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.