Purnululu National Park

PURNULULU NATIONAL PARK GENERAL INFORMATION

The Bungle Bungle Range, in Purnululu National Park, is one of the most fascinating geological landmarks in Western Australia. From an aircraft, Purnululu is an imposing sight. The orange and black stripes across the beehive-like mounds, encased in a skin of silica and algae, are clearly visible as you approach from the south. As you sweep further over the range a hidden world of gorges and pools is revealed, with fan palms clinging precariously to walls and crevices in the rocks.

Where is it?
The turn-off to the park is 250 km south of Kununurra or 109 km north of Halls Creek. The park access road – Spring Creek track – (53km long) is accessible only to four-wheel-drive vehicles and single-axle off-road trailers. NOTE: There is no mechanical assistance available other than at Kununurra.
Best season:
The park is open only between April and December 15 (weather permitting). Please check with DPAW’s Kununurra Office to check if the park is open BEFORE driving in.
What to see and do:
Hiking, photography, camping and nature observation.
* Scenic Flights over the massif by helicopter are available within the park operated by Eco Accredited Heliwork WA or from Kununurra or Warmun. This is the best way to gain a perspective of the Bungle Bungle’s massive size and spectacular scenery.
* Walks The most visited site is Cathedral Gorge, a fairly easy walk. However, some people take a couple of days and a backpack to explore nearby Picaninny Creek and Gorge, camping overnight. If you do this, make sure you are well prepared. The deeper you go, the more spectacular it gets, but for your safety you must tell a ranger before setting out. On the northern side is Echidna Chasm, a narrow gorge totally different from those on the southern side.
Safety information: There are few facilities; so visitors who are camping must carry in all food and water. Travelling time to the ranger station is approximately 5 hours from Kununurra and 4 hours from Halls Creek.
Camping Camping at Walardi or Kurrajong Camp (both sites have toilets and water). Best to bring in your own gas-fired cooking facilities as firewood is limited. For more information, please visit DEC Campgrounds
Facilities Petrol and supplies available from Warmun (Turkey Creek), which is on Great Northern Highway.

About

Although the Purnululu National Park was extensively used by Aboriginal people during the wet seasons, when plant and animal life was abundant, few Europeans knew of its existence until the mid-1980s. The area has been a national park since 1987 and its unique appearance has captured the public imagination. The park offers a remote wilderness experience. In 2003, its beauty was recognised globally when it was inscribed onto the World Heritage List.

Visitors must carry in all food and water if they are staying in one of the park’s two campgrounds (Wilardi and Kurrajong). Most visitors camp for several days so it is essential to be well equipped with all of the food needs as there is no shop within the park to get milk, bread etc.

Purnululu can get very hot (into 40+ degrees) and people must plan their walks with plenty of water.

There are several commercially run accommodation areas that offer comfortable accommodation and meals, but these need to be booked in advance through the local Kununurra Visitor Centre.

Aboriginal significance

In the Kija Aboriginal language “purnululu” means sandstone. The name Bungle Bungle comes either from the corruption of an Aboriginal name for the area, or from a misspelling of one of the common Kimberley grasses found here, bundle bundle grass.
The Purnululu region is an area of great cultural and socio-economic significance to contemporary Aboriginal
people. Despite the disruption caused by the arrival of Europeans to the area only 100 years ago, Aboriginal people continue to maintain a strong cultural identity and attachment to this land. Its contemporary relevance, and its significance as a landscape which has been shaped by at least 20 000 years of Aboriginal occupation, was recognised by the Bungle Bungle Working Group (1986).This adds an undeniable dimension to the fabric of the Park, which can enhance the management of conservation and recreation values. Aboriginal people continue to contribute to the store of knowledge of the natural and cultural resources of the Park, and advise on how this information might best be managed.

The Bungle Bungle Range rises up to 578 metres above sea level. The range stands 200 to 300 metres above a woodland and grass-covered plain, with steep cliffs on the western face. Elsewhere, particularly where Piccaninny Creek has formed Piccaninny Gorge, the range is cut by deep gullies and breaks up into complex areas of ridges and domes, with prominent orange and black or grey bands.

Geology

Virtually every visitor to Purnululu asks the same question – how did this remarkable landscape come about? The distinctive beehive-shaped towers of the Bungle Bungle are made up of sandstones (rocks formed by the consolidation of sand grains) and conglomerates (rocks composed mainly of pebbles and boulders and cemented together by finer material). These sedimentary formations were deposited into the Ord Basin 375 to 350 million years ago, when active faults were altering the landscape.

To the north of what is now the Bungle Bungle Range, uplift occurred along the Osmond Fault to create the Osmond Range, and to the west took place along the Halls Creek Fault. Streams and rivers eroded these ancient highlands and at their edges slopes were steep and the energy in the streams and rivers was high, allowing them to carry large boulders and dump them at the foot of the scarp. Such boulder conglomerates can today be seen in the walls of Echidna Chasm.

Most of the rocks in the Bungle Bungle Range, however, were formed from sand deposited further from the highlands by lower-energy braided rivers flowing across broad plains in open valleys. As more sand accumulated, the older channels consolidated to form sandstone.

The distinctive beehive-shaped landforms seen today have been produced by uplift and erosion during the last 20 million years. Contrary to its solid appearance, the sandstone is extremely fragile. The weight of overlying rock holds the sand grains in place, but when this is removed, the sandstones are easily eroded and the rounded tops reflect this lack of internal strength. Water flowing over the surface will exploit any weaknesses or irregularities in the rock, such as cracks or joints, and rapidly erodes the narrow channels that separate the towers.

Geological features

One of the most obvious features of the sandstones is the alternating orange and black or grey banding. The darker bands are on the more permeable layers of rock (which means water is able to move through them with relative ease). They allow moisture to seep through to the rock surface, promoting a dark algal growth.

The less permeable layers in between are covered with a patina of iron and manganese staining, creating the orange bands. These outer coatings (the rock beneath is a whitish colour) help to protect the lower parts of the towers from erosion.

About 250 million years ago, after the area was uplifted, a meteorite hit just north-east of Piccaninny Creek. All that remains today is a 10-kilometre circular structure on top of the Range. The same erosional forces that produced the Bungle Bungle and its sandstone towers have removed the crater.

A range of attractions

While the geology of the Bungle Bungle is indeed significant, the area’s cultural and ecological importance should not be forgotten. The Department of Environment and Conservation has responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the park. More than 130 bird species are the park’s most visible animals, including rainbow bee-eaters and flocks of budgerigars. It is also common to see an Australian bustard from the edge of the road. The nailtail wallaby and euro live around the massif, while the short-eared rock-wallaby and euro are thought to live on top. Several species of rare animals also occur in the park.

Purnululu attracts visitors for a whole range of reasons; the sheer grandeur of the sandstone massif, watching it change to a golden colour late in the day, walking through some of the marvellous gorges, and for the really well-prepared, a walk along Piccaninny Creek for an overnight camping experience.

Nearest DPAW Office
Kimberley Regional Office is in Kununurra. Phone (08) 9168 4200, fax (08) 9168 2179. Rangers are based in the park and the visitor centre is open 8am-12noon and 1pm-4.30pm.

Information above is supplied by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.