Trip to the Bungle Bungles Western Australia 4 April 2007
15 Apr 2007
We were up early for a helicopter flight over the Purnululu National Park home of the famous Bungle Bungles. The park remains closed due to the recent rain so the only way we were going to see this magnificent area was from above. We were a little disappointed as we would like to have done a 4 wheel drive tour to get into the gorges but this was the next best thing. Our pilot Rob met us at the Helliworks office by the road house and asked if we would mind Brad joining us for the trip. He is new to the company and learning the route in and out of the park. This is the second 'training flight' we have been on so we now know the routes into the Bungle Bungles as well as the Horizontal Falls, perhaps a whole new career is opening up for us!
Once more we had to get on the scales before we could board the flight, at least these scales were a little kinder and the pilot let me aboard. After this we were given our safety drill and taken to the helicopter and seat belts fastened, where were our doors? They were lying on the grass, having being taken off to enhance our vision during the flight. We took off rising slowly at first then, gathering speed, he swung out over the Great Northern Highway and the Aboriginal settlement of Warum, and onwards to the vast emptiness. We were now flying over the hills and Texas Downs cattle station land. Just like driving past the entrances we could see the road stretching off into the distance but not the homesteads, thus emphasising the vastness of the area. The pilot told us that this station was owned by a South African company, they own five stations, with a total of almost 5 billion square acres of land on which they run 60,000 head of cattle. In the past men on horseback were used to muster the cattle ready for the drovers to collect and begin the long trek south down the Canning Stock Route. Now helicopters are used for the mustering and drovers have been replaced by road trains, the only people using the Stock routes today are tourists in 4 wheel drive vehicles looking for adventure.
The pilot asked how we were doing in the back, I said it was a little draughty and he laughed. That was an understatement as the wind seemed to whip in one door and out the other after giving us a good buffeting. Jeff was busy snapping everything we flew over, both out of his door and mine; I was just hanging on to anything I could find to hang on to. Jeff said the seat belts were regulation ones and the trips would not do well if they lost a passenger. Whilst that is the logical approach it is hard to be logical when there is nothing between you and the ground below you but a seat belt, especially when the pilot banks to turn on my side.
We flew over Helicopter Falls a lovely big waterfall with plenty of water coming over the top. The pilot told us it was fed from a spring so always had water in it unlike most of the falls in the national park where they were dry once the rains had ended. Once again we were flying over lush green country with water in the creeks. It seems that the Kimberly is at its best, when access to see most of it is extremely difficult from the ground. Soon we were at the national park.
Purnululu National park covers an area of 591,000 square acres with an adjacent conservation range of 196,600 square acres. The Bungle Bungle Range, the extraordinary array of domes, covers 109,150 square acres. Aboriginal people have lived in this area for more than 200,000 years and we flew over their summer community camp where they bring the children to learn their cultural heritage and skills. The national park was created in 1987 and in 2003 it was World Heritage listed for two reasons, the areas natural beauty and its outstanding geological value. Our pilot informed us that a film crew flew over the area when making a documentary about mustering cattle. The beauty of the area was recognised and the crew made a documentary on the Bungle Bungles, once shown it put the area firmly on the tourist map.
There are a number of gorges in the park which have walking trails in them; the helicopter is only allowed to fly over certain ones to prevent noise pollution for the walkers below. The first gorge we flew over was Piccaniny, the walking trail to base camp and return takes seven days. It starts off moderately easy and then the walker has to scramble over fallen boulders and loose rocks. Added to this you have to carry 5 litres of drinking water per day as well as all your camping gear. It is no wonder only ten people per year attempt it. It took us only a few minutes to fly down it. At the end of the gorge we reached the striking beehive-domed shapes of the Bungle Bungles. These domes are made of sandstone deposited around 360 million years ago, erosion by rivers, creeks and weathering has shaped them. The striking orange and grey bands are caused by cyonobacteria, which grows where moisture accumulates, causing the grey colour. In the 'dry' season the grey looses its intense colour to a less dark shade. The orange bands are oxidised iron components that have dried out too quickly for the cyonobacteria to grow. As we flew over them catching the early morning sunshine we could only marvel at the beauty beneath us.
Our pilot turned and started the journey home, flying over the access road and one of the camp sites, it all looked very deserted. We flew over two more gorges before leaving the area. Much of the national park is not accessible to the public as it is sacred ground to the Aborigines, however looking at it from the air there are so many small gorges leading off the main ones that it would be very easy for walkers to wander off and get lost if they had full access.
On the return journey the pilot pointed out in the distance the Argyle Diamond Mine. This mine produces about 30 million carets of diamonds a year, which represents about 25% of annual global output. These diamonds, which are renowned for their brilliance, are found in a range of colours, the most highly prized are the rare pink diamonds. The stones vary in colour from pale pink to intense purple reds and command prices up to 20 times that of white diamonds. The mine does run tours but Jeff wouldn't let me go, sorry girls that means 2007 Christmas presents will have to be something else.
After an hour trip we were back on the ground at Turkey Creek Road House. It was an exhilarating flight over a wonderful area and I am glad we did it. I will just have to come back again to do the 4 wheel drive tour. I left the helicopter with a numb left arm and I'm not sure if that was due to the draught whistling past me or from hanging on too tightly.