Cathedral Gorge in the Bungle Bungles Western Australia

Twenty million years in the making and the Bungle Bungles Ranges in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia are gloriously spectacular.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they form part of Purnululu National Park. Although the Bungle Bungles had been well known to local aboriginal people for many thousands of years, and a few lucky stockmen since the early 1900s, they were really revealed to the world only in 1983 when a television documentary crew when into the area after a tip off form a stockman they’d met in a pub.

For once the Western Australian moved quickly, and it wasn’t long before they were protected and given national park status.

I was privileged to visit it on an Adventure Wild 12 day camping tour of the Kimberley.

It is the odd domed shape of the ranges which is their outstanding feature. Although the sandstone was laid down about 360 million years ago, the erosion has only occurred in the past 20 million years. This erosion has caused beehive-like dome formations that are layered with different coloured rock, and has created many gorges which give access to the inner parts of the Bungle Bungles.

One of the most spectacular gorges is called Cathedral Gorge, the sides of which are so tall they would dwarf most of the world’s tallest cathedrals.

The best access to Cathedral Gorge is from the Picaninny Creek car park, for the three kilometre return walk.

The walk is not difficult, but it does require a couple a fairly easy climbs. For much of the way you follow a creek bed, so it is difficult to get lost. Depending on the time of the year there may or may not be water in the creek.

There are two seasons in the Kimberley, the wet and the dry. The park is open only from April 1 to December 31st each year, after which the heaviest of the rains begin, and those dry creek beds turn into torrents that are inaccessible.

That short walk into Cathedral Gorge is well worth the effort as you enter a rocky amphitheatre through a narrow entrance that reveals almost 360 degrees of 200 metre-high vertical walls. The most prominent feature is a pond which nestles beneath a large overhang, where there is evidence of a rockfall of indeterminate age. It is massive, and it is definitely cathedral-like.

One feature which most people miss, because they don’t know about it, is the world’s second biggest fault line, after California’s San Andreas Fault, where you can see a mighty slab of rock that has shifted several metres during an earthquake which probably occurred many millions of years ago.

It is a powerful experience to just sit in Cathedral Gorge and enjoy its majesty, and contemplate on the natural forces which created this impressive arena.

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