Australia has no shortage of distinct and mesmerising landscapes, but since travelling this country far and wide, Casey’s declared Purnululu National Park, well-known as the Bungle Bungles, to be the most unique and special.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Gija Nation, the traditional Country of the Gija people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Out-of-this world landscapes
- Awe-inspiring hikes and natural features
- Calm, quiet camping with plenty of space
After travelling west to east across the stunning Kimberley region in remote Western Australia, I’m glad we saved the Bungle Bungles for last.
While the famous tiger-striped rocky domes are well out of the way (of anywhere), the trip is more than worth the effort and there’s plenty more to see at Purnululu National Park.
In the language of the Gija Traditional Custodians, the National Park’s name ‘Purnululu’ means ‘fretting sands’. Despite the Gija people having lived here for tens of thousands of years, the area wasn’t known to Europeons until the 1980s, eventually becoming a national park in 1987.
The beehive shaped, striped domes are the park’s most famous feature and can be accessed by an easy hike from the Picaninny car park on the park’s southern side, which is also the access point to a bunch of other hikes and must-see spots.
Before we arrived, I’d incorrectly assumed there would be a dozen or so large striped humps, but the intimidating size, variety and sheer number of the domes is astounding. The mountainous range of domes is actually about 450 square kilometres in area.
Walking among them is an unforgettable experience, similar to what I imagine it’s like to be dropped on another planet and left to wander.
The domes themselves are a geological phenomenon, with their unusual layers literally showing millions of years of time. The orange bands form as iron and manganese stain the sandstone, and the dark bands come from rock that holds more moisture and cyanobacteria growth.
Beyond the short 700m domes walk, there are plenty of opportunities to see more of this stunning landscape. If you take the 5km return Whip Snake Gorge track along an ancient creekbed, you’ll see dozens more domes and end up in the quiet deadend of the gorge, where you’ll likely be the only human visitors.
For prepared hikers, there’s also an overnight hike from the same car park called Picaninny Creek.
Gorges & Chasms
On the northern end of the park there are a bunch of interesting hikes that you can quite easily complete together in a day.
Mini Palms Gorge Hike
As the name suggests, this narrow gorge hike is littered with palms, creating a desert Dr Zeus landscape where palms cling cliffs and other strange places they look like they shouldn’t be.
The 4.4km return hike starts with a narrow squeeze between some boulders that emerges into a cool, hidden gorge with sheer cliffs soaring into the sky.
The hike ends at a lookout platform glancing back over the winding path up.
This is classed as a grade 4 hike, so there’s plenty of ducking, some scrambling, and a fair bit of uneven ground
Hike Echidna Chasm at around midday to be rewarded with a special light show, as the high sun lights up the walls of this strikingly narrow chasm.
At some points the chasm walls rise a dizzying 200m overhead, with fallen boulders jammed in between the walls. But with uneven rocks underneath you, it’s best to watch your step most of the way.
While this is a gentle 2km return hike, to get right to the dead end of the gorge, there’s a bit of a short climb.
Halfway along where the gorge opens up, there’s also a nice shady spot to stop for lunch after the midday glow.
The natural amphitheatre known as Cathedral Gorge is considered one of the highlights of Purnululu National Park, however when we arrived it was a slightly confronting scene.
After a 70 year march across the country, cane toads have finally arrived in the area only in the last couple of years.
The remaining patches of water from the wet season and other dry gullies were full of the smelly, decaying bodies of the toads, which did take some of the majesty out of the place.
Still, the unbelievable natural shape of the gorge makes it a sight worth seeing and I hope you have better luck.
Read more: Kayaking The Kimberley
Watch The Sun Go Down
Like a lot of other outback landscapes, the sunsets are spectacular wherever you go. Most people who’ve been to Purnululu National Park recommend spending at least one sunset at Kungkalanayi Lookout, a few kilometres down the road from Kurrajong campsite.
I recommend a sunset somewhere near the domes too – there are plenty of places to pull off to the side of the track to watch the sun go down.
How To Get There
The only way in and out of the park is on a 50km long, rough 4WD track, which the Parks WA website describes as only suitable for high clearance 4WD vehicles.
The track can quite easily take 1.5 to 2 hours. There are also a few river crossings that vary in depth depending on the time of year.
The turn off to the park entrance off the Great Northern Highway is just under a three hour drive from Kununurra, the traditional eastern starting/finishing point of the Gibb River Road. You can also get to the Purnululu entrance in about eight hours from Broome.
Darwin is about an 11 hour drive. Alice Springs will take you about 13 hours driving along the remote Tanami Highway, which is only recommended for prepared and experienced 4WDers.
When To Visit
Like a lot of the Top End, Purnululu National Park is closed during the wet season from December to March.
In the dry season (winter) the day time temperature is usually about 30 degrees celsius, with nights dropping to a pleasant 15 degrees. Check the Parks WA Trails and Road closures website for more info if you’re travelling to the area.
Keep in mind a lot of the hikes don’t have shade, so bring plenty of water, a hat, and wear sunscreen.
The park is pretty big! So driving from one end to the other between trailheads can take about an hour.
Purnululu National Park has two campsites inside the park, Kurrajong on the north side and Walardi on the south side. Walardi is quite small and often books out, but Kurrajong has plenty of space.
Both sites have drop toilets and untreated water from taps.
There are also two private lodges within the park, which can be booked, along with the park’s campgrounds, at the WA National Parks website.
At the entrance to Purnululu National Park there’s also a caravan park just off the Great Northern Highway.