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.

Australia’s Wild West: Cowboy Life at Home Valley

An hour’s drive down the Gibb River Road from El Questro, in the shadow of the striking Cockburn Range, sits Home Valley Station. The spirits of the Kimberley’s settler history and cowboy culture are alive and well at this Outback resort. Its location is so fantastic and pristine, in fact, that it was used for many scenes in the film Australia. Sure, you’ll find flat screen televisions and wireless internet access here, but you’ll have to get past the cows, horses and flooded roads first. This is no American dude ranch. It’s a slice of Outback life that many Australians still relish to this day. Home Valley preserves that lifestyle, and its natural theater, in a way that allows visitors to experience a holiday that is an more about participation than pampering.


Home Valley embraces the concept of experiential travel. It expects its guests to be active and engaged and provides activities that allow visitors to take on the role of a cowboy while still sleeping comfortably at night. My cabin was beyond comfortable, with a queen-sized bed, satellite television and bucolic view of the neighboring creek. But little time would be spent relaxing, as Home Valley is no place for couch potatoes.

As anticipated, a resort embracing cowboy culture also has guided horseback rides. My relationship with horses is tepid at best. I’ve eaten horse twice and I think they can sense this. Every time I get on a horse, they react first with indifference and then graduate to annoyance. Disdain comes later, as the animal learns how ignorant I am about his movements. Still, Ivan, Home Valley’s aboriginal guide who who grew up not far from the resort, led our group confidently through the property. With the Cockburn Range always lurking in the background and livestock joining us along the way, it was hard to not feel as if I had been transported back to the time when people were first trying to settle the Outback. Outside of the restaurant and reception area, the majority of Home Valley is pristine, untouched wilderness that is ripe for exploration.

The Pentecost River cuts right through Home Valley and is home to a fascinating variety of wildlife thanks to it being tidal. As such, beyond your typical barramundi and catfish, you will also find sharks and stingrays. This diverse ecosystem makes for some interesting fishing. Of course, if you’re in Australia, you’re really only hoping to catch a barramundi that you can grill up for dinner. I spent an afternoon on the Pentecost hoping to impress the locals with a barra worth sharing. Instead, I was left with nothing more than stories of hooking a shark and my inability to understand why a stingray would want to hang out in a river.

Despite my fishing failures, the day was a success, as I turned my t-shirt tan into a tank top tan (lotion up when you’re in the Kimberley) and I enjoyed some of the most timeless surroundings I’ve ever witnessed.

Home Valley has two scenic lookouts that are perfect for watching the sunset. The Cockburn Range becomes a chameleon as its colors morph in response to the ebbing of the sun. Shades of rust and crimson provide a fitting backdrop as another day in the Kimberley comes to an end.

As I departed Home Valley, I felt as if I had visited not only the Kimberley of today, but the Outback of Australia’s settler past. And sometimes the best journey’s take us not just to physical destinations but transcend boundaries of time. Home Valley’s creature comforts may make it a resort, but it’s the environment that makes it a time machine.

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.

Australia’s Wild West: El Questro

A short flight from Broome to Kununnura and then a shockingly loud and bumpy 80-minute drive down the Gibb River Road through the Kimberley, you’ll find El Questro. Its not all that hard to find as exits off the Gibb River road are few and far between. What is harder to find is a definition for the faux Spanish name of this wilderness resort. And that’s because it’s a meaningless name. More substantial than its title, however, is El Questro’s bounty of activities and natural marvels. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s bored on this million-acre cattle-station-cum-retreat. I spent parts of three days and two nights exploring the property was in awe of both its size and beauty.


El Questro offers a range of accommodations from cabins to campgrounds to a luxury resort. I stayed in one of the tented cabins at their Emma Gorge facility and was once again surprised at the level of comfort that can be achieved in such modest and rustic facilities. I had a full-sized bed, and a tiny but fully-functional bathroom. Perhaps the only downfall was the very short shower door, the frame of which became a constant sparring partner for the crown of my head.

Beyond the accommodations, El Questro offers a range of activities for both guests and travelers simply passing through the Kimberley. Day passes are sold to those who are not staying at the resort. One could easily spend their entire stay simply traversing the many hiking trails that lead to natural hot springs and swimming holes throughout the property. A popular site is Zebedee Springs, where guests enjoy the thermal pools set within a forest of palm and fig trees. Adventurous travelers will find some ripe figs to snack on along the way. If you can’t differentiate bush tucker from poisonous flora, though, it’s best to ask one of the staff members for guidance.

The resort’s cruises on the Chamberlain River provide ample opportunity for crocodile spotting, as well as bird watching. But the most interactive part of the cruise is when the archer fish approach the boat. Archer fish eat insect that fly above the river. To hunt them, the fish shoot concentrated streams of water at their prey. Hold your hand over the side of the boat, and you’ll take a money shot from an archer yourself.

Perhaps the best way to start a day at El Questro is the Emma Gorge hike. It traverses a moderately difficult trail that requires a bit of bravery over some steep patches, but is rather accessible for anyone wearing a sturdy pair of shoes and with a good sense of balance. Along the way, you’ll encounter a stunning turquoise swimming hole. While it will be tempting to refresh yourself in these waters, your temperance will be rewarding a few hundred meters down the trail. There you will find Emma Gorge and its accompanying water fall. Visitors frolic in the cool, clear water and enjoy the privacy of this hidden gem. If you don’t want to share the experience with half of the population of El Questro, start your hike early and enjoy the the gorge before it becomes people soup.

While El Questro caters to people of all ages and incomes with its array of accommodations, it does seem as if younger travelers and backpackers stay at El Questro’s Station Township campground facilities. There you will find a more lively nightlife scene, complete with a bar, Saturday night barbecues and live entertainment. Over at the Emma Gorge accommodations, I was surrounded by grey nomads (Aussie slang for retirees on RV or tour holidays). While I get along with that demographic just fine, my evenings may have been a bit livelier at the Station Township. That said, I was more than happy to end my evenings at 9:30 so that I could begin my days shortly after sunrise rested and refreshed.

From bush tucker walks to horseback rides to fishing trips that require a helicopter, El Questro has activities to match every interest and budget. And they all take advantage of the Kimberley’s diverse ecosystem. El Questro’s best attribute is its location, and it takes full advantage of everything that the Kimberley has to offer. Just don’t expect to sleep much on the drive in. That Gibb River Road is like riding a wooden roller coaster.
For more information on El Questro, visit their website.

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.

Australia’s Wild West

Australia truly is tucked away in the bottom of the world. But for all the talk of it being on the other side of the planet with toilets that flush counter-clockwise (fun fact: not true), Australia is not all that different from the United States in many facets of its history. When it comes to being a young country rooted in the spirit of exploration, opportunity and hard work, the US and Australia share many of the same traits. And perhaps the most notable cultural overlap between these two rambunctious children of the UK is our shared cowboy heritage. Much of the history of the United States rooted in farmers and cattle ranchers living and working off the land to provide for their families while being joined by immigrants looking to improve their lives in a more promising nation. Australia’s Outback history mirrors ours, and that is perhaps no more evident than in Western Australia.

Australia’s largest state, WA is a vast expanse with beautiful beaches along the Indian Ocean, diverse cities like Perth and Broome and a rugged interior dominated by the Kimberley, a swath of land the size of California pocked with steep-faced mountain ranges and massive cattle stations supplying beef to the rest of Australia and parts of Southeast Asia. Much like the American West, WA is home to Australians from other parts of the country who migrated to find opportunities, purchase land or simply for more warmer weather.

I spent a week in Western Australia exploring the coastal area around Broome as well as the wide-open spaces in the Kimberley. In that time, I was taken with how unique the landscape is while shocked that it also reminded me so much of America’s own cowboy history. It is quickly becoming a popular destination for visitors to Australia who want to spend less time surfing and more time hiking, fishing and enjoying the fresh air that you can only find when you’re on a million-acre cattle station.

In this series, I’ll take you through the Top End of Western Australia, from the rocky coast of Eco Beach to the cone-shaped Bungle Bungles outside Kununnura. Buck up, cowboy, we’re going to Australia’s Wild West. But leave your Stetson at home. In Oz, they wear Akubras.

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.

Australia’s Wild West: Eco Beach

Back in August, Gadling’s Scott Carmichael wrote about various eco-friendly resorts in Australia. I have never enjoyed reading a Gadling post more, but that may be because I was reading it by the pool of one of the resorts that he profiled. As I enjoyed a beer at Eco Beach while reading Scott’s piece, I was curious about just what makes a resort truly environmentally friendly. Is it how it utilizes and replenishes resources? Or how it doesn’t damage the land on which it exists? Or is it more than that? During my time at Eco Beach, I kept those questions in mind. And by the end of my stay, I was confident that it kept its promise of being a true “eco resort.”


Eco Beach is a 90 minute drive from Broome and seemingly a world away. The last 10km of the trip are on an unsealed road that requires you to stop several times to open gates that keep livestock belonging to nearby cattle farms from wandering off. Even as you pull into Eco Beach, the area looks more like farmland that beachfront property. To preserve the coastal habitat, guests must park their cars several hundred meters from the resort. The staff will gladly pick you up from the car park, or you can do what I did and enjoy the view as it slowly reveals itself during your walk to the reception desk.

Eco Beach offers two types of accommodations: villas and tents. Both are solar powered (providing both electricity and hot water) with screened windows that are positioned to optimize ocean breezes. I stayed in a tent, but the name belies the level of sophistication that was found inside. I had a king-sized bed, shelves, a bathroom with working toilet, sink and shower and multiple outlets to charge my gear. The ocean breeze kept the tent cool throughout the day despite a cloudless sky and temperatures in the mid-80s.

The villas are larger, permanent structures and are ideal for families or couples looking for a little more space and privacy. They provide a living room area and spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.

In fact, virtually the entire property provides either an elevated view of the ocean or an opportunity to hear the gentle rustling of the water embracing the shore. There is little to know surf at Eco Beach, which allows for safe swimming (when the jellyfish are not in season). The cliff-lined coast provides a wonderful setting for early morning and twilight walks along the beach.

Perhaps the best walk at Eco Beach is the along the nature trail. An interpretive walk, Eco Beach worked with local indigenous peoples and their cattle station neighbors to create a path that takes you through the bush and gives you a sense of how diverse the flora and fauna of the area truly are. The apex of the path offers an exceptional panoramic view of the ocean to one side and to the other, the resort nestled in the bush.

Eco Beach employs a yoga instructor who offers sessions almost everyday, as well as spa facilities. For travelers looking to take advantage of the Indian Ocean’s bevy of wildlife, fishing and whale watching cruises are easily booked at the resort’s front desk. And because of Eco Beach’s remote location, guests take most of their meals at Jack’s Bar, the resort’s poolside restaurant. From traditional English breakfasts to some of the best prawns I’ve ever tasted, the food quality at the resort was commensurate with the expectations that its accommodations create.

By the end of my stay, I’d come to the conclusion that Eco Beach was not just your typical green resort. Yes, the facilities are solar powered and the food is sourced locally. But beyond that, the resort has become an extension of the land on which it sits. The villas and tents mesh seamlessly into the coastline. The proprietors’ respect for the local wildlife is evident in their participation in tracking of turtle migrations in the area. Overall, Eco Beach creates the impression that it is as much a part of the natural landscape of the area as the cliffs and dunes that it neighbors.

For more information on Eco Beach, visit their website.

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.