Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Bungle Bungle

Although known to local pastoralists and indigenous folk, the Bungle Bungle was unknown to the outside world until the mid 1980s. It did not appear on maps - not even topographical maps - nor was it photographed, not even named. A helicopter camera crew discovered it by accident, making it's dramatic scenery known to Australians and the rest of the world.

The Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park, WA

The local pastoralists saw it only as a source of a river, the business of cattle kept them occupied. Gold was discovered in nearby Halls Creek in the 1880s, but still the Kimberley held the secret of the Bungle Bungle. To the indigenous folk it had special meaning, but we know they like to keep their secrets sometimes, and why not?

If I share, too many white men will come all right, and they will go on doing this. Sticky beak all right, and look for something. If they find something goody goody, they'll take it.

-- source: interview on ABC's Stateline, 28/5/2010, concerning rockart in Kakadu (url

Some stuff is still a well guarded secret by the indigenous folk. Their rock art, which includes depictions of crocodiles, and burial sites.

This is one of the iconic places I wanted to visit on my four month trip, I think you will see why in some of the photos. To enter Cathedral Gorge one is filled with awe. Walking through a narrow gorge, the shear cliffs towering 200 metres above on each side. The gorge floor is occupied by a flat creek. It feels like you are about to stumble upon an ancient city in the desert, Petra maybe. Not a noise can be heard, it's one of the places in the world that seems to call for silence. Walking several hundred metres through this narrow space, the gorge suddenly opens up, revealing a huge amphitheatre formation. The area, made round by rolling boulders as the water runs down the cliff above, open to the sky in a narrow opening. The middle occupied by a shallow pond, a reminder of how much water would be here during the wet season. The roof ceiling provides a perfect environment for your echo, the place calls for silence but at the same time wants sounds to reverberate around it's walls.

Naturally the Bungle Bungle has more to reveal than just this one special place. The drive from Kununurra down Highway One is spectacular in itself, but it is merely setting the scene for the Bungle Bungle. The 50km 4WD road in from the highway hints a little more, only very close to the park does one see for the first time the mountains of the Bungle Bungle. The orange cliffs rise abruptly from the plains. Dramatic as they are though, they are not the Bungle Bungle one sees in photos. It is only when you drive further in, or better still, walk further in, that one sees their iconic and true beauty -- the stripped beehive formations. These are the most exceptional examples of sandstone cone karsts anywhere in the world. Standing up to 250 metres tall, they create an intricate maze of twists and turns, almost a city of rock sky-rises (to borrow a phrase from the national park literature.)

The sandstone is an ancient riverbed, uplifted high above the surrounding plains. Weathering and erosion slowly formed the distinct shapes we know today, as new rivers were formed through the old riverbed. The sandstone is sedimentary, layers of gray or orange rock. The grey rock has a high clay and moisture content, allowing cyanobacteria to grow on the surface. The orange bands have a lower clay and hence moisture content, preventing the cyanobacteria from growing. This layer oxidises forming the distinct rusty orange colour. Occasionally recent landslides reveal the true colour of this band - a bright silver white colour.

It was through this that we undertook a two day hike. If we did not have a new radiator awaiting collection in Katherine, to be fitted to the crippled car, I think we would have spent three days on this hike. We spent a day hiking along the Piccaninny Gorge, camped beside a rock pool, then hiked back. Had we a third day, we could have explored some of the five side gorges that are present in the upper gorge beyond our campsite. Although only a 14 kilometre hike in, it is a difficult hike. Following the creekbed, it is either sandy, soft gravel, navigating eroded rocks or large boulders.

On the first day we had lunch at the distinct Elbow in the gorge, well, so we thought, until we came upon a more distinct Elbow further upstream. It really was slow walking.

We had the gorge almost to ourselves, beyond the tourist bus groups near the very start of the gorge we passed only two other parties. Both had chosen to hike in and out in a single day, both were jealous we would have so much time to explore and have such a magnificent campsite. The campsite we chose - we could camp anywhere we liked - was beside a rockpool. Cliffs soared high above us, the rockpool being in the corner of the gorge. During the Wet water would cascade down the cliff, filling the rockpool and overflowing into the main gorge creek.

During the day the gorge was filled with a cacophony of bird sounds, echoing up and down the gorge. As night fell, silence descended. Our voices could be heard echoing far up and down the gorge, in the silence we could finally appreciate how far the echo travelled. Our campsite was fitted with a security device, not that it was needed in this isolated place. The cliffs the other side of the rock pool amplified the sounds from the main gorge creek, we could easily have heard footsteps as they approached from either upstream or downstream.

After the hike, we visited nearby Echidna Chasm. We had missed the best time of day to visit, the narrow chasm, sometimes only shoulder width wide, was best seen at true noon, the only time the sun could shine down into the narrow space. The chasm is a fracture in the rock mountain, snaking it's way from the palm entry deep into the mountain, gradually narrowing until it's eventual abrupt end.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Piccaninny Gorge, Bungle Bungle, Purnululu National Park
Wednesday Thursday
7/7/2010 8/7/2010
Carpark to Gorge 1 Gorge 1 to carpark
Distance 15.2km 13.1km
Start Time 9.27am 7.33am
End Time 2.52pm 11.27am
Moving Duration 3h33m 3h02m
Stationary Duration 1h56m 56m
Moving Average 4.3km/h 4.3km/h
Overall Average 2.8km/h 3.3km/h
Oodometer 15.2km 28.3km

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