The Bungle Bungles - Purnululu National Park
Nothing could have prepared me for the incredible beauty, uniqueness and wonder of the Bungle Bungles; it is an absolute mind blower!
The trek takes you down the fairly dry Piccaninny creek where 250 million years of intense weathering and erosion has carved out amazing formations in the sandstone bedrock and left behind the classic ‘beehive’ formations – showcasing the earliest evidence of life on earth (cyanobacteria). After 7kms of creek walking the trail takes a sharp turn and takes you into the gorge, where all the fun begins! Expect big rocky boulders to scramble over, long pools to swim through, awesome bird spotting, monitor lizards, a few snakes and, unfortunately, the dreaded cane toad!
So, how do you get in!? There are a couple of options for getting into Purnululu National Park, and it depends where you’re coming from. If you are on a bit of a road trip journey around Australia then you can drive right in to the trailhead. From Kununarra, where I suggest you stock up on supplies, it’s a 4.5hour drive. Once you leave the Great Northern Highway the road into the camping grounds is an unsealed 4WD track, you will need to have a suitable car. The other option is to take a scenic flight from Kununarra into Belbourn, the airstrip near the trailhead. From here get a lift to the Cathedral Gorge carpark with EKT Tours who can supply water and fuel for you – make sure you organize this well in advance as you can’t take either on the flight.
However you get there, whether it be by scenic flight or driving in from Kununarra; make sure you get an early start. Piccaninny creek is quite open and doesn’t offer a great deal of shade. There are water holes that have been left behind from the previous wet season to cool down in but I do suggest getting an early start to avoid the intense heat that can occur – early mornings are the key here.
From the car park you initially follow the Domes Trail for 600m until you hit Piccaninny Creek. There may be a few day walkers out and about as there are many side trips along the first few kms of the walk – I recommend skipping all of these and saving them for your last day so you can make the most of the cool morning and make it into the gorge before the heat of the day really peaks.
Once you’re following the creek you’re on the right track! Keep following the creek bed for 7kms– you really can’t go wrong! Towards the end of the 7kms the creek bed will start to zig zag quite a bit…. And then, the last zig won’t zag - this is known as the ‘Elbow’ and is the entrance to Piccaninny Gorge. Head up the gorge for roughly 1km and on the right-hand side you will see in the distance the remnants of a big waterfall, and right on the track a large pothole that may have some water in it. This is Black Waterfall, a possible campsite for your first night, and a definite stop, swim and cool down spot. The walk in to the waterhole is very rocky; take care walking along here and within 10 minutes you will have reached a massive waterhole that is mostly in shade, fringed with tall Livistonia Palms. I have camped in the creek bed at the turn off for Black Waterfall a few times and it is a really great place to spend the afternoon if time is getting away from you or if you are struggling with the heat.
Roughly 3kms up the gorge splits in two, this is the beginning of the ‘fingers’ (mini gorges) with finger 1 on the left and finger 2, 3, 4 & 5 further on up the right. Just before the split on the left hand side is an awesome campsite to base yourself for a few days. This is a popular campsite and you need to be prepared that it will be taken. I have found if you wander up finger 1 a short distance, there is a nice place to camp in there as well.
From the base camp, the fingers are all accessible for exploration. The thing I love the most about the Bungle Bungles and exploring the gorges is that there is no trail, no set beginning or end… you can just explore the gorges at your own leisure. The day’s adventures will contain plenty of rock scrambling, swimming and each ‘finger’ is unique to the other. Finger 1 mainly involves swimming through a narrow and dark gorge: take a head torch and wear a woolen top to keep warm in there, it does actually get cold believe it or not! I usually pair finger 1 with finger 5. Finger 2, 3 & 4 can be done in a full day… I would suggest dedicating most of the time to finger 2 as it is AWESOME! There are some amazing rock formations in there, lots of bouldering, scrambling around waterholes and wading through pools… so much fun! Finger 3 is quite challenging so if you have the time I would recommend moving base camp up to near finger 3 so you can explore in there a bit more. Finger 4 is a lovely little cave, with some great little hidey-holes.
It’s a good idea for the last night to head back out of the gorge and along Piccaninny Creek so that you’re closer to the end… this way you can spend the morning checking out all the side trips that are near the entrance before heading back to civilization!