Purnululu and the Bungle Bungle

Purnululu National Park in The Kimberley in Western Australia is a World Heritage site, home to spectacular 500 meter tall orange sandstone domes of the Bungle Bungle Ranges. Aboriginal people have been living here for tens of thousands of years of course but amazingly Purnululu was not really known until the 1980s when a TV-crew flew over and filmed this huge magnificent area. It is a very significant site to the traditional owners and it’s easy to see and feel why when you visit this mysterious and magical semi-desert landscape of caves, gorges, chasms, creeks and last but not least – the mighty beehive shaped domes!

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Bungle Bungle Domes from above
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

When I spend time in the great outback of Australia I always wonder what it would be like to live here thousands of years ago in the traditional aboriginal way. In tropical Kakadu National Park with years of training and some help I reckon I could survive as a white aboriginal wannabe. There are rivers, plenty of water, wildlife, food and plants and great rock shelters to live in. In The Kimberley I would be in serious trouble but there are still shelters, gorges and water if you know where to find it; even if the climate is seriously hostile. In the desert I would simply die. I would die very happy but I would definitely die. How the desert people survived for thousands of years, finding food and water and surviving the heat in places like this is an incredible feat!

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Bungle Bungle domes in Piccaninny Creek
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Purnululu is semi-arid so it’s cold at night and then after sunrise it quickly becomes very hot, a burning hot unforgiving desert heat and I can’t help but wonder how people survived here. It truly takes incredible skill. I would surely perish but Purnululu is such an enchanting and amazing otherworldly place I wouldn’t mind travelling back in time and attempting to live here with a great mob of desert people! Who wouldn’t want to sit here every night and watch the sun set as shown in my favourite shot from Purnululu:

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Purnululu – Kungkalahayi lookout at dusk
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

In September I visited Purnululu National Park twice – and survived! We cheated though; as we brought food and water with us so not exactly living off the land in traditional way! Phenomenal Purnululu has quickly become one of my favourite places in Australia; it’s unlike anything else and a must-experience. Purnululu is accessed via a 54km 4WD only dirt road that is only open in the dry season. You need to bump along this bumpy road for a few hours and bring all essentials as there’s no food or drinking water available in here. You can get chopper lifted in from Kununurra and stay in the fancy permanent upmarket APT permanent tent camp but where’s the fun in that. No you bring your swag and stay at one of the two very basic bush camp sites and experience the outback the only proper way and prepare to be amazed! Be amazed by the outback experience, the towering 500 meter tall beehive shaped domes, the wondrous chasm, gorges and plains. Check your swag before sleeping though, there are some nasty foot long centipedes around and this being Australia they are of course venomous and they bite!

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Domes of Bungle Bungle Reflection
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Photographing Purnululu

The Bungles presents some fantastic world class landscapes and a great challenge as well. Like a lot of the outback you have to work for your compositions; nature is chaos and simplicity doesn’t come easy. Finding a way to fit 500 meter tall domes in the frame and show the scale and surrounding is a fun task! The Kimberley light is blindingly bright and harsh creating it’s own special exposure problems. And if you want those big pools of water with reflected domes in them, you need to go in April or May at the latest or everything will be dry as a bone! I had a bit of luck; arrived just after a big rainfall and had a bit of water as seen above. The first photo in my post is of course shot from a helicopter; a brilliant adrenaline ride as you fly above the domes with doors off! Landscapes from the air are very hard to pull off though and Purnululu is made harder by the hazy light when you’re high above the ranges. I am happy with my work from the Kungkalahayi lookout where I got several very nice shots and big panoramas:

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Kungkalahayi Cloudscape Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

But I can’t wait to return and take on the domes again as I feel I didn’t quite nail them this time around; and Cathedral Gorge and Echidna Chasm I also need to tackle again! While I wait; I’ll escape into photos like this and dream I am living at Purnululu!

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Purnululu Cloudscape at Sunset
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

– More Bungles images can be seen in my Kimberley gallery.

16 Comments on “Purnululu and the Bungle Bungle”

  1. Great Post Flemming.
    I bet thinking about living out there made you appreciate how easy we have it these days.
    Love the Kungkalahayi lookout image, awesome.

    I believe it would have been a slow transition for Aboriginal people to head into the desert, probably took 10,000 years to learn how to live out there. All the different language groups all would have had to have different survival tactics and methods. Australia is such a huge landscape with so many different Environmental Vegetation Classifications that constantly change, each environment would require a unique method for survival.

    I tell you I'm pretty comfortable here eating my food from the supermarket, but I do appreciate how people survive in arid area's.

  2. Flemming, that was an interesting read. I can't wait to get out there and shoot this landscape one day. It looks amazing! I have to agree with you about your favourite shot. That's definitely my fav from the photos you just posted.

    Keep the posts coming!


  3. This is a remarkable landscape, shown in these wonderful photos of yours. I know i will never get to Australia in my lifetime, but as a life-long fascination with deserts have prompted several of my travels to deserts in North America, I truly appreciate the effort and resource it has taken you to return to this region that so persists in calling you back, repeatedly.
    It is absolutely astounding to think that even in such harsh climate human beings have managed to take a foothold and persist, to develop a culture and a way of subsisting within the region. This thought sure drives home just how soft my whole life has been. G

  4. Thomas, thanks very much mate. I agree it would have taken many generations to learn desert survival skills, but that doesn't make it any less impressive.

    Beau, thanks mate. I'll keep the posts coming, I really enjoy writing posts like these although they do take some time to pen.

    Suburbanlife, thanks very much. Glad you like the story and my photos. It does indeed drive home how incredibly safe and soft lives we lead, sometimes I get really sick of it all and wish conditions were much more challenging. We as people can get soft and annoying from being brought up in super safe environments.

  5. once again this show's why you're so good at what you do. these are all fantastic shot's, and you're there saying you didn't nail it! looking forward to when you do if that's the case. 🙂

    just love the sunset image. the small spinifex is brilliant, and hey..it's a desaturated sky I like 🙂
    fit's so well with the image. especially with the vignette too.

    i can see the second shot's composition becoming even more magic with water in those grooves. would make an awesome lead in.

    and the other images aren't exactly shabby either! the lone tree is great, and the pano with the golden spinifex ( think we've seen that before? or part of anyway). think this is my favourite post of your trip 🙂

  6. Thanks heaps for your comment Stephen, very happy you like the post and the photos! I think the post on Hawk Dreaming (In the footsteps of the Bunitj clan) is probably the best written post, but Purnulu is my favourite new location. Just stunning, absolute amazing and I had never been there before.

    The sunset image has a normal sky actually 🙂 No desat here, it's just so late dusk that it's close to darkness but a 5 second exposure picked up these glowing orange afterglow colours.

    Thanks Stephen!

  7. well that explains why i like it then haha. 🙂

    yeah you do have quite a few great posts, I always look forward to your new ones. have you ever traveled anywhere else? it seems like Oz is your main destination. not that there's anywhere else you'd want to of course 🙂

  8. Why would I go anywhere else but the outback? 🙂 It's home! And I can't very well be obsessed with more than one continent at a time!
    Well, been to Africa once and loved it, going back to Africa in March and April to capture me some desert!

  9. Another most interesting post Flemming !
    It's so true about the light up there – especially late dry-build up season with huge amounts of moisture,smoke and dust haze present.
    Purnululu is a pretty awesome spot that is for sure ! I hope to get back there again myself sometime soon for another experience and crack at som better photographs.
    I like the panoramic version of of the dusk lookout image best personally ! (I think you have it amongst the wallpapers ?)
    I'm very buggered and in desperate need of rest/sleep before another big workday coming up…christmas…urgh ! hehe

  10. Thanks heaps Tony, glad you like it! Still to come is my full "Kimberley light" article, it really is spectacularly challenging conditions!
    The panorama is not quite one of the wallpapers, but it's about the same view. Different night though.
    We want to see your new shots mate, tell your workplace photography comes first 😀

  11. Really nice and powerfull presentation of the places you conquered as always. I really like the photos. they are compositionally perfect and also enhance the beauty of the landscape.

    P.S. I put link to my photos as well, but not to PBase but Redbubble. When one puts the mouse on the photo the small image thumb of the linked site shows up. I wonder how do you that your PBase thumbnail is not showing when moving the mouse over the image. Thanks.

  12. Thanks heaps John, thanks very much for those kind words!

    I don't quite follow you re. thumbnails, do you mean here on WordPress, on Pbase or on Redbubble?
    If you mean that WordPress feature with the preview image over all links, I turned that feature off as I don't like it.

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