top of page





Words & Photography Gary Annett

There’s a monsoonal low hanging over the east Kimberley as we set off for Piccaninny Gorge, nestled within the Bungle Bungle Range in the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park. Torrential rain has been soaking this secluded corner of the East Kimberley for the past week and it has been raining heavily overnight. It’s the kind of weather that makes most people hunker down at home and binge-watch Netflix, but we know now is the time to get out and experience something most people never get an opportunity to see - the iconic Bungle Bungle Range during the Kimberley’s wet season.


LOW-LYING CLOUD HANGS OVER THE BUNGLE BUNGLE RANGE and cascading water follows the curves of these unique sandstone formations as we set off on our 3-day - 20km - hike. It is reminiscent in some ways of Uluru in the wet season - white water tracing lines along the curves of these unusual, banded beehive-shaped domes.


Purnululu is known for these distinctive cone karst sandstone formations which attract people from all over the world. Normally the domes glow orange and gold in the early morning light, and red at sunset, but today they are silvery grey and black almost - like the wet season has leeched them of their bold colours. As well as this unique geology, the formations are recognised internationally for their outstanding natural beauty which is no less evident today.

PURNULULU NATIONAL PARK IS CLOSED between December and March due to seasonal flooding. The unsealed access track is often impassable after heavy rain, the tracks can be boggy and the creeks rise and fall quickly.


During the tourist season the area receives little - or no - rainfall between April and October, with many of the creeks reduced to fine white sand and rounded river rocks. But during the wet season the place is alive.


We have been living and working in the park since early November, enjoying watching as the Kimberley is transformed by the wet season storms - the place slowly getting greener and wetter by the day.

There's a nervous excitement in the air as we follow our initial path through the domes. With Ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake tracking west over the east Kimberley we are expecting heavy rain and potential flooding today and tomorrow so there’s lots of unknowns. We’re not sure how far we’ll make it along Piccaninny Creek. And we can’t help but wonder if we’ll find ourselves cut off by rising waters and waiting for the creek to fall. 

OUR FIRST BIG ATTRACTION early in the walk is the breathtaking Cathedral Gorge. With its vaulted sandstone ceiling and natural amphitheatre, the gorge is humbling at the best of times. It is the kind of place that encourages people to slow down, to talk in hushed tones, and to be moved by the scale of the place. It is simply magical.


The Cathedral Gorge waterfall only flows after heavy rain - usually during the wet season when the park is closed - so it has been seen only by a privileged few. Today the waterfall is framed by golden sandstone, the soft sand untouched, with rain falling through the opening above. It is a sight to behold.

We swim. We take photos. We take the time to soak it all up and appreciate just how lucky we are to have access at this time of the year. It is the kind of access many people dream off and we’re keen to make the most of the opportunity. 


A LITTLE ANXIOUS TO SEE WHAT LIES AHEAD, we drag ourselves away from Cathedral Gorge and we start to follow Piccaninny Creek upstream. With rain still beating down, the creek is flowing fast in places as it carves its way through the Bungle Bungle Range.

The water we’re walking through ultimately ends up in the upper Ord River - the second biggest river in the Kimberley - before flowing into Lake Argyle, and further north past Kununurra and into the Cambridge Golf near Wyndham. It's an almost 400km journey from Cathedral Gorge. And it all starts here - what feels like a million miles from civilisation. This water is arguably the beating heart of the Bungle Bungle Range during the wet season.


AS WE FOLLOW PICCANINNY CREEK UPSTREAM we find ourselves forced to cross the creek, and cross again, as the banks of the creek give way to sheer cliff faces. Shuffling our feet slowly in front of us, feeling for potholes and washouts in the creek bed, we carry our packs above our head at times. There’s enough force in the water to make us a little unsteady - and strong enough to reinforce what we already know - if the creek rises any higher we might have to sit tight and wait for it to fall again before proceeding, or retreating. At one crossing, we lose our footing, grabbing for the nearest tree to steady ourselves It’s exciting and a little nerve wrecking. 

BECAUSE OF THE VOLUME OF WATER IN THE CREEK, we talk about the merits - and risks -of going further. We’re starting to think maybe we’ve bitten off more than we can chew so we break left off Piccaninny Creek and follow the walking track towards Whipsnake Gorge. All around us water cascades off the domes, small waterfalls forming where two domes join together.

Like Cathedral Gorge, the Whipsnake Gorge waterfall is in full flow. This gorge is a lesser-known attraction in the park - usually dry during the tourist season - but today it is as impressive as any other waterfall in the Kimberley. The sheer force of the water makes it clear how these gorges and rounded domes are created - millions of years of seasonal flooding and erosion washing away one grain of sand at a time.


It’s now late afternoon and we’re getting a little cold after several hours of being wet. We find a sheltered corner amongst the domes and spinifex grass and pitch our tent for the night, enjoying instant noodles and a cup of hot tea, before drying off and crawling into bed. Ordinarily, not many people have a reason to camp out here. The designated campgrounds and wilderness lodges in the park offer a lot more convenience but, admittedly, not the same sense of adventure. There's definitely something special about feeling like you've got the place all for yourself. 

As we crawl into our tent, it's nice to be out of the rain for the first time in 9hrs but, as it turns out, there’s not a lot of sleep, as the wind and the rain batter the tent through the night. The ground is so soft we expect the tent pegs to get ripped out at any moment. I can see why most people stay at home in weather like this. But where's the fun in that. 




The morning brings a welcome break from the rain but it’s still grey and moody. We enjoy a quick breakfast and a coffee as we look out over the domes. The place is lush and green, raindrops beading on the vegetation. It’s obvious Piccaninny Creek has risen further overnight and the creek is full. We know we’ve got a bit of a slog ahead to reach Piccaninny Gorge and Blackrock Falls. 


AS WE FOLLOW PICCANINNY CREEK UPSTREAM, the domes become larger and more imposing. It's like something from a dinosaur movie - The Land That Time Forgot. We find ourselves torn between walking in the creek itself - the freshly deposited sediment almost sucking the hiking boots off our feet - or braving the needle-sharp spinifex grass that lines either side of the creek. No easy options, but spectacular views in every direction.

It was the poet Edgar A. Guest who wrote "Life is strange with its twists and turns. As every one of us sometimes learns". It's in moments like this, having grown up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that I find myself wondering how I ended up in such a magnificent place - a place that challenges and excites in equal measure. A place that quietens the mind and settles the soul.


FINALLY, AFTER A SLOW 4 OR 5 KILOMETRES WE ROUND 'THE ELBOW' where the domes give way to the spectacular Piccaninny Gorge. The gorge itself stretches for 3 kilometres before branching off into 5 side gorges, known as the Five Fingers. Vertical walls of sandstone tower up to 120 metres on either side and orange rock, stained black by successive rainfall, tells the story of a much larger range that has been carved up and deeply incised. 


As the water makes it way east, then west around The Elbow, the gorge it leaves behind is a thing of rugged beauty. This is not a dormant relic, but a landscape that is evolving and being shaped one wet season at a time. Undoubtedly it is a bush-walker's – and nature lover's – wonderland, and a place seen by very few who visit the park. It is without doubt a place of unspoiled nature, a place far removed from the 21st century, and place to lose yourself in a timeless landscape.  


At the start of Piccaninny Gorge we follow a smaller creek which leads to a hidden oasis.

There is another cascading waterfall and dappled sun breaks through for just a moment. 


In a nutshell, this is what the Kimberley is all about. You never know what’s around the next corner – what dead end or hidden gem awaits. It is a place that rewards those who take the time to get out and explore, and those who take the time to slow down. 

We find ourselves thinking of those who have called Purnululu home for thousands of years - the local Kija and Jaru traditional owners. For them, the Bungle Bungle Range and Piccaninny Gorge is evidence of the Wandjina - ancestral beings who carved up the landscape and are now an inseparable part of what we see here today. For visitors and locals alike it is a spiritual place. And it is the perfect place to rest and catch our breath.


A little further along Piccaninny Gorge and we reach our destination - the incredible Blackrock Falls. Despite living in the Kimberley for almost 11 years, this is another Kimberley first for me - and a new Kimberley highlight. Another ephemeral waterfall that only flows after heavy rain, and remote enough that only a handful of people have ever seen it from ground-level.

The waterfall is loud, there is spray in the air. And like many of the gorges in Purnululu National Park, Livistona palm trees frame the scene in front of us. It is picture-perfect in every way.


During the dry season there is no swimming in Blackrock Pool. It is the only reliable source of clean drinking water for those doing the multi-day hike. But today, with the waterfall crashing, and the pool in flood, we make the most of the opportunity and savour every moment. 

By late afternoon the heavy rain has returned and we decide to backtrack a little to set up camp. It’s difficult to find flat ground - and higher ground - inside the gorge itself, and with the risk of rising water levels overnight - and 100mm of rain forecast for tomorrow - we decide it’s best to head back downstream. 

It’s only day 2 and it's fair to say we are wrecked. Dragging our feet through waste deep water - or chest high grass - has taken its toll. We opt for convenience and choose a nice sandy area next to the creek to pitch our tent.

If the heavy rain persists we might find ourselves relocating to higher ground, but right now, with my boots and socks full of sand and pebbles, it’s such a relief to dump our heavy packs and collapse into the creek. 


We barely stay awake long enough for dinner and are pleased to settle for the night under clear skies and twinkling stars. The lack of cloud cover lulls us into a false sense of security and we take the fly off the tent before going to bed, keen to get some air flow in the hot and sticky conditions.


Anyone who has visited the Kimberley will agree, it’s impossible to look at the Kimberley’s night sky and not be moved by it – not be humbled. The complete absence of any light pollution lends itself to kicking back and falling asleep under the biggest and clearest skies you will ever see.




THE MORNING BRINGS A WELCOME BREAK FROM THE RAIN. We enjoy a quick breakfast and a hot coffee as we look out over the domes. The place is lush and green, with water beading on the vegetation. It’s obvious Piccaninny Creek has risen further overnight and we know we’ve got a bit of a slog ahead to reach Piccaninny Gorge and Blackrock Falls. 

Lo and behold, if you roll the dice and leave the fly off your tent in the wet season, it will almost certainly start raining. By 9pm there is a gentle sprinkle that wakes us from our slumber. By 10pm the rain is heavy and a small waterfall has formed directly opposite the tent. By midnight the creek is lapping at the tent and we are forced to scramble to higher ground.


Rarely is the easy option the best option. Lesson learned.



DAY 3 SEES US RETRACING OUR STEPS as we slowly follow the creek back downstream, as it carves its way through the domes. The sun has returned, so the walk is interrupted by regular swims and rehydration breaks. It is hot and humid, to say the least.


Along with the sun, the bold colours of the Kimberley have started to reappear. As the day progresses we enjoy the perfect blue skies and orange sandstone that the Kimberley is known for.

As we follow the creek, Nankeen kestrels glide overhead, Purple-backed Fairywrens chatter in the long grass, and we watch as a Double-barred finch builds its nest next to the creek.

It is these brief moments of overlap with Kimberley wildlife that really brings these places to life. The domes and the greater massif itself are not a dormant geological relic but a living, breathing ecosystem for the Kimberley’s often elusive wildlife - a labyrinth of unspoiled natural habitat.


AS OUR WALK COMES TO A CLOSE we realise we timed the whole thing perfectly. Had we set off any later, we would have missed the heavy rain and the biggest waterfalls. Perhaps by happenstance - and just for a fleeting moment - we got to see Purnululu at its wet season best.


The whole experience has reminded me of something I learned when I first arrived in the Kimberley. All of the good stuff – the beautiful swims, the pristine waterfalls, and the big starry skies – definitely comes at a price. It is the price of having to work a little bit – or a lot – for those rewards.

We have also been reminded of why getting out of our comfort zone and trying new things is not only important, but necessary. Like life, every new experience brings highs and lows. Good bits and bad bits. Easy bits and tough bits. Moments of getting it right and moments of knowing you’ve definitely gotten it wrong. And at the end of each day you go to bed tired and sore and satisfied knowing it was all worth it – every last bit of it. The questionable creek crossings, and the soggy boots, and the lack of sleep. It was all worth it. Because along the way you saw some pretty amazing stuff and you felt something – you felt alive.

Back at the car, we drain the water from our boots one last time and offload our soggy backpacks. Tomorrow we’ll be back to cutting grass, pulling weeds and staining timber decking. This is the life of a wet season caretaker - months of repetitive, hot, physical work punctuated by unforgettable experiences like this one.


It was only a 3-day hike, but today we feel like we climbed Everest and survived.  And we got to experience something that many people dream of seeing - The Bungle Bungle at its wet season best. 



Words & Photography Gary Annett

bottom of page