Willis's Walkabouts Top-Level Menu


The following story by Liz Fraser appeared in the Weekend Australian, 15-16 May 2010, Travel and Indulgence, page 3. The Cathedral Pool photo appeared with the story. We added the others, all but the 2008 Piccaninny photo taken by Brian Alston on Liz's trip, to help give you a better idea of what to expect.

Totally cool in the wet season

Purnululu National Park can be a joy when rivers run and rockpools overflow

Bungles swim

NAKED, I lie back in the cool, still waters while, around me, rugged orange cliffs tower against a perfect blue sky, guarding my privacy with rocky determination.

Like a shrouded angel, a termite mound stands as silent sentinel in the wilderness. This is my kind of heaven. It is why I have slogged 12 km along a creek bed in 35C carrying a 20kg pack. I am bushwalking in the West Australian Bungle Bungles during the notorious wet season, which stretches from December to April.

While the Purnululu National Park (the Bungles) in the East Kimberley is usually closed to the public during the wet, as gravel roads can get cut off for days by rain and rivers in flood, bushwalking company Willis's Walkabouts has permission to lead small groups up Piccaninny Creek on its annual Bungles in the Wet expedition. Having walked here many years ago during the dry season, I leap at the opportunity to discover the Bungles as they are rarely seen, with rockholes and pools brimming with water.

Most of us recognise the Bungles' peculiar orange sandstone beehives from glossy calendars and tourist literature. Many travellers have driven to the national park from Kununurra and had a bit of a wander or taken a scenic flight. At ground level, however, the effect is breathtaking. Thousands of domes fill the horizon but our group of five is not here merely for face-slapping views.

Cathedral Pool from behind falls

We follow Piccaninny Creek upstream to where it carves a gorge deep into Purnululu's vast stone range. This is to be our base camp for five nights and we're the only people here.

Pilots who operate the scenic flights have named Piccaninny Creek's sudden 90-degree turn into the gorge as the Elbow and the lower gorge as the Forearm. From our camp opposite the Thumb, we explore the gorge's many fingers. Led by guide Marian Lester, who has two decades of Bungles walking experience under her belt, we wade, clamber and rock-hop before delving into intestinal chasms filled with spine-shivering water.

Happy swimmer

We make it almost to the end of the middle digit. At the end of each day, we cool off in those delicious pools before flopping around camp while Lester cheerfully prepares another satisfying three-course dinner. All our meals are dehydrated; just add water. At night the temperatures rarely fall below a humid and windless 30C, like a sleepless steamroom.

Our necks are almost permanently craned; we are surrounded by 150m orange cliffs. But there are also jaw-dropping vistas in all directions. Feverishly, my fingers press the camera's shutter button, but I know there are only so many views of orange cliffs my friends back home need to see. My peak experience is a swim through a magic pool winding between smooth, sculpted cliff walls.

Reflections from those orange cliffs ripple before me. It's totally cool.

It was Forrest Gump's mum who famously remarked that life is like a box of chocolates and you never know what you're gonna get. She could have had a Bungles wet season in mind. Our Willis' Walkabouts outing is apparently very different from the February 2008 trip, during a remarkable wet with Piccaninny in flood. That would have been awesome.

The two photos below are walking up the same section of Picaninny Creek. The left one was February 2008; the right, February 2010.
Walking up Piccaninny Creek, February 2008 Walking up Piccaninny Creek, February 2010
Sudden waterfall Piccaninny pack float

We are blessed, however, by a few light showers, some spectacular lightning shows and one fierce cloudburst, presaged by the question, "Should we put up the tarp."

Within minutes, torrents spill over the surrounding cliffs, before the large falls opposite suddenly gush, a splendid backdrop to our efforts at putting up the tarp. Tarpology, we wonder?

But this trip isn't all humidity and showers. We also have a full week of brilliant skies and few clouds, with temperatures about 35C, much like the dry season, except we have plenty of rockholes in which to swim and pools through which to float packs.

With the dry conditions, it's easy to cool off with the hat shower. Filling my hat with water, I stand under it. Works a treat.

Goanna guardian

Close encounters with wildlife are among the many joys of bushwalking and towards the end of the cloudburst I spot a snake with a frog in its mouth edging back into the spinifex, too close to camp for my liking. No doubt he doesn't like the look (or smell) of me, and I don't see him again. Local attractions include rocket frogs, death adders, a taipan and about two dozen species of bird. Most common are the water monitors. Every waterhole has its own goanna guardian, alert to those transgressing in its territory.

And the downside? Every walk has challenges and these will be different for every person. One of our party struggles with rock hopping. But with our guide's encouragement, she graduates from Boulders 101. I don't do spinifex very well and envy the walkers with long pants. Above the gaiters, my knees feel as if they've been slashed by razors. My willingness to persist is rewarded with memories that will sustain me through a southern winter.

Ready to return to civilisation

After 11 nights out bush, we arrive back at the Piccaninny car park, smelly, grimy and grinning. Only the chopper flight back to Kununurra can take me higher than this.

Sound interesting?Have a look at the trip notes describing our our next Bungles in the Wet trip.

Willis's Walkabouts, 12 Carrington Street, Millner NT 0810, Australia walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

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