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Purnululu National Park

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The spectacular Bungle Bungle massif, seldom referred to by its official name, the Purnululu National Park, is one of Australia’s greatest natural wonders and in 2003 earned prestigious UNESCO World Heritage listing. The nickname is believed to be a misspelling of the common Kimberley grass, Bundle Bundle, while “Purnululu” means “sandstone” in the local Kija tongue. A couple of days spent exploring the park’s famous striped beehive domes, chasms and gorges is well worth the effort (or expense if you’re taking a tour).

Scenic flights are available over the Bungles if you don’t want to drive into the park; choose between fixed-wing aircraft departing from Kununurra or an exhilarating helicopter flight from the park’s Bellburn Airstrip just south of Walardi campsite. The helicopters are permitted to fly much lower – if you’ve ever wanted to fly in a chopper you won’t be disappointed. The tours available from Broome and Kununurra, which often involve flying to the airstrip and then being driven around in a 4WD, offer the best of both worlds.

Because of the need to protect the fragile rock formations from mass tourism, and the very rough access road from the Great Northern Highway, 52km south of Warmun/Turkey Creek, entry is strictly limited to 4WDs, with all tow vehicles prohibited. It gets stiflingly hot in the Bungles, with temperatures soaring well over 40 °C from September onwards, so make sure you carry water, use sunblock and wear a hat on all walks.

From the highway it’s a fun, if nerve-wracking, 53km drive through pastoral station land to the visitor centre and entry station (April to mid-Oct daily 8am–noon & 1–4.30pm; t08/9168 7300), where you should register your arrival – self-registration must be completed here from mid-October. The centre has cold drinks, park information and souvenirs only; bring all the food, fuel and water you need unless you’re coming with a tour group – it’s a good idea to freeze as much water as you can before entering the park if you don’t have a fridge. Take it easy on the road in as the track is narrow and corrugated, with oncoming traffic in the morning – expect the journey to take from two to three hours. There are usually at least three creek crossings and frequent heavily rutted sections, meaning that low range and high clearance are a must. This is not something to attempt if you are in any way unsure.

The walk into Echidna Chasm (2km; 1hr return; easy) takes you deep into the soaring, maze-like incision, which opens into a small amphitheatre at the end. Do the walk at midday when the sun enters the chasm and you can see the colours in the rock to their best advantage. On the way out, make sure you check out the view over the Osmond Ranges and Osmond Creek from Echidna Chasm Lookout; the creek is the only permanent source of water in the park, and was historically used by Aboriginal groups as a travel pathway. The Mini Palms walk (5km; 2–3hr return; moderate) runs along a creek bed then squeezes through tiny gaps between boulders, before ascending to a viewing platform and finally a palm-filled amphitheatre. Along the walk you can see tufts of palms clinging to the rock walls hundreds of metres above you; the scale of the clefts is emphasized when you realize the palms can be up to 20m high.

The short Domes Walk leads you among some bungles on the way to the walk into Cathedral Gorge (3km; 1–2hr return; moderate), an awe-inspiring overhanging amphitheatre with stunning acoustics and a seasonal pool whose rippled reflections flicker across the roof above. The nearby Piccaninny Creek Lookout provides more great views. Piccaninny Gorge is a tough, 30km overnight walk for which you need to register at the visitor centre and carry vast quantities of water – between five and eight litres per person per day. Most people are understandably put off; if this is the case it’s possible to do a shorter version to the gorge entry at the Elbow (14km; 8hr return; easy). Just north of the visitor centre, Kungkalahayi Lookout is a great place for sunset drinks, and sweeping views over this monumental land that you don’t really get otherwise as a “ground visitor”. The rest of the park is currently inaccessible, the northeast being the ancestral burial grounds of the Djaru and Gidja people.

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