Colours of the Kimberley Coast

Sparkling sapphire sea, cloudless bright blue sky, deep brick red pindan cliffs, cream and orange sands, purple mulla mulla flowers and spectacular multi-coloured sunsets, this is the Kimberley coast in “winter”.

Our time on the Kimberley coast was spent hopping from one beautiful spot to another. First was Eighty Mile Beach. The Wallal Downs Station has established a very pleasant caravan park on part of their ocean frontage property and located behind a small dune to provide wind protection. Well-watered green lawns, plentiful trees for those who want shade or open areas for those that need solar power and viewing platforms to sit and enjoy the evening sunset spectacle. The beach is wide and the sand firm, great for long walks, and there are apparently plentiful fish to be caught from the shore or boats.

After the dust of the Pilbara the showers were also a treat and the washing machines very welcome. We planned to stay two nights but stayed three and could easily have extended further except some of our supplies were getting low and couldn’t be replenished before we reached Broome.

Next stop was Barn Hill, another station run caravan park. This park lacks the green grass so it is dustier and the sand on the beach is not as firm for walking but there are spectacular rock formations at the back of the beach not far from camp and also red pindan cliffs, multi-coloured rocks and fascinating rock pools along the shore.

This time we managed to leave after just two nights and then drove straight into Broome to replenish our supplies before back tracking to spend a couple of nights at the Broome Bird Observatory. 

The Bird Observatory is one of our favourite places to stay in this area. It is located at the top of Roebuck Bay about 30 minutes drive from Broome. They do a lot of work in monitoring migratory birds, run tours and provide accommodation or camping. The camping area is small and always very quiet, only about ten sites and no power or generators. A Shade House serves as a camp kitchen, viewing point for watching birds and wallabies at a water point and as a general meeting place. Every evening a bird roll call is held when they record all birds seen or heard within 70 kilometres during the past 24 hours. It is always peaceful and friendly and just across the sandy road are the marvellous colours of Roebuck Bay. Aerial shots in the area are especially rewarding.

The Dampier Peninsula lies north of Broome and this was our next destination. There is free camping at a few places along the southern stretch of the peninsula and James Price Point is the most spectacular of these. Its also a favourite with Broome locals but as we arrive there mid week there are few others around and we find a great spot tucked back into the red pindan cliffs. There we escaped the strongest of the winds but could still gaze out over the amazing ocean in front of us. We could wander up the beach at low tide or take a dip in front of the camp at high tide but most of our time was happily spent enjoying the beauty and reading and relaxing.

We had four peaceful days before the weekend arrived and the area filled with locals out for the day or to camp for two or three nights. We spent most of a day trying to find another spot to camp further up the peninsula but most camp sites were closed due to covid and entry to all of the aboriginal communities is restricted to local residents or essential workers. The places which were open either didn’t appeal to us and were likely to be even busier than James Price Point so we back-tracked all the way and spent one night near Willie Creek and two nights at Quandong Point before returning to James Price Point for another two nights.

Finally it was time to return to Broome but this time we were treating ourselves and had booked into a very nice Air BnB. Seems our stay in Geraldton has made us soft. We had eight days in Broome and managed to eat out at some very nice places, enjoy some drinks at Matsos Brewery (my personal favourite was the Angry Wranger, a mix of ginger beer and chilli beer), visit the markets a few times and enjoy the food from the stalls, watch the Staircase to the Moon from Town Beach, visit Gantheaume Point when the full moon was setting just before sunrise and drive up Cable Beach a couple of times to watch the sunset with a picnic meal.

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

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 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