Kimberley: Blatting around the Bungle Bungles

Diana Plater gets a different perspective on Australia's stunning Kimberley region.
The Kimberley's Bungle Bungles look spectacular from the air. Photo / Tourism WA
The Kimberley's Bungle Bungles look spectacular from the air. Photo / Tourism WA

We're in a helicopter with the doors wide open flying over the magnificent Bungle Bungles in the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park of the East Kimberley. The wind is whooshing through the cabin and my hair has turned into a bird's nest. But what does that matter when you are swooping down over gorges dotted with trees carved into this 350 million year-old landscape?

This has to be the highlight of my week in the Kimberley, which includes seven flights over this vast land.

When I first came up this way in the late 1970s, I saw most of it by foot, horseback or from the driver's seat of a very battered red Falcon ute.

My main view from behind my steering wheel was of miles of dusty, corrugated roads, red dirt streaming through every part of my car. Insects splattering on to the windshield made it difficult to spot the potholes and sudden dips in the road.

Taking in the view from a helicopter or a small plane gives a totally different perspective, providing a sense of how vast this land is.

The huge cattle stations and scattered Aboriginal communities have relied on this mode of transport for years.

Known as the Kimberley Aerial Highway, a series of landing strips feature on the landscape, providing access to gorges, waterfalls, remote beaches and pearl farms.

But now a flight over the Horizontal Falls leaving from Broome or one to the Bungle Bungles or El Questro Wilderness Park in the East Kimberley is on many bucket lists.

And if you are here in late May, you can combine this with the activities and concerts of the Ord Valley Muster, including the Airnorth Kimberley Moon Experience, a dinner and concert on the banks of the Ord River in Kununurra.

On our first breathtaking flight, taking us to Cape Leveque for a swim and breakfast and then back to Broome over King Sound, the Kimbolton Ranges and the Buccaneer Archipelago, we learn the islands below are 1.8 billion to 2.4 billion years old - the tips of ancient mountains.

About 15,000 years ago, the coastline was 150km further out to sea on the continental shelf; King Sound was created when the ice caps melted and the sea level rose over the shallow shelf, flooding the low-lying areas and valleys.

This coastline is known for its huge tides: when the sun and the moon are aligned on a full or a new moon every two weeks at spring tide, the ocean is pulled out towards the northwest of WA, speeding up as it hits the shallow continental shelf, then bottlenecking as it passes between Australia and Indonesia.

The Horizontal Falls are caused by this huge volume of water being forced through two narrow cliff passages.

Back on the tarmac in Broome, we chat to Andrew Grace, the owner of Kimberley Aviation.

He found that as well as seeing this stunning landscape, tourists also want to engage with the people of the Kimberley, so he has devised tours including those to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek, in the Napier Range in the West Kimberley, where an Aboriginal guide relays the story of Jandamarra, the late-19th century Bunuba outlaw who was believed to have magical powers including being able to turn into a bird and fly.

Known as Pigeon to the European settlers, he was finally shot dead after leading a lengthy armed rebellion.

You can see indigenous depictions of the Kimberley landscape at the Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery in Kununurra, where artists paint in natural pigments on stretched canvases. Many of the paintings look as if the artists were in a plane when they produced them.

Checklist

GETTING THERE
Qantas flies daily from Auckland to Perth (via Melbourne or Sydney), with Economy Class return flightsstarting from $1052. qantas.co.nz

ONLINE
westernaustralia.com.

- AAP

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