Purnululu National Park, otherwise known as the Bungles or the Bungle Bungles, is one of my favourite places in the Kimberleys, if not the world. And, happily for us, there are a number of walking options there from easy strolls to overnight hikes which allow visitors to soak up the magic of this ancient landscape.
The park is divided into a northern section and a southern section, with about 50km of sometimes quite corrugated road in between. I’d definitely recommend visiting both ends – preferably devoting a day for each. On our Kimberley Walking and Camping Tour we spend three nights in Purnululu and I think it’s just the right amount. If you wanted to, you could spend a week here, especially if you’re keen on overnight hiking with a heavy backpack.
For anyone wanting to walk in the Bungle Bungles, here’s a summary of your options:
The Northern End of Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles)
This is a pretty short walk – about 2km return – but it’s easily a favourite among visitors. Starting from the Echidna Chasm car park you head up what looks like a dry creek bed. Some people find the boulders, ranging from tennis ball size to much larger, difficult to walk on. It can be tough on the ankles so make sure you wear supportive boots.
Soon you’ll be in the cool shelter of the tall chasm, with towering walls of conglomerate rock on either side. The light reflecting on the red walls in here is mesmerising and the thought that this huge chasm has been carved out, bit by bit, by the seasonal flow of water is mind boggling.
This is one of those walks where it’s about the journey rather than the destination – there’s no waterfall or good luck fairy waiting at the end. So if you don’t like ladders and clambering over big boulders you don’t have to get right to the end. You can still enjoy the colours, the silence (hopefully) and the remarkable ambiance of this terrific place.
The Escarpment Trail
I think this trail is a wonderful addition to the Park, added in 2013/4. It takes you from the Echidna Chasm car park, along the bottom of the escarpment, to the Bloodwoods car park over 3.6 km of easy, flat walking. Along the way you’ll see/hear many birds; see beautiful wattles, grevilleas and eucalypts; and enjoy the grand backdrop of the northern Bungle Range towering above all else. You’ll need someone to pick you up at the other end of the trail or walk both ways.
It’s 2.6 km along the Escarpment Trail from Echidna Chasm to the Mini Palms Gorge turnoff and a further 1 km on to the Bloodwoods car park.
Mini Palms Gorge
Mini Palms is a 4.2km return walk (from Bloodwoods car park) which will take a good couple of hours. From the turn off from the Escarpment Trail the Mini Palms walk is 2.2 km. After you turn off toward Mini Palms, the trail is an exposed dry creek bed with more rounded rocks underfoot. Once in the shade of the gorge there’s a bit of scrambling to get through an assemblage of huge fallen conglomerate boulders. From here the trail works its way up through the gorge amongst Livistona palm trees and other vegetation. The gorge ends at a high viewing platform that looks out into the deepest part of the gorge (or an “amphitheatre of mystery” as the sign at the trailhead says – probably because it’s off limits to the public).
This is a pretty unique walk with a bit more adventure than the others in the Bungle Bungles as it can feel like you’re exploring a different world at times.
The Homestead Valley Walk
This is a fairly new trail – opened in 2014 I think. It starts close to the Bloodwoods car park and is a 4.4km fairly easy return walk. It gives you some really lovely views of the escarpment and there are usually some interesting flowers to look at along the way. It ends on a hill in an area surrounded by a lush green valley, with red walls all around.
If I had to choose between this walk and Mini Palms, I’d probably do Mini Palms because it’s so different but, if you have time, do them both.
The Southern End of Purnululu National Park
The southern walks all depart from the same car park and you can stitch the walks together depending on your time, fitness level and interest. It can get very hot and exposed on the longer walks down Picaninny Creek so please make sure you’re hydrated before you set out and also take plenty of water (3 – 4 litres).
You have to go to Cathedral Gorge. It’s 1.5 km each way from the car park to Cathedral Gorge and although most of the trail is hot and exposed, once you’re into the gorge itself it’s beautiful and cool. For this reason I reckon it’s best to get in here in the afternoon or for lunchtime, depending on what else you’re doing (see below for some walks you might like to do before you head into Cathedral Gorge).
The walking into Cathedral Gorge is mostly firm and easy underfoot. There are a couple of ladders and a few places where you have to be careful not to slip on the sandy sloped surface but it’s easier on the ankles than the northern end’s creek bed walks.
Spend some time soaking in the grandeur of the amphitheatre and water hole at the end of Cathedral Gorge. If you’re lucky enough to get the place to yourself, I highly recommend a few moments of silence in this very special place. Then, if you’re musical, test out the acoustics with a nice tune or two.
Picaninny Creek Walk – including Whipsnake Gorge and Picaninny Lookout
If you continue away from the car park from Cathedral Gorge you can walk up Picaninny Creek – as far as you want really. It’s really beautiful to walk along the firm, beautifully sculpted creek floor, surrounded by the black and orange sandstone range. The walking surface isn’t always firm though – there’s a good amnt of sand and sections of river rocks to slow you down.
A great place to aim for is Whipsnake Gorge, which was opened in winter 2013. It’s about 10 km return to the end of Whipsnake Gorge and back to the car park (not including a diversion into Cathedral Gorge) so it makes a good half day walk. If you’re enjoying your stroll along Picaninny Creek, you can continue past Whipsnake Gorge turn-off and stroll up the creek until you want to turn back. The creek keeps on going for about 15 km but if you’re going that far it’ll be an overnight hike with all your gear and you’ll need to register with the visitor centre.
It gets very hot up Picaninny Creek and there is no reliable water (sometimes there’s a bit of stagnant water up there but you wouldn’t want to rely on it and you’d need to treat it before drinking it). So I recommend starting your walk up the creek as early as possible before the sun gets too much bite. On the way back you can take a diversion out to the Picaninny Lookout (1.2km there and back from the creek) and then head into Cathedral Gorge in the afternoon for a cool rest.
Finally on the way back to the carpark do the loop around the Domes, which is really lovely in the late afternoon light because it’s nice and cool and the birds come out to serenade you.
So, there’s heaps of walking to keep you occupied while you’re at the Bungle Bungles in the Kimberleys. If you’re fit and healthy I’d spend at least a couple of days exploring this incredibly scenic place on foot. Just remember – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate :-). And check with the visitor centre to see if any walks have been closed before you go venturing out there. If you’re heading up Picaninny Creek/Gorge for an overnight hike, register at the visitor centre.
For more information about Purnululu National Park itself (the Bungle Bungles), the Kimberley Australia website is very handy. Department of Parks and Wildlife has some useful information on their website too.