the highway but if possible allow more as it is well worth a few stops along the way to fully appreciate the scenery.
Park entry and camping fees can be paid at the Visitor Centre but pre-booking and payment for campsites can be made online and is strongly recommended in peak periods to secure a site. For more details go to http://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/campgrounds or ring the DPaW Kununurra office on (08) 9168 4200 during normal business hours. There are two camp grounds; Walardi in the southern section (generator and non-generator areas) and Kurrajong in the northern section (non-generator only).

Once at the Visitor Centre it is 27km to the Piccaninny carpark in the southern section and 20km to the Echidna carpark so make sure you allow enough fuel for travel between sites. You also need to make sure you have all other supplies you will need although untreated bore water is available from taps in the campgrounds.

The walking tracks in the park are generally rated as Class 3, easy to moderate, or Class 4, with some rough ground, but the one or two-night Piccaninny Gorge Trek is Class 6, only for fit, well-equipped and highly experienced walkers. The guide describes the first 7 kilometres as relatively difficult with it then becoming even more difficult.

Day walks include:
• easy walks of less than a kilometre around the Domes Loop or Stonehenge Nature Trail or up to Kungkalanayi, Osmand or Bloodwood Lookouts,
• two to four kilometre walks into Cathedral Gorge or to Piccaninny Lookout in the south or into Echidna Chasm or along the Escarpment in the north,
• four to five kilometre walks into Homestead Valley or Mini Palms Gorge (closed at present … July 2015), and
• a ten kilometre walk up Piccaninny Creek past the Window and into Whip Snake Gorge.

Flights over the Bungle Bungle Range provide a far different perspective and allow you to see the full extent of the range as only a small portion is accessible from the ground. You can take a helicopter or light plane flight from places outside the park including Kununurra, Warmun (Turkey Creek) and the caravan park at the turn off from the highway but for maximum time in the air over the range, flights can be taken from the airstrip located inside the park on the way to Piccaninny carpark. I’d visited the park twice before but hadn’t flown over it and on our visit last year Paul and I took a 40 minute helicopter flight. There are shorter, and cheaper, flights available but this took us right over the top end of the range to the area known as the Valley of the Giants and it was a truly wonderful experience I would highly recommend if the budget permits.

Piccaninny Creek

Piccaninny Creek

Piccaninny Sunrise

Piccaninny Sunrise

There is a straight stretch along Picaninny Creek, between the domed hills near the turn to Cathedral Gorge, where the baking sun lays bare patterns of deep runnels along the dusty creek bed. As you walk along the creek, treading as it were the exposed ribs of the earth, you might look down into the intimate shadows between the gnarly old bones. In the cool air before sunrise gentle breezes of sometimes warm and sometimes cool air flow out of the deep gorges and between the hills; the slow breathing of an ancient land before it wakes.

Here and there amongst the hollows and dips, and in the half-shadow of the rounded worry holes, lie pockets of water worn stones and polished pebbles. On the bends of the creek piles of sand and rocks are banked up along the base of the banded red and black beehive hills that are so characteristic of the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park. This is a landscape of extremes. While it is very dry now, a torrent of water can sweep through here on its way to the Ord River which flows north to the Argyle Dam.

Piccaninny Creek

Pebbles in a Worry Hole

I am here of course for the pre-dawn light, rising at 4am and driving the twenty odd kilometres from camp, then walking a kilometre in the dark with my camera backpack and tripod. I reach the spot I have chosen in good time just as the first faint glow of dawn shows in the eastern sky. By the time a blush of colour shows in the eastern sky and on the hills, I have set up and tested the light with a first run through on the panorama I am keen to capture.

Now it’s a question of waiting for the reflected red glow on the rocks to appear when the full colour shows in the eastern sky, about forty five minutes before sunrise. For about an hour I am busy taking all the shots I can along this short stretch of the creek. The other spots I have picked out in this area will have to wait for another early morning visit.

By the time the sun has been up for half an hour the best of the light has been and gone. The rich colour in the rocks is fading and the sky is already bright with the sun casting stark shadows across the landscape.

Later that day I process several shots from the morning shoot and I’m very happy with the results and what I learnt about taking and processing panoramas. My new tripod certainly helped. Now I’m keen to do a lot more.

The Magic Continues

Piccaninny Sunrise

Piccaninny Sunrise

Purnululu National Park

As the first light of day approaches the stars fade and the sky begins the first phase of its morning colour spectrum. In the east the black gives way to a deep purple which pales to mauve then the colour passes through the northern sky to the west where it eventually fades to pale blue. Black humped silhouettes lighten gradually revealing bands of deep red and black shortly before the sun makes its appearance. When the first rays hit, the domes flash bright orange and, by the time the sky has brightened to a brilliant blue, the domes are banded orange and black with clumps of pale yellow spinifex emerging from cracks in the rocks. The palette varies, sometimes the early colour will cycle through red, oranges and yellows in the east and pinks and blues in the west but this time we are being treated to a purple Purnululu.

We arrived in Purnululu National Park yesterday afternoon and one of the joys of travelling with a passionate photographer, or should that be obsessive photographer, is crawling from my warm bed shortly after 4.00am to make the drive from the campground to the chosen morning site in time to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before sunrise. I don’t join Paul on every early morning photo shoot but although rising in the dark and cold can be challenging, the reward of watching the show is well worth the effort.

The site for this morning’s sunrise is the carpark at Piccaninny in the southern section of the national park. A number of walks start here and once the sun has risen we are heading straight to Cathedral Gorge, the most visited spot in the park. We want to reach it before the sunlight creates difficult lighting contrasts and also before it becomes busy with other tourists. It is a 1 km walk in and, as expected, we have it to ourselves for quite a while before others arrive.

After enjoying the walk between the banded domes and along the small side creek with its deep, water-gouged holes and honeycombed rocks we reach the amphitheatre. In the silence I absorb the spiritual energies of this special place with its soaring, curved rock vaulting over the rock lined pool. This place engenders the same sense of calm and peace that I have felt in some churches and in other magical places in nature.

Cathedral Gorge

Cathedral Gorge

It’s a difficult place to capture in photographs though. Trying to find a position to show the size is hard enough then add the strong contrasts between the shadowed interior and the bright colours outside and it is all too easy to end up with a washed out image which doesn’t carry the feel and the look of the place as we experience it. We easily spend more than 1 ½ hours inside the gorge and people have started drifting in, taking a look and continuing on well before we are ready to leave. Tour groups have started their daily round and one small group includes a lady who belongs to a choir and treats us to the sound of her soaring voice reverberating around the rocks as she sings ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Hallelujah’.

We finish off our morning exercise continuing our walk out into Piccaninny Creek. The wide creek bed is scored with long ridges of grey rock interspersed with collections of tumbled pebbles and small smooth rocks and the creek sides are lined with the towering domes so uniquely characteristic of the Bungle Bungles. It extends many kilometres into the range and a multi-day trek can be done by the very fit and well prepared hiker. For now we just venture a short way along the creek then along a side track to the Piccaninny Creek Lookout where we look down on a view of the white creek bed crossing a plain to another range of domes and hills. We’ll return to this area another day to venture further down the creek but after the early start it is time to return to camp for breakfast.

Piccaninny Lookout

Piccaninny Lookout

We’re camped at the southern camp ground, Walardi, while we explore and photograph the attractions at this end. Our site is on the edge of the dry bed of the Bellburn River under the shade of some beautiful white gums and with a view through the trees of a red range of hills. We are so happy with the site we decide to extend our stay and work on our photos and writing. We also need some time to rest from travelling. Paul is out before dawn for several more shooting sessions from different vantage points at this end of the national park but I’m happy to skip some and go with him another morning when we are at the other end of the park. While he is out I laze in bed, at least until 6.00am by which time the sun is shining and I have already had half an hour listening to the chorus of the birds.

On a day off from more energetic activities I take a leisurely stroll along the 1km walking track which winds along the Bellburn River and returns through the camping areas. I’ve been sitting in the shade while I’ve been working on my computer so it is lovely to have the sun on my back as I walk. The information signs along the way provide a good excuse to pause and study the features they describe as do the spectacular views along the way. A bench seat is positioned where the track has a good view of the range, perfect for sunset.

Walardi Walk

Walardi Walk

Our next walk is the ten kilometre hike into Whipsnake Gorge. Even though we’ve visited the park and this walk previously we never tire of the views. They always enchant and delight us and we appreciate just how lucky we are to have the time, resources and fitness to do what we are doing. We’re not particularly early today and other walkers pass as we stop yet again along the way to try to capture some of the magical atmosphere in photographs. It could be the curves of the rocks in the creek bed eroded by water and wind, or the colours and shapes of the domes against the brilliant blue sky, or a clump of spinifex or a gnarled tree growing from cracks in the rocks which capture our attention and every few steps the view changes.

When we eventually make it to the end of the gorge we take a break and chat with a couple who passed us along the way and are now enjoying their time in the shade and quiet. Our return walk is slightly faster but not by much. By the time we make it back to camp for lunch it is mid-afternoon and I’m famished. We decide that another day here before we move to the other end of the park is needed. It’s just as well we don’t travel to a schedule.

When we are ready to move on we drive to, Kurrajong, the northern camp ground, pick a site and then travel in the two vehicles to take the Escarpment Walk. It is 3.6 kilometre walk between the Echidna and Bloodwood carparks and with the two vehicles we will be able to walk one-way. It is an easy walk along flat ground and very enjoyable in this weather with the temperature in the mid-twenties. The path is along the base of the 200 metre high western side of the 360 million year old Bungle Bungle Range. As well as the fabulous views of the sheer walls we have a great range of trees, bushes, grasses and flowers to admire and birds to spot and, in some cases, identify.

We have a pleasant site in this camp ground. We don’t have quite as much shade but it is sufficient so we can be comfortable working during the afternoons and we can also collect more solar energy. By the time we have had another late lunch, set up camp and Paul’s work area and organised the evening meal preparations it is time to head out for the sunset photo shoot. A walking track in the camp leads to an elevated lookout with great views of the escarpment but from previous visits we know we will get an even better view from a higher spot by driving the short distance south to the Kungkalanayi Lookout.

A short walk up a hill offers some wonderful panoramic views. To the east of us the 200 metre high escarpment stretches more than 20 kilometres, to the north and south we see rounded hills covered in round clumps of spinifex, and dotted with eucalypts and to the west yet another range is silhouetted by the sun as it drops below the horizon. In between the ranges the plains are banded with the colours of blue-green and grey-green trees, yellow spinifex, red earth and red grasses and sometimes the drifting dust clouds raised by late moving vehicles. As the sun sets behind the range in the west the escarpment glows and the colours of the plains deepen. Soon after sunset, when most other people have left, we enjoy the evening spectrum in the big sky and watch the colours across the land deepen.

Kungkalanayi Lookout

Kungkalanayi Lookout

Our walk for the next day is the 4.4 kilometre walk into Homestead Valley. We delay our departure until mid-afternoon so we can stay in there until the sun sets. The track heads across the plain to the base of the escarpment then deep into the range along a rock strewn creek bed. The final short section of the track takes us to an elevated clear area where we are surrounded by towering rock faces. For the next 90 minutes we are both busy with cameras on tripods capturing, or trying to capture, the images as the moon rises, colours change and the sun sets casting its final glow through the opening of the gorge to the west. The return walk through the opening is made in the last of the daylight and then by the light of the almost full moon.

Homestead Valley

Homestead Valley

For our final full day in the park we are visiting our favourite spot in the park, Echidna Chasm. While I thoroughly enjoy seeing the banded domes of the southern section, absorbing the atmosphere in Cathedral Gorge and walking up the ever-changing Piccaninny Creek, it is here you can really feel that you are deep in the heart and essence of the range. This narrow tall chasm is ancient and peaceful. The amazing shapes and colours and the sheer mass and scale of the place are part of what makes it so magical.

Most people visit Echidna Chasm near the middle of the day to coincide with the sunlight entering the deep gorge but we leave camp at 6.00am so we can miss the crowds and capture some images without as much contrast in the light. Our plan is to spend a couple of hours here this morning then return tomorrow in the middle of the day on our way out of the park. A short side track from the carpark brings us to Osmand Lookout. A low rise puts us above the surrounding vegetation with views of the neighbouring Osmand Range and the valley running between it and the Bungle Bungle Range.

The track into the chasm starts with 700 metres of careful walking along the rocky bed of Echidna Creek to the entrance to the gorge. Tall dark green palm trees line the entrance and contrast with the bright orange vertical wall behind them.

Echidna Chasm

Echidna Chasm

Inside the gorge the track continues for another kilometre between 200 metre high walls. Much of the time the walls are less than a metre apart although there is a wider chamber in the middle. The section after the chamber includes some large boulders to be squeezed past and a couple of short sets of steps to be climbed before the gash in the range finishes abruptly with a view of the sky and a leaning palm tree directly overhead.

This place is even more difficult to photograph than Cathedral Gorge but I enjoy trying. We shift vantage points a number of times, setting up cameras on tripods and dismantling and packing everything in between so they can be carried safely. Before we know it the trickle of other visitors has built and the midday crowd is appearing. We’ve managed to spend the entire morning in here. We finish our morning seeing the beautiful colours as the sun crawls down the walls and reflects off the rocks and around bends. Guess we don’t need to come back tomorrow after all.

Echidna Chasm

Echidna Chasm

Paul has been reviewing and working with his photos while we’ve been here and has decided he’d like to return to Kungkalanayi Lookout with a different lens so he can create a panorama image of the range. I skip this visit and stick around camp and watch the sun set while I’m preparing our evening meal.

We want to leave the camp ground mid-afternoon as we saw a couple of places on our drive in from the highway that we’d like to see again in the late afternoon. This gives us time in the morning to make a slower start and for Paul to work on his panorama and me to work on my writing before we pack up.

We leave at 2.30 just as we planned and of course we should have known better than to have a plan. We’ve been through the first water crossing and as I’m slowing for the second water crossing my main brakes fail. I’m almost stopped and the car has a secondary emergency brake which pulls me up so there’s no real problem. A check under the bonnet and under the car shows the brake fluid has gone and as fast as we pour more in it comes out at the left back wheel. I’m able to drive OK so long as I travel slowly enough to stop by using the gears and I only need to use the secondary, very weak, braking system for the final stop from a crawl. It will also be best if I can minimise how much driving I need to do in the dark, especially on these winding and changeable road surfaces. There goes our plan for watching the sun set from a lookout spot we had picked out on our drive in.

We do stop for some photos a couple of times but only briefly. Nature decides to be contrary and as we drive we are treated to an absolutely beautiful sunset which flares the rocks in the east to a deep red and lights the western sky with glorious pinks and yellows. If only Paul had got these colours on his shoot last night or we had been able to stop where we planned. Oh well, just got to take things as they come, there will be more beautiful sunsets for us to share and photograph in the future.

Leaving Purnululu

Leaving Purnululu