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: 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.