All photos by the Editor.
The perfect home base for exploring the legitimately magical landscapes of the east Kimberley, Kununurra is the key to unlocking wonder-filled wilderness areas like El Questro, Purnululu National Park, Lake Argyle and the Ord River. We were fortunate enough to spend a few days up there recently, and while four days is barely enough to scratch the red dirt-lined surface, it’s more than enough to experience a spectacular array of rugged ranges, wondrous waterfalls and gargantuan gorges unlike anywhere else in the world.
Here’s a little guide on how to make the most of your time in and around Kununurra:
First step – getting there
Given it’s over 3000km away from Perth, the most efficient (and cheapest) way of getting to Kununurra right now is by flying, and Virgin Australia have dropped the cost of getting there to just $249 one way. Not only that, but flying with Virgin will also give you access to the Kimberley Wanderer Pass, offering travellers $300 towards a variety of participating tours and experiences in Kununurra and surrounds via more than 20 businesses in the region. Available now right through until September 30, 2021, you can get more info and start planning your journey via the Kununurra Visitor Centre WEBSITE.
Day 1: Exploring the town
While there are wonders galore to be found on short drives out of Kununurra, there’s no shortage of excellent little walks very close to town. Mirima National Park (pictured, below) is regarded by many as a kind of mini-Bungle Bungle, accessible by foot from the town’s major caravan park and filled with beautiful gorges and stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It’s not quite those world famous ranges, but if you can’t make it out to Purnululu it’s a more than worthy substitute:
Likewise, just near town Kelly’s Knob is a short – but steep – hike that offers unmatched views of the Kununurra townsite and beyond. Start making your way up half an hour before sunrise or sunset and take it all in.
Day 2: Zebedee Springs & Emma George
One of Australia, if not the world’s, most iconic 4wd treks, the Gibb River Road runs from Derby in the west Kimberley right through to Kununurra across 660 gorge- and waterfall-filled kilometres. If you don’t have the time or the means to take on the entire trip, getting a little taste of it from Kununurra reveals some spectacular locations very accessible from town.
El Questro is one of those locations, and we made a beeline for one of its star attractions – Zebedee Springs. A hidden oasis, these natural thermal springs are the result of a permanent water supply coming from deep within neighbouring gorges that fill up a sequence of tranquil pools surrounded by palm trees. Get there between 7am and midday before its closed off to the public, and enjoy warm waters sitting around 30degrees:
One the way back to town a stop off at Emma Gorge is a must, where you’ll traverse a challenging (but not overly difficult) one hour walk that terminates in a breathtaking waterhole at the bottom of 65m cliffs. The water is bloody freezing, but you’ll appreciate it after the walk.
If it’s a bit too cold you can always take a dip in the beautiful waterhole you’ll pass about 10 minutes before you reach Emma Gorge, which has a little more sunshine for basking.
Emma Gorge is one of many self-guided hikes on offer in El Questro – if you’ve got more time there are plenty more to visit HERE.
Day 3: Bungle Bungle Scenic Flight & Cathedral Gorge
The best way to see the world-renowned Bungle Bungle Ranges in Purnululu National Park is by small plane, and we did so with Aviair on a Bungle Bungle Wanderer tour. The scenic flight – featuring in-depth pilot commentary – takes you over the Bungle Bungle Range, Lake Argyle, the Argyle Diamond Mine and Ord River Irrigation Area.
Landing near the ranges, we then embarked on a cruisy 3km walk that took us amongst the Bungles’ famed Dome outcrops and right into Cathedral Gorge, a truly mesmerising spot for a lunch break. Along the way we walked along Piccaninny Creek, learning about the unique flora and fauna of the region and just how the Bungle Bungle came to be over millions of years.
Day 4: Secret Springs & Wildlife Tour
The best way to really experience a region is by linking up with an expert, and there are a variety of local tour guides around town who’ll show you things that not even all the locals know about. We spent one glorious day with Ian at HOT Tours – a solo operator who runs small group full and half day 4WD tours exploring a myriad unforgettable east Kimberley landscapes in his Landcruiser Troopy.
His half-day Secret Springs & Wildlife Tour was an absolute winner during our time in Kununurra, in particular a rough-and-tumble 4WD track out to the isolated Spring Creek. Criss-crossing a flowing creek numerous times, we ended up at the beautiful Spring Creek waterfall and swimming hole, with crystal clear waters and multiple tiers of infinity pools.
There’s also some croc spotting to be done, along with visits to a humbling, huge boab tree, the infamous Ivanhoe Crossing and the ominous Black Rocks Pool where ABC mini-series Mystery Road was filmed. All set to an informative – at times hilarious – commentary from one of the most knowledgeable blokes around town.
Ian is just one of many great tour guides in the region, and you can explore a variety of others like Triple J Tours’ Ord River experiences, Kimberley Spirit, Kimberley 4×4 Tours and Go Wild Adventure Tours HERE.
Extra time: Aboriginal experiences
Kununurra and the east Kimberley are steeped in Aboriginal history, and whilst we unfortunately didn’t get time to go on a proper Aboriginal Tour, a visit to the Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Centre just about made up for it. If you do have a little more time, Ted Hall’s Luridgii Aboriginal Eco Cultural Tours is another great way to experience the area through the eyes of a respected Miriuwung man.
Food & Drinks
Even though it’s relatively small country town, much like the Argyle gemstones the region is famous for, there are plenty of diamonds to be found in the food and drinks rough. Primary of these is The Pumphouse with its spectacular open-air deck right on the banks of Lake Kununurra, and Hoochery Distillery – WA’s oldest continuously operating still.
Closer to town Hotel Kununurra and Kimberley Grande offer the kind of honest, country pub vibes that we absolutely love, and if you’re in town on a Saturday morning the Kununurra Markets will provide plenty of fresh produce to sort out your own cooking.
So, there you have it, this is how much we managed to squeeze in a few short days in Kununurra without even factoring in world famous landmarks like Lake Argyle and the resort’s famed infinity pool, the huge Mitchell Falls and Kimberley Fine Diamonds. The dry (peak) season runs right through until October, and we’re already planning a return next year when we might even head up during the wet season to discover the dozens of hidden waterfalls that begin to flow with the rains from November to March.
Start planning your Kununurra adventure via Australia’s Northwest TODAY.