Purnululu National Park

The Bungle Bungle mounds at Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Purnululu National Park in Western Australia, had been on my bucket list for ages, and it should probably be on yours too. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre,  home of the “Bungle Bungles”, Cathedral Gorge, and Echidna Chasm. this national park was only “discovered” by the general public in the 1970’s and is now an icon of the Kimberly region. The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Arriving at Purnululu

Even just getting into the park is an adventure. Our tour guide gave us three pieces of advice:

  • buckle up tight,
  • sit in the middle rows if you didn’t want to get tossed around,
  • keep our faces away from the windows (a bit ominous).

Much of the Kimberly is covered by massive cattle stations – huge plots of land that are almost entirely untouched except a wire fence and a dirt road, brutally corrugated from decades of four-wheel-drive trucks bouncing down the track. These cattle stations are populated by massive, half-wild Brahmin cows and not much else. Not a drive meant for your everyday coupe.

Fortunately, Western Exposure/Kimberly Wild (our tour company) have purpose-built tour buses. They have four-wheel drive, a 45-degree tilt radius, and are amphibious enough to take it them through water up to the passenger windows. This is important.

We bounced and rocked down the red dirt road, the back row was happily coming right off the seats and nursing some wild whiplash. The bus itself tilted to the sides so far it felt like it was going to tip, the curtains hanging at crazy angles. More than once, someone would crane over to look out the window only to have a sharp smack of a window to the face as the bus righted itself back on flat ground. Up front, our fearless tour guide bounced around in his seat, he could have been at a rodeo, bucking around on the back of one of those monster bulls we had seen earlier. Everyone was loving it.

In the wet season (November to April), Purnululu National Park is inaccessible. The dry creek beds are soon filled to the bursting and the crossings are made impossible. At the start of October, most of the creek crossings were more like puddles or completely dry. One of these crossings was still deep enough to come completely over the tires. It was a quiet moment on the bus as it basically swam through the creek, still tilted on an angle.

Just up the other bank was a little white truck pulled over with three boys sitting around outside of it. The hood of the truck was popped open, and bits of the engine were strewn around the car. They had taken their rental car, which was not a four-wheel drive or even a full-sized SUV, through the crossing. The car had no snorkel, so the creek had flooded out the engine. They were hoping it would dry out and the car start again. Always stick to your rental agreement.

The Bungle Bungles

Walking into the park felt like entering the set of a movie based on a different planet.

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The path we followed was along the dried bed of Piccany Creek. At the end of the dry season, the soil was parched, the stones bleached almost white at the end of the dry season, the path lined with blackened, burnt-out tree trunks. The black and orange-banded domes rose above us like giant beehives. So close to the end of the season, we had the place almost to ourselves, which only added to the surreal feeling.

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

I’ve never felt so lucky to have overcast weather. The previous week, the temperature had gotten to 37 degrees in the shade. Cloud cover saved us from cooking on the rocks and made it easier to take photos. Even as we scrambled to put away our cameras, we welcomed the light rain that began to fall. It didn’t last long and brought the heat down a little bit more.

The eroding faces of the Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Theeroding faces of the Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds and dry bed of Piccany Creek in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Cathedral Gorge

The creek bed led us through a narrow gorge that opened up to one of the most special places tucked away in Purnululu – Cathedral Gorge.

Narrow gorges on the way to Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park

I had seen photos in tourism brochures, but they didn’t compare to the scope of it. The “amphitheatre” is massive. It is a special place in the world. It was not a place for our tour group to chatter and joke around like usual, but to spread out and take a seat. Breathe, observe, and just be. Only the crunch of pebbles underfoot echoing around Cathedral Gorge broke the silence for about 20 minutes. No one wanted to leave.

The Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Stunning colours of the Kimberly in Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

The Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Finally, our tour guide broke the spell and herded us all out to continue exploring Purnululu.

The Bungle Bungle mounds in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Panoramic views in Purnululu National Park

The Bloodwoods

We took a short drive to the beginning of a hike in Purnululu called “The Bloodwoods”. It was self-guided hike so the bus could meet us at the other end. I stopped to tie my shoes and within minutes, I’d been left behind by the group who was ploughing through this gentle, easy hike.

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

 

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

 

It was perfect.

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

For the entire walk, I was mostly alone, in total silence. I took my time on the path as it meandered beside towering red cliffs, surrounded by yellow grass, white slender tree trunks, grey-green leaves, and overcast sky.

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Eventually, the final straggler of our group caught up to me. We chose not to hurry to speed up, but to take our time, taking photos, not wanting to rush past the beauty of it. Before long, he fell behind again and I continued my solo walk.

If you ever find yourself in Purnululu (and I hope that you do), do not miss this gorgeous, peaceful hike.

Echidna Chasm

In the parking lot, our tour group was waiting, and they got up to leave as soon as I emerged from the forest. By the time I had filled up my water bottle and used the washroom, they were gone again. My fellow straggler and I were once more left behind. As we were both avid photographers, this suited us fine but I do question the thought process of our tour guide in happily abandoning two of his charges in such a remote area.

Scenery along The Bloodwoods hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

This hike was straight into the heart of Purnululu: the Echidna Chasm. At first, it is a walk between great red cliffs and tall skinny palms across dry creek beds.

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Given that we had no direction or guidance on the hike, we missed a turn and got lost (surprise!). Instead of heading between the cliffs we came up to the top of a rocky lookout view of the valley below. The lighting was perfect, and it took a few minutes of admiring the view before we began to wonder why we couldn’t see the rest of the group or why the path ended.

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

A bit of backtracking, and we met up with the proper path and turned into the walls of Echidna Chasm.

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

 

We eventually made it through the nest of cool red walls and hairpin turns to catch up with the rest of the tour. After getting a bit berated for “falling behind”, (more like getting left behind and then lost as a result), we all piled back to the bus.

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

Scenery along The Echidna Chasm hike in Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

 

Our tour group was one of the last of the season, so our planned bush camp was elevated to the ‘upmarket’ campsite – complete with sunset views of the Bungle Bungles. While we ate dinner, Purnululu National Park glowed like it was lit up inside.

Sunset views from Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

That night, we slept on the back porch of the camp, ignoring the ‘luxury tents’ provided in favour of sleeping under the stars again. I fell asleep content, I had crossed something else off my Australian Bucket List, and it had been wonderful.

10 Comment

  1. Heather says: Reply

    Amazing , and what a strange feeling being in the midst of these red cliffs/ walls. The memories you hold forever embedded.thank you so much for posting all these wonderful pics …….. Take care. Can’t wait for your next adventure. Hugz

    1. lmartin says: Reply

      Thanks Aunt Heather 🙂 It really was a surreal feeling being there. I’m glad you’re enjoying it so far – there are better things to come!

  2. There is something about huge rock formations like this that makes me so happy. I’ve been to the US’s Southwest many times and it looks like this. I just love sitting on a high vantage point and just enjoy the views for hours. Excellent photos and what an adventure!

    1. lmartin says: Reply

      I agree! Big rocks are just so satisfying to stare at. Where in US is your favourite spot? It would be nice to be able to visit something like this a little closer to home. Thank you for reading, I’m glad you emjoyed it 🙂

  3. Wow, these pictures look amazing. I think I would have freaked out a bit, if I lost my group. At least you were not alone 😉

    1. lmartin says: Reply

      Thank you! Fortunately it was a pretty well-marked path once we found that hidden turn-off. I’m still not sure how I feel about getting left behind, but it all worked out pretty well in the end I think.

  4. Tara says: Reply

    Oh my gosh! This is my kind of place, and also my kind of post! I love inaccessible places like this – where getting there is part of the adventure. I have never been to Australia, but we have a Cathedral Gorge here in the states too, and it’s one of my very favorite places. It’s not quite as inaccessible, but it’s still really quiet.

    http://backroadramblers.com/postcards-from-nevada-cathedral-gorge-state-park/

    Have a great week!

    1. lmartin says: Reply

      Oh yours looks equally as phenomenal! Thanks for sharing, I’ll have to make a visit once I’m back on North American soil. Might be a good thing it is a little easier to get into, as I don’t own a monster four-wheel drive of my own lol.

  5. Your photos are incredible! I definitely will keep this park in mind when I go to Australia! Thanks for sharing.

    1. lmartin says: Reply

      Thank you! I’m happy you’ve enjoyed it. I hope you do make it up that way when you go, The Kimberly is one of the most stunning and impressive parts of the country. When are you planning on going?

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