What a Fantastic Flight!
Missing out on touring the Horizontal Falls was very disappointing indeed, yet Dean and I quickly discussed if there was ‘something else’ we could do. A flight over the Bungle Bungle Range seemed like a good idea until we had trouble finding a company that was not closed for the wet season.
In all honesty, I do understand they have the minimal cost they need to recuperate, but as it turned out, after being told there were no scheduled tours, enough ‘other tourists’ enquired and Kingfisher Tours put on a flight.
We were thrilled and quickly booked our 2½ hour Purnululu Explorer flight. More than that though, this was the extended tour that also included other spectacular areas of the East Kimberley.
This rather exciting turn of events though meant we had to leave Lake Argyle and return to Kununurra, 70.6 kilometres away (43.1 miles). But as half that distance was to reach the highway, it wasn’t so bad driving back in a westerly direction for 20 minutes or so.
Our flight was described as ‘a photographer’s delight’, flying over the Bungle Bungle Range (The Bungles), Argyle Diamond Mine, Cockburn Ranges, and the lower Ord River. We could hardly wait and woke at 4:30 am to ensure we were ready for our chauffeur-driven ride to the airport at 5:30 am.
Our driver, a lovely young lady, had a moment of panic when she reversed the van down a slight embankment and onto some squishy grass. Struggling to go forward and back onto the road, she confessed she normally drives an automatic and doesn’t like manuals (stick shift). With everyone offering suggestions regarding ‘how to’, Dean came to her rescue and took the wheel, driving the ‘mini bus’ back onto the road.
Arriving at the airport, I think we were all surprised to discover our chauffeur was also our pilot.
We departed Kununurra airport aboard a GA8 Airvan, a little seven-seater, single engine something or other, and headed south along Lake Kununurra and passed lush Sandalwood plantations. Sandalwood is a big industry in the fertile plains of the Ord River Irrigation Area around Kununurra.
From there we were soon flying over Spillway Creek with the incredible expanse of Lake Argyle spread out before us. We saw Bow River which also flows into Lake Argyle (and I thought of Cold Chisel), and soon enough we were passing over the Osmond Ranges with their unique wave-like formations.
I told Dean to have a good look as they were the only waves he’d seen for quite some time.
From there it was onto The Bungles located within the world heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, with their distinctive beehive-shaped towers made up of sandstones and conglomerates clearly visible. The unusual orange and dark grey banding on these remarkable cone-like rock formations are caused by differences in the layers of sandstone. The orange-coloured layers are stained with iron and manganese mineral deposits. The darker bands are caused by algal growth.
The Bungles are (about) 350 million years old. Originally part of an ancient river bed, the sandstone layers were compressed and then lifted to form a mountain range. Over hundreds of millions of years, erosion from the wind and rain created these unique sandstone shapes that we see today.
Aboriginal people have been living in the area for over 20,000 years and continue to maintain a very strong connection with this ancient landscape.
It’s incredible to think that the range remained largely unknown until 1982 when filmmakers arrived and produced a documentary about the Kimberley. Until then, it was only appreciated by the local Aborigines and a few stockmen.
The area was gazetted as a National Park in 1987 and inscribed as a World Heritage area in 2003 because it is an: “Outstanding landscape that is an incomparable natural phenomenon.”
At its highest point, the range is 578 metres above sea level (1,896.3 feet).
They are a treasure and a wonder to behold. Driving into the national park, I imagine it would be difficult to fully appreciate the sheer, and complete, the enormity of The Bungles. Though next time I’d like to take a walk around these amazing structures and see them up close and personal.
After flying a loop around The Bungles, we then headed north to the Argyle Diamond Mine. Responsible for 90% of the world’s pink diamonds, it’s easy to understand why the Pink Argyle Diamond is so expensive. Only found in the East Kimberley, an entire year’s yield can fit in the palm of your hand.
After gazing upon the open pit of the mine, all of which will be filled in when operations are due to cease in 2019, the rest of the flight was (for me anyway) simply the journey back to where we’d started, but still spectacular all the same.
We continued north towards El Questro, a million-acre cattle station turned wilderness park, with its famous cliff-hanging homestead. After leaving El Questro, we continued along the Pentecost River to Home Valley Station, with the spectacular Cockburn Ranges in full view to the east.
We passed over the historic town of Wyndham, the lower Ord River wetlands and irrigation area, flying low to see if we could spot any crocodiles baking in the sun, before finally returning to Kununurra – 350 nautical miles, and more than three hours, later.
Our pilot Ash may have struggled to drive a van that didn’t have an automatic gearbox, but by golly, she can fly a plane.
It was a thrill of a ride, the scenery beautiful and breathtaking, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Bungle Bungle Range