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Piccaninny Gorge, the Bungle Bungles

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September 2 11 minute read

Within the World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park lies the spectacular Piccaninny Gorge, the largest within the Bungle Bungle Range. It’s a multi-day hike, and it’s one of the few places you’re likely to escape the crowds at this popular Kimberley destination.

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For us, this hike was the first adventure on our month-long Kimberley trip. To give us a little extra time, Gen flew to Broome while I drove. I picked her up on my way through, and after a night at Fitzroy Crossing, we drove the final stretch to the Bungles turnoff and then wound our way up to the Ranger Station.

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We’d booked a campsite online at Walardi, the southernmost site closest to the start of the hike. Then, at the Ranger Station, we purchased our permit for hiking up Piccaninny Gorge, showed them our Personal Location Beacon (PLB) and signed in and listed the ETA for our completion. It’s compulsory to carry a PLB on the hike, and the Parks and Wildlife Service hire them if you don’t have your own.

We had every intention of organising our packs that night at Walardi, but after the big drive, we were exhausted and didn’t get much further than dinner before bed. Pre-trip had been hectic for us too, so our plans to have our packs ready to go had crumbled, and so instead we had lobbed some gear into duffle bags hoping for the best. Miraculously, we didn’t forget anything significant, but leaky water bladders had us repacking and problem-solving as the cool of the morning started to slip by.

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With our packs sorted, and the camper packed away, we made the short drive around to the Piccanninny Creek car park. The Piccaninny Gorge walk is up and back, which makes logistics easy. We secure our solar panels on the camper to keep the batteries of the camper and 4WD charged and then finally started hiking.

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I always find the first hour or so of a multi-day hike a little disconcerting. It’s usually an effort to get to the start, and my head wonders what I’ve forgotten, worries about navigation or water sources, my pack feels heavy, and I start to contemplate becoming an exclusively 4WD explorer.

But then I find my rhythm, and I’m quickly reminded of the joy of living simply from a pack and exploring someplace special under your own steam. On this hike, the mesmerising orange and black domes know as Bungle Bungle surrounded us almost from the onset, which certainly helped transport me into the now.

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While it’s only 7km / 4.3mi to the Elbow, where the creek twists left and tightens to form the bottom of the Piccaninny Gorge, it’s a long walk. However, the Parks and Wildlife Service describes the hike as ‘relatively easy’, and while it isn’t technical, it’s hot and uphill with long sections of sand and river stones and a few obstacles to scramble around for good measure.

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By the time we arrived at our campsite near Black Rock Pool, roughly 1.5km / 0.9mi upstream of the Elbow, we were spent. But with our packs and boots off and the tent pitched, we recuperated and could soak up the magnitude of our surroundings. 

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While we had this brochure/map of the hike, we’d struggled to find much information, especially about whether there was water at Black Rock Pool. It turns out there was beautiful freshwater, so we’d lugged litres and heavy packs uphill in the sun in vain!

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We’d made our camp just up from the main creek bed, and later that afternoon, we met a guy named Nic. He appeared from the rocky creek line with an enormous smile and load of water for the group he was guiding for Trek Tours Australia. Nic is a veteran of many of Australia’s classic hikes, and his enthusiasm and tips for this area had us excited for what lay ahead.  

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A few people had advised that three days was plenty for this hike. But with it being a solid hike in and out, in hindsight, we would have allowed an extra couple of days to explore properly. 

We ended choosing to camp near Black Rock Pool both nights and do a day hike up through the Piccaninny Gorge and partially into the first side gorge or finger.

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With light day loads, we headed up the steep-walled gorge. It’s a spectacular place! In contrast to the previous day, the walls were vertical and close, the shade plentiful.

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After enjoying a long lunch soaking up the views in the side gorge and realising we’d just touched the surface of this incredible place, it was time for us to return down to our camp.

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It’s rare to return to a ready-made camp on this type of trip. It was great to have both time and energy at camp to fetch water, drink coffee and enjoy ourselves. It’s funny how sometimes the simplest moments of a trip can be amongst the most enjoyable.

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Determined not to make the same mistake twice, we packed up early and missed the worst of the heat on our return to the vehicle. In addition, we were used to our packs, they were far lighter, and it was downhill, making the final day another great day of walking.

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Arriving back to our LandCruiser meant cold drinks. And after heading to the Ranger Station to sign out, we set up at Camp Kurrajong and fired up the shower on our new camper for the first time. It was a luxurious end to a memorable hike!

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Mike Collister has spent his life outdoors. He has represented Australia as a slalom kayaker, guided whitewater expeditions in Nepal, and taught outdoor education and wilderness medicine. He’s paddled the Kimberley’s Fitzroy River in the wet season and across the Bass Strait and is an avid photographer, overlander and camper.