Purnululu National Park-The Kimberly’s Striped Secret

Purnululu  National Park Encompasses  A  Landscape  So  Culturally  Rich  And geologically unique that protecting it is considered a national priority. Although the Australian government closely controls tourist access, the stark beauty of the Bungle Bungle Mountains has attracted more visitors every year to this pristine wilderness area, which puts the fragile environment at risk. When you go, tread lightly.

Rising out of the vast and lonely landscape of the Kimberly, the Bungle Bungle Mountains  are  so  stunning,  it’s  a  wonder  that they  aren’t  on  everybody’s  must-see  list. Yet   their   very   existence   wasn’t   even known  until  the  early  1980s—that’s  how rarely people travel to this sparsely inhabited, forgotten corner of Western Australia.

But  perhaps  that’s  why  these  fragile sandstone  marvels  have  held  up  so  well. Soon  after  they  were  discovered,  this national park was created to protect them. It’s promptly closed every year during the January  to  March  rainy  season,  known here  simply  as  the  Wet,  and  in  the  dry season,  the  only  access  is  by  four-wheel-drive vehicles. The park has a rich repository of Aboriginal art and burial sites, but they’re  kept  off  limits  to  casual  visitors. Purnululu’s   park   management—a   joint effort  by  white  Australians  and  the  local Aboriginal  people—has  evidently  benefited from the mistakes other, older parks have made in managing their natural wonders. Let’s hope they got it right this time.

Geologists get excited talking about this unique range of sandstone domes (purnululu  means  “sandstone”  in  the  local  language).  They’re  rare  examples  of  cone karst formations made of sandstone rather than limestone, heaved up from the floor of  an  ancient  sea.  Etched  by  erosion  into filigreed   beehives,   they’re   also   vividly striped  in  contrasting  orange  and  gray bands by ancient algae trapped inside the permeable  stone.  (Layers  of  sandstone containing  more  clay  attracted  bacteria that   colored   that   stone   orange.)   The domes  rise  200  to  300m  (650–1,000  ft.) high, and cover an area of 45,000 hectares (111,150  acres),  punctuated  by  knifelike gorges and palm-draped pools.

The  domes  look  spectacular  from  the air—that’s the way most people see them, on    2-hour    sightseeing    flights    from Kununurra. In fact, during the Wet, a plane is your only option. Once the waters subside,  however,  hikers  take  over  the  park, heading  for  spectacular  Cathedral  Gorge, the  rock  pool  at  Frog  Hole  Gorge,  and palm-filled  Echidna  Chasm.  Stark  as  the landscape looks from the air, on foot you’ll find  it’s  full  of  wildlife,  particularly  birds (rainbow   bee-eaters,   budgerigars),   the rare  nail-tailed  wallaby,  and  a  kangaroo cousin known as the euro. For all the effort it takes to get here, the rewards are spectacular.