Australia’s Wild West: Beautiful Bungle Bungle

All too often in life, things fail to live up to the hype. If you saw The Sixth Sense after it had been theaters for more than a month, you know what I’m talking about. And in travel, quite frequently things can be a tad disappointing once you arrive. Case in point: I saw the Mona Lisa for the first time last month and I have to tell you, I don’t get it. Thankfully, the one thing that almost never underwhelms is good ol’ Planet Earth. From the Grand Canyon to Angel Falls, natural wonders seem to meet or exceed expectations nearly every single time. And if you find yourself in Australia’s Top End, odds are you won’t go but a few hours without someone saying, “Have you been to the Bungle Bungle yet? You have to go!” So, what is the Bungle Bungle Range and why is everybody so impressed by it? I got to the bottom of it by going way over the top.


The Bungle Bungle Range is a landform unlike anything I have ever seen. Situated in Purnululu National Park, the Bungles, as they are often called, are arguably the most popular natural attraction in the Top End. They achieved this status because of their unique shape. The Bungles look like beehives. The domed shape of the Bungle Bungle Range is attributed to the desert winds that blow through the Kimberley and the massive amounts of rainfall that the region receives every year during the wet season. Over roughly 350 million years, the sedimentary rock came to look like a collection of women at a beauty parlor in the 1950s.

The best way to see the Bungle Bungle Range is from the air. Scenic flights depart out of Kununnura, a mining town that is the de facto capital of the Kimberley. The flights are quite popular, as hiking the Bungle Bungles is difficult and climbing the domes is strictly forbidden and the shear magnitude of the range’s size and unusual shape lend itself to tours from above. Two charter flight operators run tours to the Bungles on a regular basis: Slingair and Alligator Airways. I flew on Slingair’s early morning flight and was picked up from my hotel just as the sun rose.

Anytime you’re going to fly on a small propeller plane, you get weighed before your board. This usually occurs in front of anyone else boarding that plane. (Note to self: Don’t take a prop plane flight on your last day in Australia after two weeks of meat pies and burgers.) But I digress. If you are traveling alone, I highly recommend that you ask your pilot if you can sit in the co-pilot seat on any scenic flight. You get incredible views and the horizon is always there to keep you from getting airsick.

The flight began over Lake Argyle, a massive man-made lake that is striking both in its size and beauty. Nearly twenty times the volume of Sydney Harbor, it covers mountain ranges that now poke through the surface like the backs of crocodiles. We also flew over the Ord River Dam, which is the largest dam in Australia. After about 40 minutes, however, I began to see the main attraction. The beehive-shaped domes that everyone in the Top End had told me about. The Bungles.

Over the next 25 minutes or so, we circled the Bungles and our aerial vantage point provided sweeping views of this massive phenomenon. The range’s shape and colors resemble giant bon bons, which appear as if they’d been dropped from the sky. At times they looked like cinnamon dusted truffles waiting for a hungry giant. The red rock gleamed in the sunlight, though that sunlight was also baking me through the windows of the tiny plane.

After several loops around the range, our flight continued on to the Argyle Diamond Mine, the world’s largest diamond mine by volume. But don’t expect to pick up a cheap engagement ring in Kununnura. Nearly all of the diamonds sourced here are industrial grade and used in heavy machinery.

Two hours after our departure, we returned to Kununnura. That’s about all the time you’ll want to spend in the cramped plane, but the experience more than justifies the noise, heat and limited legroom. And after witnessing the Bungle Bungle Range for myself, I can see what all the talk is about.

At the Kununnura Airport, I bumped into some travelers I had met days earlier at El Questro. We discussed our travels and compared experiences in the Kimberley. It wasn’t long before I excitedly asked, “Hey, did you get to the Bungle Bungle Range?”

Mike Barish rode horses, flew in tiny planes and hiked across Western Australia on a trip sponsored by Tourism Western Australia. There were no restrictions on what he could cover or how many hamburgers he could eat. You can read other entries in his Australia’s Wild West series HERE.