World Heritage Places - Purnululu National Park

Western Australia

Overview

Purnululu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003, for its outstanding universal natural heritage values.

Purnululu National Park was one of 15 World Heritage places included in the National Heritage List on 21 May 2007.

Gallery

Click an image for a larger view.

 Colin Totterdell  John Baker  John Baker  John Baker Beehive formations. Photo John Baker

More images of the Purnululu National Park from the Australian Heritage Photographic Library

More information

Location

The World Heritage Listed area for Purnululu National Park is almost 2,400km2. Purnululu National Park is located 300 kilometres by road south of the nearest population centre, the small regional town of Kununurra.

Description of Place

There is an adjacent buffer zone to the north and west (the Purnululu Conservation Reserve) of almost 800 km2, which is not part of the nominated area but which is managed to help protect the park's World Heritage Values. Famous for the 450 km2 Bungle Bungle Range, Purnululu has been listed as an outstanding landscape that is an incomparable natural phenomenon. It reveals the story of its formation over hundreds of millions of years, and helps unlock the story of the earth's history.

Twenty million years of weathering have produced the eroded sandstone towers and banded beehive structures of the Bungle Bungle Range. Dark bands, formed by cyanobacteria, winding horizontally around the domes, contrast with the lighter orange sandstone. Cyanobacteria are single-celled organisms that represent some of the oldest life-forms on earth. These organisms have been found as fossils in rocks elsewhere in Western Australia in rocks that are believed to be up to 3500 million years old. The cyanobacterial bands are up to several metres wide, yet only a few millimetres thick. The crusts help stabilise and protect the ancient and fragile sandstone towers. The dramatically sculptured structures undergo remarkable seasonal variation in appearance, including striking colour transition following rain. The intricate maze of towers is accentuated by sinuous, narrow, sheer-sided gorges lined with majestic Livistona fan palms. These, and the soaring cliffs up to 250 metres high, are cut by seasonal waterfalls and pools, creating the major tourist attractions in the park.

The sandstone karst of Purnululu is of great scientific importance in demonstrating so clearly the process of cone karst formation on sandstone - a phenomenon only recognised by geomorphologists over the past 25 years and still not completely understood. While sandstone towers and cliffs are known from other parts of the world, including some regions in Australia, the spectacular features of the Bungle Bungle Range are unrivalled in their scale, extend, grandeur and diversity of forms. They owe their existence and uniqueness to several interacting geological, biological, erosional and climatic phenomena.

The park's domes, gorges and wet season waterfalls were almost unknown to the outside world until 1982 when aerial pictures of this outback jewel were released. Purnululu National Park lies in a transition zone between the arid desert environments of central Australia to the south and, to the north, the monsoon savannah environments of northern Australia. The biological features of the park show adaptations to the aridity of the neighbouring desert environments and also to the rainfall-rich zone of the monsoon region. The Ord River, the major watercourse, creates a riverine ecosystem that is a vital resource for plants, animals and people. Mean annual rainfall is around 600 mm but the evaporation rate is very high, and runoff is rapid. Consequently, there is little permanent surface water. The diversity of landforms, along with the park's location in a transitional climatic zone, supports a range of distinct vegetation communities, ranging from desert shrubs along the exposed plateaus of the Bungle Bungle Range, to the rainforest communities along Osmond Creek valley.

Management of Purnululu National Park

The Western Australian Government Department of Environment and Conservation is responsible for day-to-day management of the property, through the Purnululu Park Council in conjunction with local Aboriginal people.

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