Bungle Bungles: Purnululu National Park

Bungle Bungles: Purnululu National Park

purnululu national park

Experience the power of Mother Nature while visiting Pernululu National Park in Western Australia.

The boat slices across the blue-green water leaving a long rippled ribbon on the lake’s surface. From my window in the eight-seat GA8 Airvan, I gaze at the scenery below. The terrain around the lake and its myriad islands are the colour of hay.

The pilot’s voice crackles through my headset telling me that during the wet season Lake Argyle can swell to 40 times the size of Sydney Harbour. It’s so huge it’s officially an inland sea, measuring 55 kilometres from north to south and 30 kilometres from east to west. Australia’s largest man-made lake was formed by the damming of the Ord River in 1972 as part of the Ord River Irrigation project to generate power and irrigate crops.

Purnululu National Park

bungle bungles

bungle bungles

Our destination is the remote World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park.

Soon the water view is replaced by an endless landscape of farmland. The pilot’s commentary includes information about stations like Texas Downs, named for the resemblance of its boundary to the USA state, Alice Downs, Mable Downs and the 161,000-hectare Lissadell Station. Although the Kimberley region is not quite as big as Texas, it does have the largest cattle herd in Western Australia (around 500,000 head at last count).

bungle bungles

Besides cattle grazing and tourism, mining is the area’s other cash cow. And our return flight gives us a chance to fly past the Argyle Diamond Mine where one-quarter of the world’s diamonds are mined.

Our flight is the first leg of a day-tour to the Bungle Bungle Ranges to see its spectacular beehive dome-shaped sandstone towers and breathtaking gorges.


purnululu national park

bungle bungles

The 360-million-year-old ranges came to the world’s attention in 1983 when a Perth film crew produced a documentary that became an international hit. More recently, in August, Qantas released a brand new version of their well-known advertising campaign I Still Call Australia Home.

The beehive formations are prominent in the new commercial. The opening scene is a spectacular aerial shot of the Bungle Bungle Ranges followed by 13-year-old Tyus Arndt surrounded by beehive formations singing in a dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya, one of the languages of the Torres Strait Islands. 180 children are filmed running joyfully through Catheral Gorge and along Piccaninny Creek.

As we fly above Purnululu National Park, I’m mesmerised by the swirling patterns formed by the structures below.

bungle bungles

At the Bellburn Airstrip, a guide from East Kimberley Tours is waiting. Our bus rolls past rocks the shape of elephants, Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear. Yes, if you look hard enough in the Kimberley, your imagination sees many shapes.

The management of the park is a joint partnership between the traditional owners and the State Government’s conservation agency, the Department of Environment and Conservation (D.E.C).

bungle bungles

There are hundreds of archaeological sites, rock art sites, stone quarry sites and burial sites. Purnululu National Park has a spiritual significance to its Aboriginal inhabitants, who have lived in the region for 20000 years.

The Bungle Bungles

In the Kija Aboriginal language, purnululu means sandstone. And the name Bungle Bungle is believed to have originated either from an Aboriginal name for the area or from a misspelling of the bundle bundle grass commonly found here.

Our guide describes how the Bungle Bungle Ranges were formed by the consolidation of sand grains and conglomerates composed of pebbles and boulders. These sedimentary formations were deposited into the Ord Basin around 360 million years ago when active faults were altering the landscape.

purnululu national park

Its most striking feature is the near-vertical cliffs and steep-sided banded beehive-like rock formations. The beehives are a result of 20 million years of geological processes and landscape evolution and composed of extremely fragile sandstone.

Dark grey bands, which turn black after it rains, wind horizontally around the domes. These bands are formed by cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) and are a striking contrast to the rusty orange bands which have a protective coating of iron oxide.

bungle bungles

At the Piccaninny Creek car park, we continue our journey on foot. The striped domes loom large before us. We walk pass termite mounds and clumps of wispy spinifex; we climb over rock ledges and down a metal staircase into an eroded pothole. The scenery is picture perfect. The grandeur of the landscape makes me feel small and insignificant.

Qantas commercial

We stop at the rocky area where the final scene of the Qantas commercial was filmed. Then we follow the dry creek bed into the almost-acoustically perfect Cathedral Gorge, a natural amphitheatre carved out of the sandstone dome walls. Here, we stop for lunch and cool our feet in the gorge’s chilled water.

purnululu national park

Besides its beehive-like structures, the park is a haven for wildlife with more than 130 bird species including quails, spinifex pigeons, rainbow bee-eaters and the endangered grey falcon (Falco Hypoleucos) which is listed by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as a vulnerable bird. Skinks (Scincidiae), short eared rock wallabies (Petrogale brachyotis) and monitor lizards (Varanus dumerilii) are found on the plateaus; pale field rats (Rattus tunneyi), large-footed mouse-eared bats (Myotis adversus) and varieties of frogs shelter in the gorges below.

purnululu national park

Back at the airstrip, the helicopters are waiting. Strapped into the seat of a helicopter and hovering like a giant dragonfly above the domes is an experience not to be missed. Below us, the hikers are tiny moving dots in the majestic landscape.

purnululu national park

The scenery from the ground may be overwhelming but the view from the air is jaw-dropping. All four doors on the helicopter have been removed so that each passenger has a birds-eye view. We fly over chasms and cliffs, rock pools, valleys and magnificent sunset lookouts. There are stunning boulder-filled gorges growing with lush clusters of Livistona palms. The chopper tilts sideways and I hang on to my seat awe-struck by one of Mother Nature’s finest works.

Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Tourism WA

Discover Australia

Getting there

Qantas (codeshare Airnorth) and SkyWest fly to Kununurra from Perth, Broome and Darwin. SeeQantas, Air North and Sky West.

Seeing there

Slingair Heliwork WA’s Bungle Bungle & Lake Argyle fly/4WD/walk/heli combo costs $935. Phone (08) 9169 1300 or see Aviair.


Kununurra Country Club Resort has been recently refurbished. Rooms start from $189 a night. Phone (08) 9168 1024 or see Kununurra Country Club Resort.

The Bungle Bungle Bush Camp offers tented cabins for two and meals for $200 a person. Phone 1800 682 213 or see East Kimberley Tours.

Did you know?

The filming of the new Qantas commercial in Purnululu National Park involved 22 chaperones, 2 nurses, a doctor and 2 medics, a safety officer and 49 crew members.

  • 180 umbrellas, 240 torches, 120 bottles of insect repellent, 220 water aluminium bottles, 15 litres of sunscreen and 200 string eco bags were provided to the children.