Saturday, August 11, 2012

Purnululu National Park

We arrived at the Bungles Caravan Park last late afternoon, Ben and Ves having made an earlier start from Kununurra and arriving before us. They had booked a site for us in this quite unusual caravan park 1km off the Great Northern Highway along the gravel road that takes you to the Bungles. It is unusual in that it is all so temporary – all facilities are demountable mobile installations. The office has the feel of a shipping container. Kath later found out that indeed the whole thing gets closed down each wet season. It is run by the Mabel Downs cattle station which manages the land surrounding the Bungles.
At night this fellow was wandering THROUGH the camping area! Scary!
The campfire (huge) discussion was all about the road through Mabel Downs Station in to the Bungles. When we had enquired at Kununurra we were encouraged to book packages that included a tour – "we don’t encourage" you to contemplate the 55km, 2 hour drive in (we encourage you to pay $250 per head to come with us!). People who had been on a bus tour were saying “I’m glad I didn’t take my car in”. This was the first time we had heard of trepidation about the road in.

The next discussion was whether we would go in at all when Tom was sick at midnight. It was a short discussion as Kath stated firmly “You must go in. I’ll stay with Tom”. The campground did not really lend itself to nursing sick kids (no shade, no power, icky toilets etc).

So we went.

The drive was actually really enjoyable. We found ourselves in this order: Tour bus, the Shanavan, Us (Pete, Hannah, Ellen) followed up by another tour bus. We had someone to follow through the tricky bits and someone who might be forced to help us if we did get stuck!

$11 to enter the National Park, a massive queue for three toilets at the visitor’s centre and it was off to the southern end of the Bungles for the Cathedral Gorge walk. Risking dust Pete actually changed camera lenses today (took the birding lens off!) but this meant a trek back to the car park when he felt that going without binoculars too was unnecessary (had a lovely view of variegated fairy-wren)!

Cathedral gorge is well named – there is a section where the parallel cliffs rise with a wonderfully arched feel and as you walk along the sandy floor you could imagine  that you are walking down the aisle of one massive cathedral.

One drawback of travelling with the tour groups is that you end up walking with the tour groups. It was a bit like Bourke Street!

The kids enjoyed playing in the sand and picking out pebbles at the turnaround point - a massive domed amphitheatre at the end of the gorge. We diverted along The Domes trail on the way back for a closer view of those iconic striped beehive domes.

Next it was off to the top end of the range (another hour’s drive – the roads were actually much better within the National Park compared to the station road) to walk Echidna Chasm. This was another highlight. It’s length and narrowness beggared belief. Signs advised you not to dwell under the boulders that had become lodged above your heads and not to climb the walls.

On the way out we stopped at a lookout. Pete and Ben scaled the small hill while the girls rested (or vomited in the car – poor Brielle).The drive back was also enjoyable although towards the end there were moments of almost total blindness. The angle created by coming out of a gully forced an unavoidable view of the setting sun, unsettled dust from the preceding vehicle making things a quite hairy.

We arrived back safe and sound, again full of gratitude for the loan of our vehicle (thanks again Richard and Annie) to find that Tom had improved quite a bit. Both and he and Kath contemplated a helicopter ride in the morning as deserved consolation!

I’m sure there would have been more brotherly love evident if we hadn’t landed in clumps of scratchy spinifex on this timer photo!

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