No bingles in the Bungle Bungles, kids…
One of the only downsides of travelling in a campervan instead of a big, tough 4wd, is that we missed out on some of the more exciting offroad journeys and remote outback destinations in Western Australia.
We had pushed our campervan Moby to the limit on our last unsealed excursion to Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, and knew we would upset the delicate equilibirium of the Kimberley gods if we attempted the track into the Bungles Bungles (Purnululu) National Park. Two-wheel driving this track is a big no no. All you get is a damaged suspension and a smacked bottom; if you make it in, the rangers turn you around straight away.
But the Bungles Bungle rock formations called to us from hundreds of kilometres away, as we drove past the Purnululu turnoff. Those bee-hived bastards were singing a siren song we couldn’t resist. Come and see our stripey features! Marvels at our oddly-shaped mass! You’ve never seen erosion like this before!
Welcome to Kununurra – we have all the things
Arriving in Kununurra we took a quick turn about another disappointing community market and then visited the Information Centre to suss out their scenic tours. In addition to the Bungle Bungles, the Kununurra region also hosts Lake Argyle – Australia’s second largest man-made lake, and the Argyle diamond mine – the only source of legit pink diamonds in the world. To see these attractions properly, we had to get airborne.
That night, as we were washing our dishes in the camp kitchen of the local caravan park on Lake Kununurra, we met George, the friendly neighbourhood freshwater crocodile. He hovered around the bank waiting for food scraps, like an old Labrador looking for leftovers.
We were up before dawn for our scenic flight, and clamboured into the Cessna Centurion with much excite. The morning sky was a bit hazy but cleared up as we came over the Osmond Ranges into Purnululu and saw the iconic banded domes of the Bungle Bungles. The rocks are made up of layers of sandstone and other grit, and weathered by the winds of the Tanami Desert. They were the secret of the local indigenous people, the Jaru and Gidja, until the 1980s. We rate them as the second best discovery of that decade, after the piano key necktie.
On the return journey we flew over some of the park’s gorges – including Echidna Gorge and Picaninny Gorge. Shelley had a hankering to get in there and explore on foot. Next time. Lake Argyle looked like a sea from above, and we heard that when they dammed the mighty Ord River in the 70s the lake filled up so fast that people and animals were stranded on high land, becoming islanders overnight.We were also amused to learn that the first explosive they set off to create the dam wall was lit off some bloke’s cigarette.
The open pit of the Argyle Diamond Mine was also impressive from above, with its harsh man-made geometry clashing with the otherwise flat, peaceful landscape.
A diamond day on Lake Argyle
It was a decadent travel day, as we’d also booked a sunset cruise of Lake Argyle for the afternoon. We drove out to Lake Argyle Resort (a high-end caravan park) and plopped in their infinity pool during the hottest part of the day, looking over the lip to the Lake beyond. Hot tip for backpackers: this resort is worth the drive out from Kununurra. Come for the pool, stay for the terrible cover band playing reggae versions of Beatles classics.
We only saw a tiny bit of Lake Argyle on our four hour cruise, as the entire lake is over 1,000 square kilometres, but what we saw was beautiful. We jumped out for a swim a couple of times and realised just how hard it is to stay afloat in freshwater. When it came time for the famous Kimberley sunset we took advantage of the complimentary pool noodles. There’s nothing quite like bobbing around a giant lake, while nibbling on cheese from the floating snack pontoon and sipping from an icy cold beer. Straya, ay mates?
The tyres, they are a changin…
What Moby had in store for us the following day was far from the royal treatment we’d recently come to expect – overnight the campervan has developed a flat tyre and we had no choice but to change it in the 43 degree heat, with sweat dripping from Gaz’s peaky frame as he battled with Moby’s rusty, dirt-encrusted bolts.
With the puncture repaired back in town, we were now ready to take on the challenges of the real Top End and cross the border into the Northern Territory.
Highs: Fumbling the catch when the tour guide throws you a beer in the lake
Lows: Realising that beer cans float