We are Laurian and Jodie – a traveling same-sex couple from Australia. Thanks for taking the time to read about our adventures and travel tips for the incredible Purnululu National Park, found in the Kimberely region of Western Australia. Before we get into that, let us tell you about ourselves.
We have been together for six years now and are both in our early thirties. Laurian grew up in Port Elizabeth – a small city in South Africa – and immigrated to Australia with her family when she was 20 years old. Jodie grew up on the tiny island at the bottom of Australia called Tasmania.
We met while we were working for the Australian Defence Force on a deployment in Darwin, Australia. We became inseparable friends quickly and soon enough we started to date. Jodie’s love for travel was born after a deployment to East Timor with the army in her early twenties.
It was her first time experiencing a different culture, trying new foods, exploring new places and she was hooked. She backpacked in Asia, South America and Europe over the following years and loved it.
Having grown up in South Africa and then traveling to Europe before moving to Australia, Laurian got to experience the joys of travel early on. Once in Australia, she fell in love with our ever-changing landscapes and knew one day that she would do a road trip around the country.
Our Great Western Australia Road Trip
We had lived in Western Australia for the past six years and had seen as much of it as we could whilst working and taking holidays. It’s a huge state of Australia and has many different climates, landscapes and wildlife spread throughout that you almost feel like you are in a different country.
There is everything from World Heritage listed coral reefs, to barren desert, to 100-year-old forests. Doing a road trip is the best way to see Western Australia as there are so many places to explore but they are spread out! We have spent the last six months traveling Western Australia in our caravan, with the majority of time spent along the coast. There are so many places we have visited along the way, but here is a list of the main spots:
Incredible Adventures at Purnululu National Park
Purnululu National Park was on our bucket list before we left for our Western Australia trip. Jodie’s dad has traveled a lot of Australia and told us about this incredible national park and kept telling us that it couldn’t be missed as it was one of his favorite places to explore in all of Australia. So even though it was so far from home and very remote, we knew we had to make a plan to get there and see it for ourselves. And it did not disappoint!
We had quite the adventure at Purnululu National Park that we still talk about to this very day. Anyone who has visited the park knows that half the adventure is just arriving there. The road into the park is about 50km long but can take two or three hours depending on the road conditions.
When we visited it was a rough dirt road filled with corrugation, potholes, river crossings, rocks to doge and the occasional animal. We opted to drive it ourselves and severely underestimated the journey ahead – we thought we could just ‘pop’ in to catch the sunset over the rocks, grab a few photos, drive back to the caravan park and return again in the morning.
After two and half hours of driving, we arrived at the southern part of Purnululu National Park and the sun was setting behind the hills. We realized that it would be dark within the hour, we didn’t have the light we needed for the photos and we were going to have to drive for another two and a half hours in the dark back to the caravan park along that road.
So we decided that an impromptu night of camping in the park was the best solution. Luckily we had our tent, mattresses and sleeping bag in the ute – so we decided we could make it work. For food, we had an apple, an orange, a bag of lollies and just a litre and a half of water, so it wasn’t ideal.
But the visitor centre would be open in the morning to get more water so we could hike that day. We drove into a campsite in the dark, had some lollies, made ourselves pillows from stuff in the car and went to sleep. We woke with the sun and were hiking by 6am. It was already 25 degrees!
We spent the whole day exploring the park and it was unlike anything we had seen before. We hiked through red rock gorges covered in palm trees, explored Echidna Chasm which is just one metre wide in places and spent quality time in Cathedral Gorge just enjoying the shade and the serenity of the atmosphere. The beauty, magnitude and history of the area is awe-inspiring and we were so glad that we made the effort to get out there!
Number One Highlight of Purnululu National Park: Cathedral Gorge
Our favorite place in Purnululu National Park was Cathedral Gorge. The walk is relatively easy and you get a chance to walk amongst the incredible Bungle Bungles that the park is famous for and then within the gorge itself where you are dwarfed by huge rock walls on either side of you.
We took our shoes off to rock hop and walk through the sand in between these huge rock formations and it was delightful. At the end of the walk is a huge cathedral-like erosional cave that forms a sand floored natural amphitheatre – it’s incredible and hard to put into words. The cavern was created by millions of years of water erosion and is absolutely huge!
We went late in the afternoon and had it all to ourselves for a little while before another couple arrived and proceeded to sing (they had beautiful voices) amongst the amazing acoustics that the cave offers. It was one of those moments that we both just sat back and soaked it all in – not a care in the world. The millions of years of history, mixed with the raw beauty and the serenity of this incredible place, makes it a really special place to enjoy.
5 Things To Do at Purnululu National Park
There are a few ways to explore Purnululu National Park but these are the top five adventures/things to do that we recommend (in no particular order). How you experience this place will all depend on your itinerary, how much hiking and driving you like to do, and other personal preferences.
1. Take a Helicopter Flight over Bungle Bungles
Fly over the unique Bungle Bungles that makes up most of Purnululu National Park. The beehive formations are millions of years old and unique to this part of Australia. You will get views of the whole area and it’s absolutely breathtaking (we chose not to do the helicopter flight on our first trip to the park as we knew we would come back again and do it then).
2. Camp under the Stars at Purnululu National Park
Camping within the park is a great experience. Camping allows you to take your time and explore the park over a few days. It also saves you from having to drive the long road into the park each day which can take three hours. You must be self-sufficient as there are no amenities within the park.
3. Go on a 4WD Full Day Tour of the National Park
There are a few companies that offer a full day tour into the park which allows visitors to sit back, enjoy the scenery and learn some history. This takes away the worry of the drive into the park or planning their itinerary within the park. Although we opted to drive in and explore ourselves, we would recommend this option to most people for its convenience.
4. Walk amongst the Incredible Bungle Bungle Range
One of the main reasons Purnululu National Park received its World Heritage status is due to the unique beehive formations known as the Bungle Bungles. The easiest way to walk amongst the giant black and red banded rocks are along the Dome Walk Trail and the Cathedral Gorge Trail.
5. Venture on a Multi-Day Hiking Experience
There are plenty of hiking trails to explore in the park, varying from 1km tracks to three, four or five day hikes – so there is something for everyone and they are all spectacular walks with varying scenery and landscapes to enjoy along the way. Just make sure you are prepared and leave no trace.
Where to Stay at Purnululu National Park
Purnululu is very remote and a planned visit is recommended. Within the park, you can either camp under the stars or book in at the Bungle Bungle Savannah Eco-Lodge. There are no facilities available at the campgrounds so travelers must be self-sufficient for the duration of their stay.
At the turn off to Purnululu National Park, near the main road, there is a caravan park which is where we decided to stay. We booked for two nights there but only ended up staying the one night after our misadventure of underestimating how bad the road into the national park really was.
Also, along the main road are a couple of free camps. A lot of people choose to leave their caravans or camper trailers there while they explore the park during the day. There is a small town 50kms from the park turn off which offers some reasonably good motel style accommodation.
Favorite Memory from our Trip – Echidna Chasm
One particular moment that really stands out for us at Purnululu National Park was when we were in Echidna Chasm. We had walked into the chasm and instantly felt like tiny little ants amongst the giant red rock walls. We walked as far as the path goes into the chasm, through parts that are just a metre wide, and then returned to a little atrium-like spot about halfway in.
The floor was covered in small boulders that were used as seats. Although there were 20 other people there, there was pure silence. We were all there to watch the midday sun pass overhead and light up the chasm in a golden hue. As time grew nearer, and more people arrived, still no one talked.
There was no sign telling people to be quiet or mindful of others – it just felt like all of us were connected in our appreciation of this incredible place and all felt that admiring it in silence would be the best way to experience this phenomenon together. It was a reminder of our shared humanity amongst some of the oldest nature on earth. It really was a special experience!
Tips for Visiting Purnululu National Park
Visitors need to understand how remote this park is and plan their visit accordingly. You can only drive into the park if you have a 4WD as there are a few water crossings. Campers within the park need to be self-sufficient for their stay as there are no facilities and it’s a two/three hour drive out of the park to the main road, and then another 50-100km to the nearest town.
Even people planning to do day trips into the park need to have full tanks of fuel as the distances between places are large. Visitors must also bring all food and water necessary and be ready for any emergency as help can be a long way away. Due to these considerations, a lot of people opt to join the fully guided day trips with a tour operator as they can then just sit back and enjoy the journey without having to worry about anything.