10 days in the Bungle Bungles and East Kimberley

I’ve seen more of Australia in the past three years than I have in the past three decades, and the Kimberley is definitely one of the most spectacular parts of the country. We spent ten days in this vast region earlier this year – visiting Lake Argyle, exploring the breathtaking Bungle Bungle Range, swimming at magical waterfalls at El Questro, and indulging in some remote luxury at the Berkeley River Lodge. It was just enough time for a taste of the Kimberley. We are already planning our next trip!

Here’s our East Kimberley itinerary.

Day 1: Lake Argyle and Kununurra

We fly into Kununurra from Darwin, drop our bags at the Kimberley Grande Hotel, and drive out to Lake Argyle in our rented 4WD. It’s an easy one-hour drive – giving us plenty of time for lunch at the holiday park (great burgers), a swim in the pool ($10 for visitors), and an afternoon cruise on this 1000km2 expanse of water.

If you’re doing the sunset cruise – don’t forget your togs! Plunging into the cool water, and swigging a glass of sparkling wine as the sun sets over the lake is an experience not to be missed. Lake Argyle – formed by the Ord River dam – is one of the largest manmade lakes in the southern hemisphere. It’s home to thousands of freshwater crocs, but we are assured salties (the dangerous ones) can’t get up the dam wall!

Sunset at Lake Argyle. Image: John Fison

Day 2: Kununurra to Bungle Bungles

The 350 million year old sandstone domes of the Bungle Bungle Range lie in the Purnululu National Park – 300km south west of Kununurra. The World Heritage listed site is a surreal landscape of beehive-like outcrops, deep red gorges, slot canyons and vibrant green Livinstonia palms. It’s one of Australia’s most incredible geological formations, and an absolute must if you’re in the Kimberley. It is remote – so many visitors choose to fly in and stay at one of the wilderness lodges inside the park. We’ve opted to drive – grabbing a few essential in Kununurra and then heading 250 km down the Great Northern Highway (don’t forget to fill up with petrol at the Warmun Roadhouse) to the Purnululu turnoff. From here it’s 53km to the park information centre – which doesn’t sound far, but don’t be fooled – it’s a rough dirt track with up to five creek crossings. A 4WD is a must and the drive can take up to 2 hours.

Piccaninny Gorge. Image John Fison

From the information centre there are two options. To the north of the park is Echidna Chasm – a spectacular slot canyon, surrounded by Livistonia palms. At the southern end of the park you’ll find the famous domes, Cathedral Gorge and Piccaninny Creek. We arrive mid afternoon, so we only have time to visit the northern end of the park on the first day – enjoying a respite from the heat in the eerie narrow chasm, and walking through the beautiful palm forest. The following day we get going before daybreak to explore the southern section of the range. It is totally worth the effort. We have this breathtaking landscape to ourselves in the early morning light. The scale, the colours, the beauty – have to be seen to be believed.

Bungle Bungles. Image: John Fison

Pack lots of water and snacks. It might be cool at first light, but the gorge heats up very quickly!

Cathedral Gorge. Image: Julie Fison

We spend two nights in a comfortable cabin at the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park – which is just 1km in from the highway. It’s a fantastic spot – a beautiful bush setting, a great BBQ in the evenings, a cute caravan bar, a communal fire pit and helpful staff. It does mean we’ve got the long dirt track to contend with to get into the park. But it’s a small price to pay for exploring this magnificent site. To fully appreciate the scale of the domes, you’ll need to get into air. Scenic helicopter rides and tours can be booked at the caravan park.

Day 3: El Questro Station

El Questro is a massive wilderness park at the eastern end of the famous Gibb River Road. It’s a three-hour drive from the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park – back up the Great Northern Highway (83km west of Kununurra). We’re only staying for one night, but the area warrants a lot more time to explore the many waterfalls and rivers. If you’re on a tight schedule – don’t miss Emma Gorge. The rock pool is a one hour walk from the car park area, over boulders and uneven ground, but definitely worth the hike.

Enjoy a refreshing dip at Emma Gorge, El Questro. Image: Julie Fison

You can get a great lunch at the bistro, and camp at Emma Gorge, but we’re spending the night further down the track at El Questro station. Lots of accommodations options to choose from here – ranging from camping, to permanent tents, or a luxury stay at the Homestead. The Station, which is the camping hub, has a lively bar and good pub-style food, and gets very busy. We shared the site with more than 400 cyclists who’d just finished the Gibb River challenge. Quite a celebration!

The other site not to miss while you’re at El Questro is Zebedee Springs. The thermal pools are open from 7am-12pm, but it’s worth getting here just before gates open to secure a rock pool. Relaxing in a thermal pool on a chilly morning, surrounded by towering Livinstonia palms, is magical. It’s not quite the same when the crowds arrive!

Livinstonia palms at Zebedee Springs. Image: John Fison

Day 4: Berkeley River Lodge

Berkeley River Lodge is a remote piece of paradise on the Kimberley coast – an hour’s flight from Kununurra. No need to worry about maps, petrol stations, or flat tyres here. Everything is organised for you! Expect great food, stunning sunrises, boat trips, crocodiles and amazing sunsets. And if you go for a helicopter safari you will also see incredible indigenous rock art. An unforgettable experience.

Day 9: Darwin

It’s not easy to drag ourselves away from the remote luxury of Berkeley River Lodge. Civilisation always seems so uncivil after a few days off the grid. At least we have a night in Darwin to ease the transition. Love this city – especially if it involves dinner at Little Miss Korea!

Happy travelling!

Julie

Published by Julie Fison

Julie Fison is an author, blogger and travel lover. Her books include the Hazard River adventure series for kids and stories in the Choose Your Own Ever After series for readers who like to decide how the story goes. Her blog Welcome to My World features tips for midlife travel, writing and other good stuff.

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