Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Camping in the Bungle Bungles

Over the past few weeks, whenever we have said we were going into the Bungles, whomever we were talking to says things like: “in that?”, “I suppose you might make it”; “the rivers are not more than 600 mm deep at this time of the year” etc etc. It took me some while to realise that few of them have actually driven in and even the person we were talking to last night who was talking very knowledgably about it this year, suddenly  admitted he had not been in for a couple of years. So we got to the turnoff

Bungles Turnoff

for the Bungles and went inside with a certain amount of trepidation but

Pat opening Bungles Gate

assuming that a combination of the strength of the van, careful driving and the 4WD training we had received would get us there with little worry. And dear reader – that was the case.

The track is certainly very rough and bumpy and some of the river

First River Crossing

crossings are tricky mainly because the banks have been worn away at the entrance and exit and what remains is quite steep. The hardest thing to do at river crossings is to keep your foot away from the clutch and the brake – the technique is to decide on your route (having assessed the crossing and any difficulties first before becoming committed to the actual traverse), change gear stick two into “Low 4WD”, get gear stick one into second gear, foot off the clutch and away from the brake and let it move forward, never stopping and using the accelerator if it shows signs of halting. Once across, crawl up the exit incline to the top, then stop and breath again.

Despite the rigours of the track, we managed to make a steady 40 km/hr and in under two hours we had got to the Visitor Centre where we registered and paid our overnight fees for sleeping in the park ($10 pp per night). The greatest hazard on the journey was vehicles coming out of the

Vehicle Dust

park driving at higher than advisable speeds on every side of the track. Whenever there is a vehicle a few hundred metres in front or one passes going the other way, the road ahead disappears in a cloud of fine dust which can take ages to disperse. At that point, the only safe thing to do is to slow right down or stop.

I suspect that one of the reasons the track into the Bungles has is left very rough, full of potholes, bull dust (very fine talc like dust filling holes in the track), endless corrugations designed to shake the vehicle constantly and a number of difficult rivers to drive through is to discourage people from going into the Bungles. This does not stop however quite a few cars making the trek each day plus too many tourist 4WD coaches bringing in day trippers.

Our campsite is a part of the bush where the Park Rangers have cut back

Camp Site in Bungles

the trees and undergrowth to create a single vehicle lay by. There is

Long Drop Toilet

a “long drop” toilet near by (a waterless loo where everything drop a long way down and is composted") and bore hole water to supplement the 50 litres we have brought with us.

It starts getting dark about 1645 and as it does so, thankfully the temperature starts to go down. As in all arid areas, it is very hot during the day and very cold at night. Our plan is to eat about dusk (Pasta and Sauce) and then go to sleep around 9 pm and get up at dawn for a walk through one of the canyons before the heat gets up.

Because there is absolutely no light pollution in the Bungle Bungle, the Stars are the best we have ever seen in our lives – the Milky Way goes

Stars from the Bungles

across the whole sky and there are so many stars, naming any of them is impossible for us (above is an attempt at a long exposure picture of the stars).

Even though we are over 100 miles from the nearest town and in one of the most isolated areas of Australia, my small Roberts radio manages to track down a very distant station broadcasting the second test from Lords – the signal keeps fading but I manage to hear the moment when England win the Test Match thus ending more than 70 years of Australian victories at Lords – something to crow about over the next few days whenever I meet an Australian. It is strange to think of James probably listening to the same broadcast in the UK at the same time and being just as delighted as I am even though over 10,000 miles separate us.

We need to do a certain amount of driving each day in order to keep our 12v  van battery charged (the one that powers the fridge and cabin lights) and therefore we are staying at two camp sites some 50 kms apart over our time here and swapping between them each night.

The Bungle Bungles themselves

The Bungles look from the ground just as they did from the air – very strange and quite awesome.

Bungle 1

The reason that the rock looks as it does is because 300 million years ago, rivers deposited layers of sand which in time were compressed into sand stone. Geological movement created mountains which then eroded and weathered into the shapes seen in the park. Some layers of sand have higher levels of clay than others and because they hold moisture better, these support an organism called cyanobacteria which lives in the top few millimetres of the sandstone. This creates the dark band. Orange bands come from sandstone with lower clay levels without bacteria which oxidise to become a rusty colour.

Being Sandstone, there has been lots of erosion over the past millions of years. Cathedral Gorge is absolutely amazing example of this. One enters

Entrance to Cathederal

a ravine running through the rock of the Bungles and this winds its way into the rock face for about 500metres. Then it opens up into the most

Cathederal Cavern

enormous space, part hole through to the sky some 200 metres above and part cave and in the centre is a rock pool. It is large enough to hold a couple of cathedrals and all created from natural rock movements and

Cathederal Cavern 2

water erosion over the past millions of years. There are trees seeming to grow upside down out of the cliff face, roots at

Upside down Tree

the top hanging onto the rock for dear life and trunk hanging down the cliff face and the colours of rock and banding goes on forever into the sky. It is very cool in there and a welcome relief to the very hot midday sun outside.

Echidna Chasm is in the same chain of Bungles and is a very different affair. This time you walk up a stream bed into the face of the mountain and gradually the walls close in on you and get higher and higher until in

Echidna narrowing

some places, the chasm itself is barely wider than your body but it towers

 Narrowing Echidna

over 200 metres above you where you can just make out light. There are

Pat in Echidna

also some larger openings – all with a very eerie feel about them.

The Kungkalahayi lookout provides a viewing point for the face of the Bungles at sunset and this goes through the most amazing set of colour changes. The sequence below will be stitched together when we get back to the UK to create one long picture but in the meantime, try to imagine these as one photograph.

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And so we left the Bungle Bungles – the same way we came in, along one of the bumpiest roads we have driven – both absolutely amazed by what we had seen and agreeing that it would be up the top of our “greatest places in the world”

Leaving the Bungles

We were surprised to find out that the number of visitors per annum to the Bungles (some 40,000 per annum) only just exceeds that to Antarctica. That we have been members of both groups this year is a privilege.

Question: Why is it called the Bungle Bungle? Answer: No one really knows.

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