Kununurra is unlike anywhere else in Western Australia. Rare pink diamond boutiques share the streets with rough and ready country pubs, while Aboriginal art centres lead to a sugarcane-fed rum distillery and an historic pumping station turned café. Red outback dirt fringes the bitumen, true blue characters are thick on the ground and lakes and rivers teem with barramundi. Kununurra’s dry season, from April to October, brings big, blue sky days and singlet and shorts evenings, while the wet, from November to March, sees brooding clouds, humid air and spectacular electric storms.
Once you’ve been to Kununurra, you will wonder why you didn’t get here sooner. We Aussies have never had more time to explore our own backyard; don’t squander this moment. Instead, make a trip to the East Kimberley as memorable as any other exotic holiday you’ve taken – you won’t regret it.
1. Lake Argyle or Lake Kununurra cruise
The stretch between Lake Kununurra and Lake Argyle is an internationally recognised Ramsar wetland site, brimming with at least 75 species of waterbird and more than one per cent of the global population of freshwater crocodiles. Triple J Tours know this aquatic zone intimately, having led nature cruises along the 55km stretch for around 30 years. Starting in town, you’ll head to the largest freshwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere, where you might spot rock wallabies, red-capped plovers and an enormous dam wall, or go fishing. Finish up with a sunset cruise and swim at Lake Argyle or a barbecue cruise on Lake Kununurra.
2. Mirima National Park
Long a local’s secret, Mirima is a collection of sculpted sandstone formations that are similar to the Bungle Bungle Range – only they’re found just a few minutes’ drive from Kununurra. Estimated to be 350 million years old and sacred to the local Miriwoong people, the weathered, red and amber rocks can be explored on four walking trails. They’re best followed at sunrise or sunset, when the earth’s colours seem to glow. The park is open year-round, and one loop trail is wheelchair accessible.
3. Hook a barramundi
Since 2013, Lake Kununurra has been stocked with almost one million – you read that right - fingerling barramundi, with the latest 100,000 drop made late in 2020. Such an abundance seriously boosts your chances of reeling in a prized, 1m long fish, and if you do, you automatically become an honorary local. The lake is a must-visit, saltwater crocodile-free fishing and swimming hotspot, with huge trophy fish expected to become more common as time passes. Extra fingerlings are due to be released into the lake over the next few years, so bait up.
4. Waringarri Aboriginal Arts
Miriwoong culture is at the heart of this aboriginal-owned art centre in Kununurra, and its expression isn’t limited to paintings, carvings and ceramics. Join a Miriwoong guide and you might hear a didgeridoo rumble through the air at sunset while overlooking Mirima National Park. You might help cook bush tucker on the coals and learn about the Aboriginal connection to country on a 4WD tag along tour. Or you might hear an artist share what the arts hub means to them on a personalised tour. The world’s oldest living culture isn’t found in Rome, Athens or Giza, it’s right here.
5. Pink diamond boutiques
Broome has pearls, but Kununurra has pink diamonds - the rarest diamonds in the world. They were mined a short flight out of town until 2020, when the prodigious Argyle diamond mine retrieved its last precious stone. Nowadays you can see them, and slide one onto your finger, at one of the town’s two pink diamond boutiques. Don’t be shy, Kununurra’s laid-back, friendly style means unpretentious staff are generally as thrilled as you are to share in the wonder of the rare rocks. At Kimberley Fine Diamonds or Nina’s Jewellery, ask them to explain the “five c’s” and tell you what’s hidden in the mine’s airstrip. And hey, is there any better souvenir?
6. The Hoochery Distillery
Distilling rum from locally grown sugar cane was late-founder, Spike Dessert’s lightbulb moment. The moustachioed patriarch was a colourful Kimberley character prone to dry, quotable comments that still inform the Hoochery Distillery’s cheeky vibe. Drop in to meet the members of Spike’s family continuing his dream, and savour a tipple of the Argyle pink gin, created using Kimberley botanicals, or one of the seven handmade rums. Grab a slice of the Ord River Rum Cake while you’re there, too.
7. The PumpHouse
Not only a place to dine on a famous Kimberley barramundi, the PumpHouse restaurant and bar is where you want to be on a Sunday night, when locals gather for the once weekly woodfired pizza and tapas(it’s the regular menu at other times). Grab a seat on the deck and look down, you’ll see loads of fish gathering below. The former water pump station perches on Lake Kununurra and still holds the original machinery used in the Ord Pump Station. It’s fun to check out before your meal comes.
8. Kelly’s Knob
Follow the convoy of local vehicles up to Kununurra’s highest point at sunset. Kelly’s Knob grants 360-degree views of the luminous red dirt landscape, out past the town’s skirting suburbs to Elephant Rock, diversion dam and the lush, Ord River irrigation zone. It’s a calming place of contemplation and friendly banter, as everyone appreciates the grandeur of the Kimberley. Enjoy it from the carpark, or hike the 1.2km round trip to the 191m summit.
9. Day trip to the Bungle Bungle Range
If you’d travelled to Arizona, you’d never miss the Grand Canyon. When in Peru, heading up the mountain to Machu Picchu would be a non-negotiable. In Kununurra, exploring the otherworldly, 360 million year old Bungle Bungle Range is just as much of a must-do. Fly over the dome forest to witness the vastness of the unusual rock formations, then land to walk amongst them. For something truly special, join a local Aboriginal guide with Kingfisher Tours as she reveals the domes and entrancing Echidna Chasm before singing in language inside Cathedral Gorge. Aviair (scenic flights), HeliSpirit (chopper trips) and Kimberley Air Tours (floatplanes) also offer excellent day trip options.
10. Day tour of the Mitchell Falls
The tiered Mitchell Falls, or Punamii-Uunpuu, as they’re known to the Wunambal people, plunge over four step-like cliffs, creating bubbling pools and mists of white water. Regarded as one of Australia’s most spectacular falls, they’re a challenging eight-hour drive north-west of Kununurra, but easily accessible on a light plane day trip. Fly across the crimson outback and dramatic coastline of the Kimberley, then land to hike over boulders and explore ancient rock art, perhaps in the company of an Aboriginal guide. Kingfisher Tours, Aviair, HeliSpirit and Kimberley Air Tours will all take you there.
Bonus! Top Tips
1. With a 4WD, you’ll love revving through the Ord River as it rushes over the Ivanhoe crossing, a concrete path only accessible during the dry season. If you can’t cross, just go and watch others motor through.
2. When in Kununurra, ordering a mango smoothie and a dish with boab root in it is a must. The Wild Mango Café, Cornerside Cafe and Cafe Sandalwood usually have it on the menu.
3. See how many famous names you can pick out at Celebrity Tree Park. The likes of Baz Luhrmann, John Farnham and Her Royal Highness Princess Anne have all planted trees there when they’ve been in town.