Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s Bungle Bungle Caravan Park closed pending traditional owners’ approval: ABC

ABC Kimberley / By Ted O’Connor 2/05/23

See the original story here on ABC

The rock formations at Purnululu are a highlight for many tourists visiting the East Kimberley.

Key points:

  • Visitors normally use the caravan park as a base to see the world heritage site
  • The environment minister says talks on the caravan park’s reopening are “looking positive”
  • The situation has forced Purnululu tour operators and visitors to change plans

A caravan park at the gateway to a globally-renowned national park has not been allowed to open for the dry season due to delays in approvals by traditional owners.

The Bungle Bungle Caravan Park — owned by billionaire couple Andrew and Nicola Forrest’s agribusiness Harvest Road — is normally a hive of activity when the Purnululu National Park opens every dry season, also providing a central point for helicopter scenic flights and group tours.

Located just outside the national park, the caravan park hosts visitors with cars and caravans not equipped for the 50 kilometre drive into the UNESCO world heritage site, on rough and corrugated dirt road.

The accommodation within the national park is limited to camping areas and a luxury lodge.

The caravan park was, up until yesterday, advertising a May 1 opening on its website, to coincide with the beginning of the national park’s dry season visitor period.

But Harvest Road has confirmed the opening will not go ahead, and the ABC understands bookings for the coming month have been cancelled.

Talks ongoing with traditional owners

Harvest Road bought the caravan park last year as part of its wider acquisition of a group of surrounding cattle stations, known as the Springvale Aggregation.

The WA Department of Planning Lands and Heritage told the ABC a new permit was required for the caravan park to continue operating.

A man wearing a suit and yellow tie looking serious.
The caravan park was bought last year by Harvest Road, owned by Andrew (pictured) and Nicola Forrest.

“Harvest Road Group was advised in January 2023 the Pastoral Lands Board would issue a three-year permit for non-pastoral activities, subject to a letter of authorisation from the Bungle Bungles Aboriginal Corporation as the registered native title party,” a department spokesperson said.

The corporation was formed late last year to represent native-title holders at the park, and has not yet provided a letter.

beehive domes
The caravan park normally provides a base from which people visit the national park.

The traditional owner group would not comment, citing cultural sensitivities surrounding the negotiations with Harvest Road.

A spokesperson for Harvest Road said the decision to delay the opening was “out of its control”.

“We have been preparing to open since March, staff are onsite, accommodation is ready for travellers and we hope to welcome visitors to the caravan park as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

“In the meantime, other options are in place so that visitors are still able to enjoy the Purnululu National Park.”

a sign for the caravan park next do a road
The Bungle Bungle Caravan Park is an important visitor base for the national park.

Environment Minister Reece Whitby updated the ABC on the issue at the opening of a new visitor centre at the national park last week.

He said he hoped an agreement would be reached quickly.

“Obviously we want that caravan park open as soon as possible,” Mr Whitby said.

“Harvest Road and traditional owners are involved in conversations. The last I heard is they were looking positive.”

Delay pushes more tourists to Halls Creek

The ABC understands the delay has left some tour businesses scrambling for alternative arrangements.

East Kimberley-based helicopter tour company HeliSpirit will not be able to operate its scenic flights based out of the caravan park until it re-opens.

The ABC understands the Indigenous community of Warmun has been considered as an alternative base, but accommodation there remains limited.

Helicopter tours won’t be able to operate out of the caravan park until it re-opens.

HeliSpirit declined to comment.

Halls Creek Motel manager Michael La Rosa said he expected many tourists visiting Purnululu would opt to stay in the town, an hour’s drive south of the caravan park.

“We’ve picked up a few bookings already from it, for the next two weeks — if it’s closed longer we’ll definitely pick up more,” he said.

“We’re happy with it.”

Purnululu is known globally for its striking orange-and-black striped sandstone domes and is an important place culturally for Gija and Jaru people.