Day 1: THE BUNGLE BUNGLE BUMBLE
Julie and I awoke at 5am. We didn’t have much time to tarry because we had to catch a 10:40am flight to Kununurra from Darwin. But it was still a bit of a long drive to even get to Darwin from Cooinda. So by 6am, we were in the hired 4wd and left the Gagudju Cooinda Lodge for the city via Jabiru.
Since it was late autumn, we knew that the days were short and we would have to be driving in the dark – not something the car rental companies want you to do due to nocturnal wildlife (especially kangaroos).
So we proceeded slowly for the majority of the drive as we were going about 80-90km/h. Some sections of the highway had no speed limit, but I bet the dead kangaroos on the road are pretty much the natural speed limit. And given our caution and deliberate pace, we made it Darwin by 9am.
Once around town, we drove in the general direction of the airport, but stopped by some grocery store to pick up some food and have a breakfast at one of the side shops.
By 9:30am, we filled up the petrol (gas was much cheaper in the city as to be expected) and returned to the Darwin Airport. Of course, fresh on my mind was whether it was typical that the roads remained flooded this far into the Dry Season. After all, we wasted extra money on hiring a 4wd hoping to visit the waterfalls that required it. So I asked the clerk who was processing my car hire return what had happened with the roads.
“Cyclone Monica happened less than 6 weeks ago. There were also a few more of them before that,” he said.
“Is this typical?” I asked.
He shook his head. “It’s global warming I tell you. The cyclone season had been starting later and ending later.”
I gave him a knowing nod. “Back in the states there were a few very strong hurricanes that had hit.” Then I asked him, “So what is the government going to do about it?”
He shrugged and threw up his hands.
Apparently, “non-normal” hurricanes and cyclones don’t just occur in the Gulf States, I thought. After all, that’s all we hear about in the news – especially Katrina and several near miss category 5s. But this kind of showed me that even in the Southern Hemisphere, people are wary about this potentially cataclysmic problem.
And with that, I tried to get into the Australian spirit of things and we said “No worries!” to each other as I departed with Julie towards the security check.
The flight was a little bit delayed, but the scheduled 10:40am flight left the Darwin Airport in one of those tiny propeller-based aircraft that was a bit cramped and loud. Obviously, the commercial airliners we were used to don’t go to Kununurra, I reckoned.
Even though the flight was about an hour, we actually went back in time and arrived in Kununurra at 10:25am.
By the time we arrived at the All Seasons Hotel in Kununurra, it was about noon time. So as we were getting settled, we thought we could use the afternoon to see the Bungle Bungles.
And as we were looking through the tourist literature by both Heliworks and SlingAir, we noticed there was a helicopter ride that goes around the Bungle Bungles and it didn’t cost much more than the popular airplane tour that also flies over the Lake Argyle Diamond Mine.
I wondered why more people didn’t do the helicopter ride. Were the Bungle Bungles that close to Kununurra?
But Julie had her heart set on the quality of a chopper vs. an aircraft. And so she called HeliWorks and asked to book the chopper ride to the Bungle Bungles. The operator told us that someone would pick us up at 3:30pm at our hotel.
And so Julie and I had about 3 hours to kill and decided to walk around the town of Kununurra. It was quite a small and quiet town. We thought perhaps we could pick up a lunch while I would try to pick up some literature and maps.
The first thing we noticed around town were groups of impoverished-looking Aboriginal people in groups loitering in front of closed shops. This kind of worried Julie about safety a little bit. I wondered how much of this was a result of the history of white settlers taking over their land and essentially wiping out much of their culture. I guess it was not unlike some of the things we saw in the Native American reservations back in the States. Though the Aborigines we saw looked a little more worse off than the Native Americans where many of them figured out how to make money through tourism and gaming on the reservation lands.
As we got further into the town, we eventually settled on a little busy-looking cafe where we got some toasted tuna sandwich. We settled on this since the Stars in the Kimberley restaurant looked a bit too expensive.
We also stopped by one of the book stores and the visitor center where we picked up a few books and heaps of free brochures. Then, we went into some mall area, where Julie was looking for souvenirs while I checked out some Ben Knapinski books on the Pilbara and Kimberley regions.
And by 3pm, we were back in our room at the All Season Hotel awaiting our pick up.
Sure enough, by 3:30pm, a lady by the name of Helen picked us up. Apparently, she was also the same person who took Julie’s phone call. And when we got to the heliport, I paid for the tour though I thought something was a little strange when they charged a different amount of money from what I had expected. Was I getting some discount?
Anyways, having been through the Jim Jim Falls/Twin Falls helicopter flight yesterday, we knew the safety procedures and we were on our way.
And so we took off and the pilot initially flew south over the Ord River and into some hills and canyons while providing commentary. He next flew back over towards the town and into some formations he called the “Little Bungles.” Ultimately, he would swing around the northern farmlands before flying over some dry waterfalls.
This took me by surprise. “Weren’t we supposed to be seeing them on this trip?” I thought to myself. But I replied back to him, “Yeah.”
By now, it had been over half an hour of flying and I was beginning to wonder if we would ever see the Bungle Bungles on this trip. And when we crossed over the Ord River and back towards the Kununurra Airport, the answer was a resounding no.
As the helicopter landed, Julie and I gave each other a very confused and puzzled look. We weren’t sure what had happened, but the sinking feeling of being ripped off and not being able to see what we intended to see was foremost on my mind.
So with this awkward and embarrassed feeling, both Julie and I were escorted back to the office. When we were asked how the flight was by the guy escorting us to the nearly empty office (apparently they were closed by then), Julie finally said, “This wasn’t what we expected to see. We expected to see the Bungle Bungles.”
“Oh no,” the guy said. “The tour you booked was only the flight around Kununurra.” And he proceeded to point to the spot on a brochure that corresponded to the flight we had just been on.
“But I specifically asked for the Bungle Bungles,” said Julie as she pointed to another part of the brochure.
“Oh, that tour could only take off from a heliport in the Bungle Bungles itself,” said the guy. “It’s about 230km away from here.”
And with that, I was able to figure out what had happened. There was only one helicopter tour from Kununurra and when Julie said the magic word, the phone person must’ve thought “bingo” it was this tour. I don’t even think she heard Julie talk about Bungle Bungles.
Anyways, there wasn’t much we could do about it now. At first, Julie was upset with Helen for not telling her the Bungle Bungles could only be visited by SlingAir. But eventually, she apologized to me.
I was obviously disappointed, but I knew what was done was done. So I basically sighed and told her, “This is going to be the most expensive trip we’ve ever been on.” Little did I know how prophetic that would be later on in the trip.
When we got our transport back to the All Seasons Hotel in Kununurra, we joined a pair of other couples who had just finished their SlingAir tour to the Bungle Bungles – the one we should’ve been on in hindsight. They were gloating and obviously quite happy with what they saw. But I couldn’t help but feel like we totally wasted money.
Anyways, it was getting dark and Julie and I hadn’t had a decent meal all day long. Unfortunately, we had determined the Stars of the Kimberleys were too expensive so the next best option we could figure out was a cash-only hole-in-the-wall Fish and Chips place in town. So with that, we walked out in the dark back into town.
Once again, there were still lots of Aboriginal people not looking well and loitering the streets. With images of homeless folks walking the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles, Julie feared for her safety. I didn’t blame her even though I didn’t think we were going to get mugged by these folks.
Eventually, we would pick up the greasy food and bring it back to the All Seasons Hotel lobby to eat. There was quite a bit of commotion at the hotel as apparently a tour or some reunion amongst friends was going on. Anyways, we chowed down on our food and probably didn’t help our fat and cholesterol levels with this meal.
After completing the meal, we headed back to our room to clean up and sleep.