At twilight, we took a little walk beyond the tents and Grey Nomad caravans. The land was still, and the sky vast.
The trees and shrubs came to life. This leafless acacia tree seemed to reach out at me, like a creature from the deep.
Then the colours kick in. This pair of boabs made a perfect silhouette to the sunset.
It was so pretty that I had to capture it on paper, too.
We flew south over the hills, and the further south we went, the smaller and more pronounced the do mes became. These are where the ‘money shots’ of the Bungle Bungles are taken.
And there are more domes to be seen up toward the horizon. The Bungle Bungles are more extensive than the iconic rocks of Central Australia, and so much more rewarding to see from the air.
The sun soon dipped, and all too quickly we were back to where we started.
But that’s not the end of the Bungle Bungles – we will soon see it on foot.
After around ten minutes, the striped hills of the Bungle Bungles appeared. The domes and stripes are all due to the movement of water through the sandstone, eroding it into domes, and leaching some layers of sediment more than others.
We had a great view of the domes, and peered down into deep canyons to see palms and water holes.
The pilot even showed us recent signs of lightning strikes – the build-up and wet seasons are particularly violent in the Kimberley.
The Bungle Bungles is in Purnululu National Park, on the eastern side of the Kimberley, and the most striking tourist attraction in the region. These orange and black striped domes, like its Central Australian counterparts, are also sedimentary; and at 350 million years old, also ancient. But unlike Uluru and Kata-Tjuta, it’s less visited as it’s a bit more remote. In fact, it was only discovered in the mid-1980’s by a mining exploration team. These days, access is either by 60km of pretty bumpy unsealed road or by air.
One of the early highlights of our fortnight in the Kimberley was a sunset helicopter ride from our campsite at Mabel Downs to the Bungle Bungles.
It was an at times hair-raising ride in an open cockpit. The helicopter reached speeds of 180km/h, hence it got pretty breezy up there.
But the views were rewarding.
We first flew over the hills, plains and dry river beds of the Ord River. The late afternoon light made the entire landscape glow. You can see from above why the artwork of the local clans are in dots and lines.
This river winds its way north all the way to Wyndham, some 400km away. We’ll see the river mouth later on, but first, the Bungle Bungles themselves.
During our tour, we were introduced to the stories of a few pioneers of the Kimberley. First were the miners of Halls Creek’s very brief gold rush in the 1880’s. They had to walk at least 400km to the nearest port down rough and dusty tracks. A character called ‘Russian Jack’ walked this distance with a very sick mate in his wheelbarrow!
One of the most well-known families of the region are the Duracks, whom I read about in Kings in Grass Castles. They were were cattle owners who drove their mob overland from Goulburn in New South Wales, to the Channel Country in Queensland, and finally to the East Kimberley. Their homestead has been preserved beside Lake Argyle, and it was touching to visit the (surprisingly modest) home where so many legends had lived.
It was touching also to see the grave of the Durack’s indigenous companion, Pumpkin, beside those of the family. Pumpkin was from the Boontamurra tribe of the Cooper Creek district, helped them establish their station, build their homestead, and train the local indigenous lads as stockmen.
And lastly, there were the Chinese. The first came to the district during the gold rush, but soon found jobs as cooks for droving teams, gardeners at cattle stations, and of course, merchants. This is a well-known shop in the port of Wyndham, first traded at the turn of the 20th century (perhaps earlier), and did a good trade when the town was a vital hub in the region.
One of the most iconic sights in the Kimberley has to be the boab tree. They’re in many (although not all) areas of the north-west – and only the north-west it seems – and look like nothing else. Aboriginal dreaming stories tell of a too-proud tree that was taught a lesson by being forced to grow with its roots up, and with many trees bare, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re dead. This is one of the biggest specimens we saw – more than ten metres in circumference.
But despite their looks, boabs are full of life. Their roots hold water and can be eaten, their barks are medicinal, and their nuts, although seemingly bland, are full of vitamin C. I don’t think the indigenous people of the north-west would ever suffer from scurvy!
Early on in the tour, we were introduced to the boab nut and had a go of eating it. They’re as dry as toast at first, but the longer you leave it in your mouth, the more flavoursome it becomes. The taste I think is a little bit like tamarind! It can even be incorporated into jams and chutneys. Perhaps this is another bush food that might take off?
The next day we started our 14-day Kimberley Camping Safari with Outback Spirit. As we travelled the long road to Fitzroy Crossing, it soon became obvious that the Kimberley was a vast place.
In the late afternoon we arrived at Geikie Gorge. It’s where the mighty Fitzroy River winds its way through the Oscar Ranges – remnants of a Devonian reef that formed 375 million years ago – in an age where land had not yet been colonised by animals, and where giant fish where the most complex life forms in the ocean. Nowadays it’s above water and lovely to cruise along in the late afternoon.
The white rock has been bleached by water during consecutive wet seasons. The red rock is the part of the reef that has oxidised (rusted) in the harsh climate. You can see that the water has carved some interesting shapes.
These pandanus palms can survive whatever the season, dry or wet.
Soon the sun sets, and that’s when the rocks really show off their colours.
I’m back from a blog break and holidays to start a brand-new series – our recent trip to the Kimberleys. It’s somewhere I have wanted to go to for a long time, and I was given a chance to go this year as part of the Sydney Grammar School science tour.
We started and ended the trip in Broome. It was a shock flying out of 5C Sydney into 32C Broome, but I bore it somehow. Our hotel was a walk away from Cable Beach, which we got to in time to watch the sunset.
The beach is much wider than most East Coast beaches, and pretty busy for WA. It’s the Broome dry season – a season of hot days, mild nights, and generally no rain at all. In fact, we saw clear skies for most of the trip.
It got much busier as the sun sunk lower. The 4WD’ers were out in force on the northern half of the beach, eager to get the best seat in the house. It was a bit like Sydney traffic at times.
Eventually the sun made its final farewell – the end of our first day.