Purnululu National Park

Province: East Kimberley
Nearest City: Darwin
Access: Moderate
Services: Adequate
Highlights:
  • The Bungle Bungles (mountain range)
  • Ord River Valley
  • Extensive sand plains
  • Unique limestone ranges

Purnululu National Park is in the Australian state of Western Australia, and is about 240,000 hectares in size. The park includes the Bungle Bungle Mountain Range made up of quartz sandstone from the Age of Devon that has eroded over millions of years into a group of cones in the shape of beehives.

The surfaces of the cones are steeply sloped and uniquely marked by regular horizontal bands of grey crust of cyanobacteria. A number of factors –biology, geology, erosion, and climate – led to the formation of these unique cones. Purnululu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003.

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About

Purnululu National Park is in the state of Western Australian, in the East Kimberley region, and has a size of almost 240,000 hectares. The park has four distinctive ecological features: the Bungle Bungle Mountain Range, vast sand plains around the Bungle Bungles; the Ord River valley in the park’s east and south; and limestone ridges in the park’s west and north.

The Bungle Bungle Mountain Range is an excellent example of sandstone tower karst. The mountain range is an unusual plateau of quartz sandstone from the Devonian Age, made by a complex process involving sedimentation, compaction, uplift, and erosion. The Bungle Bungles are made up of a series of beehive-shape cones or towers with horizontal, grey bands of crust of cynobacteria. The plateau is cut by deep, sheer gorges of up to 200 metres. The cones have steep sides and domed peaks. They have a fragile surface which has been stabilised by iron oxide and bacteria crusts. The Bungle Bungles are an exceptional example of the formation of land through the weathering of sandstone by wind, rain and sheet wash.

The Ord River valley to the park’s east and south is deeply cut due to the uplifting of crust in relatively recent times. The vast sand plains between the uplands and the river are made up of infertile dark soil covered over by grassland and sparse trees. The limestone ranges in the park’s west and Osmand Range in the north have more trees, especially in the forest area of the Osmand Creek valley. The limestone is believed to be from the Cambrian age (about 500 million years ago). Stromatolites are found in the Osmand range.

Purnululu National Park has a deep Aboriginal cultural heritage spanning some 20,000 years. The park is an excellent example the Aboriginal hunting and gathering tradition, which continues today despite colonisation.

History & Culture

Humans have been active in the area for around 40,000 years or so. The earliest occupation of the Ord valley, which is downriver from the park, was about 20,000 years ago. Archaeological digs have found use of the area that indicates settlement, but the archaeology is still incomplete.

1879 was the first time the area was officially surveyed. In the middle of the 1880s, the first colonists arrived in the Middle Ord region. In 1885, gold was discovered in the area, however raising stock became the main activity of the area.

Cattle over-grazing caused massive erosion of the environment and depletion of natural food resources. Over this time, the Aboriginal population declined by as much as half.

Stock and revegetation programs were put in place from 1967. From about 1985 large numbers of cattle were moved out of the area to further reduce over-grazing. The Purnululu National Park was created in 1987. Despite the difficulty of access to the park, tourism had become a major feature by the middle of the 1990s.

The Aboriginal people who live near the national park still maintain traditional land management practices and still utilise the environment for reaping wild food and for social gatherings.

Getting Around

Purnululu National Park is located in the East Kimberley Region of Western Australia, 300 kilometres by road south of Kununurra in Western Australia's Ord Region.

Kununurra is reached by car or bus from Broome, Darwin or Perth. There are various accommodation options in Kununurra.
Domestic Australian airlines fly regularly to Broome, Darwin and Perth.

The park can be visited by car or bus. There are organised tours of the park, including overnight options. It is also possible to take a scenic flight over Purnululu National Park.