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Bungle Bungles, WA

Inaccessible, but otherworldly, natural wonder in the Kimberley.

There is an easy way, a sensible way and a hard way. You can fly over the Bungle Bungles and be amazed by the gigantic bell shaped rock towers with horizontal banding produced by layers of black lichens and orange silica and long to go and have a closer look. You can take one of the many options available from East Kimberley Tours all of which fly from Kununurra and then range from half a day to two days exploring on the ground. Or you can drive from the main highway over 55 km of incredibly rough and difficult road (it takes around two to three hours) and that will allow you to really experience this remarkable collection of unique geological formations close up. It is worth the effort. It is one of the great natural wonders of Australia.

Location

The Bungle Bungles are 3,088 km north east of Perth via the coast road, Broome and Halls Creek. They are 164 km north east of Halls Creek and 55 km, over 4WD-only road from the main highway.

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Origin of Name

No one knows what 'Bungle Bungle' means or what its origins are. The local Kitja Aborigines call the area Purnululu which translates as 'sandstone'. There is no evidence that Bungle Bungle exists in their language. Some authorities suggest that it may be a corruption of 'bundle bundle', a kind of grass which is common in the area.

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Things to See and Do

Bungle Bungles
The Bungle Bungles are a unique formation (although there are smaller versions at the Lost City in the NSW Blue Mountains and the Lost City near the Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory) which were produced by the layering of deposits which were laid down in the area 350 million years ago. They have never been aggressively promoted as a tourist attraction which is why, over the past three decades, the difficult 4WD-only road to the site has never been upgraded. The perfect way to see them is to travel across the entire formation via aeroplane and then explore at least one of the gorges at ground level.

Getting there
Known to the local Kitja Aborigines as Purnululu, the Bungle Bungles are located north east of Halls Creek off the Great Northern Highway 109 km north from Halls Creek. The road is so bad that one source has described the route as: "The distance from the highway ... is only 55 km, however, the trip will take two or three hours and the track is suitable only for 4WDs with good clearance. Caravans will not survive the trip." The best option is to travel to Kununurra and take an organised tour which flies directly to Purnululu. Check out East Kimberley Tours, which offer regular tours into the Park, their brochure can be downloaded at http://www.eastkimberleytours.com.au/Brochure/index.html. There are half-day, one day and two day options.

The Geology of the Bungle Bungles
The Bungle Bungles are notable for their distinctive beehive-shaped towers. These towers, which were formed between 350-375 million years ago, are the result of sedimentary layers of pebbles, boulders, conglomerates and sandstone all being laid down in the Ord Basin. The strange horizontal banding is layers of cynobacterial crust - black lichen and orange silica. Over millions of years the layers were eroded by a combination of wind from the Tanami Desert and rainfall. Some layers were stronger than others and so, as erosion occurred, weathering produced the beehive or bell-like shapes. Fault lines in the horizontal bedding resulted in huge gullies and caves. The sandstone is so fine that it crumbles when touched. The area is a wonderland of Aboriginal art, huge gullies and dramatic caves

Walks in the Bungle Bungles
Piccaninny Creek and Gorge
There are two options here. Either a 7 km moderate return walk to the entrance of the gorge or a 30 km return walk which goes through the gorge but cannot be done in a day. There is no marked track. The Western Australian Parks and Wildlife site describes the walks in the following terms: "The 7 km return walk to the gorge entrance (the Elbow) takes a full day. To explore the entire gorge system, a total of more than 30 km, hikers need to camp for at least a night. The track is moderately easy up to the gorge entrance.  It then becomes moderately difficult in the gorge itself, with hikers having to negotiate around fallen boulders, loose rocks and along creek beds." For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek. The easiest option is to go to Picanninny Creek Lookout which is only 1.4 km from the car park and provides excellent views over the Bungle Bungle Range.

Cathedral Gorge Walk
There is a relatively short and relatively easy 3 km return walk (it will take around 1-2 hours) from the Picanninny Creek Car Park to the dramatically beautiful Cathedral Gorge. For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek.

The Beehive Domes Walk
The easiest of all the walks in the park is this one hour long circuit around some of the park's famous beehive domes. For more information check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/piccaninny-creek.

Echidna Chasm
The Echidna Chasm Walk is a relatively short, 2 km - one or two hour, walk through a narrow chasm which is 200 m deep and famed for its Livistonia palms and impressive boulders which have been formed by the local region's distinctive conglomerate of rocks and sandstone. It is located 19 km north of the visitor centre. From the Echidna Chasm Car Park it is possible to walk to Osmond Lookout with its views across the Osmond Range.

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History

* Geologically the Bungle Bungles date to around 350-375 million years ago when the sediments were laid down in the Ord Basin.

* Prior to the arrival of European pastoralists and explorers the area around the Bungle Bungles was sacred to the Kitja people of the Kimberley.

*  In the early 1880s Patrick Durack, hearing good reports of the grazing potential of the Kimberley country, sent his brother Michael to inspect land on the Ord River. On the basis of a favourable report Durack famously took 7,250 breeding cattle and 200 horses from Western Queensland. The 3,000 mile (4,828 km) three year long trek to stock the Argyle and Ivanhoe stations was, at the time, the longest ever attempted in Australia.

* The area around Purnululu was first settled by Patrick (Patsy) Durack in 1882.

* In the early years of white settlement of the Kimberley, massacres of Kitja people were commonplace and they retreated to the Bungle Bungles climbing up to the plateau with notched tree trunks which they pulled up after themselves to prevent pursuit.

* The Purnululu National Park was declared a World Heritage site in 2003.

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Visitor Information

Purnululu National Park Office, open 8.00 am - noon, 1.00 pm - 4.30 pm between April and November. tel: (08) 9168 7300.

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Accommodation

It is possible to camp in the park. Check out http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/purnululu for information.

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Eating

Visitors must bring their own water and food to the park. There are no facilities.

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Useful Websites

The official Western Australian Parks and Wildlife site is http://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/purnululu. It has extensive information on the park and the walks. There is a commercial operation East Kimberley Tours, which offers regular tours into the Park, their brochure can be downloaded at http://www.eastkimberleytours.com.au/Brochure/index.html.

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  • What kind of weathering caused the Bungle Bungles to erode?

    The Bungle Bungles were created by alluvial sedimentation which formed sandstone. Over millions of years the usual weathering forces – wind, sun, rain – have weathered the softer sections around the formations. Only the harder and more resilient forms remain.

    Miranda Brown