The road to the Bungle Bungles is rugged. We turn off the bitumen of the Great Northern Road and drive fifty kilometres of wilderness track. It’s sandy. It’s rocky. The road twists and turns, climbs and drops. We turn a corner and are faced with a river crossing. The cars driving towards us from the other side hurtle across, scarcely slowing as they enter the water, bow waves washing over their bonnets. Caravans rocking along behind. It’s deep, but with a firm base. Easy! But unexpected.
The map says we should allow 3 hours to drive this fifty kilometres, but its not as slow as that with Richard at the helm and in 90 minutes or so we catch our first sight of the Bungles. The towering red rocks sit on a lush landscape. Silver gums, blood wood, spinifex (of course), black spear grass, yellow flowering acacias and red holly grevillea grow on the flat plains of the Purnululu National Park. The afternoon sun casts long shadows and deepens the outback colours. Beautiful West Australia.
We choose the unpowered campsite and find a shady spot for the night. There are waterless toilets and bore water on tap. All the mod cons we need. Next door the site is set up for a family of six. Five swags are laid out in a row. Mummy and daddy bear have a double swag at the end of the row, followed by a swag each for the four little bears (teenagers all). A shower stands at right angles to the double swag and a flood light is angled across the site. Such a neat set up convinces me they must be Germans, and I’m a little disappointed to find out later that they come from Darwin. German ancestors maybe?
Early in the morning we head off for the northern side of the Bungles. Every viewpoint is dramatic and otherworldly. We walk through the famous sandstone domes, striped red and black by the action of ancient bacteria on the soft stone. They say the Bungles were formed 300 million years ago. Impossible to imagine such a passing of time. The path leads us over the pebbles of a dry watercourse towards Cathedral Gorge. The rocks change colour, blushing pink as the hot Kimberley sun rises higher in the clear blue sky.
Cathedral Gorge is awe inspiring. A vast cavern cut into the side of a towering chasm. The floor is sandy and holds a pool of water. Black traces high on the red rock tell of the waterfalls that cascade in to fill the chasm above head height in the Wet season. Every footstep, bird call and human voice echoes around and around the rocky chamber. This is why we build cathedrals with such high ceilings. We can’t help but feel small in such vastness. We can’t help but think of powers greater than ourselves.
We walk on, up a broad path with a pavement of huge flat slabs of stone. It’s another dry water course. It must become a white water river in the Wet. When we make it to the lookout we are greeted by a bus tour crowd keen to capture a group photo. Richard obliges. ” Just one more”. “And for me”. Cameras are passed back and forth until the appetite of the crowd is sated. The final must-have photo is of the tour guides. He leans away awkwardly while she snuggles up close and grins happily.
A quick sandwich, a few lemon cream biscuits and we’re ready to tackle Echidna Chasm. Once again our walking boots crunch along a dry rocky watercourse, this time of pink, white and red pebbles. The sun is higher now. It’s hot and the cool shade is welcome as we enter the chasm. Incredible orange red colours play on the flat walls. Sturdy palms and vines cling on, their roots dangling down in search of water. As we move deeper into the rock, the passageway gets narrower. We can see the end. “Not much further now, Beryl”. I look up and the girl in front of Howard has disappeared. I look back and Howard too has disappeared. Like a magic portal, there is a gap in the rock that hides the final stretch of passageway. I clamber through and walk the last few metres to view the end of Echidna chasm.
We take the afternoon off to relax at the camp. Tomorrow we’ll tackle Mini Palms Gorge. We’ve seen enough to know it will be spectacular. The Bungle Bungles are the Kimberley’s wonder of the world.