Purnululu National Park – Fly or Hike?

What is the best way to see Purnululu – by air or on foot? It's a debate that is hard to resolve, so we decided to do both with our two sons, aged seven and nine.

By driving into the Park and camping for a few nights we were able to explore the landscape by foot, wandering into gorges and examining the Bungle Bungle domes up close. An entire galaxy of stars emerged from the night sky, something we had never seen in the city.

On the final day of our stay, we treated ourselves to a helicopter flight from the airstrip inside the park. We were surprised and amazed at how far the ranges stretched as the panorama unfolded below us.

By air

The easiest and quickest way to experience Purnululu is from up high. The Bungle Bungle Range was formed over 20 million years of erosion, and, despite their grand appearance, these unique striped ‘beehive’ domes are incredibly fragile. As well as being heaps of fun, soaring above the range is the best way to appreciate the vastness of this magnificent landscape. Looking, but not touching, also helps protect it for the future. The Park unfolds below you like a living topographic map. Hidden chasms and gorges – many of which are inaccessible from the ground – are revealed.

Purnululu is just one of the many stops on a series of linked airstrips that make up the Kimberley Aerial Highway, which include Kununurra, Warmun, Lake Argyle, and Broome.

On foot

Our 4WD took us into the heart of Purnululu National Park, just a few hours’ drive north of Halls Creek. Having set up camp, we started exploring on foot along the many well-signposted walks that wind through the intricate maze of sandstone towers. We walked through narrow, cool gorges lined with majestic palms, strolled across spinifex plains, and sometimes took a moment to stand quietly and listen for the sounds of the abundant wildlife.

Cathedral Gorge is a natural amphitheatre carved from the rock by water cascading down the sandstone cliffs and was an easy 4km return walk. We had been tipped off about the extraordinary acoustics of its circular wall, so the boys took turns whispering secrets at one end of the gorge, only to hear their words amplified through the whole chamber.

Getting to Echidna Chasm was slightly more challenging, but well worth the effort. On the way, we negotiated the boulders that litter the path and took a short detour to a lookout with spectacular views of the Osmand Range. The long, narrow gorge was overhung by towering palms and filled with birdlife. Even the tiniest sounds bounced from the high rock walls and echoed through the chasm. Having timed our walk to arrive in the middle of the day, we got to see the sunlight make its brief, but dramatic appearance.

Piccaninny Gorge is a must. The easiest way to get there is via a well sign-posted 7km trek to the entrance of the gorge. For more adventurous travellers, there is a self-guided overnight walk that lets you explore the whole area at your own pace.

Purnululu had plenty of options to keep us and our kids busy, but your visit doesn’t need to be that energetic. Kungkalanayi Lookout is an easy walk from the Visitor Centre that rewards you with a spectacular view of the western face of the range. At the end of the day, and as the sun set behind us, it was the perfect spot to watch the famous bands glow in soft hues of purple, orange and gold, as they have done for millions of years.

So which was better – by air or on foot? For us, getting up close on the ground would be our choice if you could only do one, but doing both was even better.

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