The majestic Western Australia Kimberley attracts thousands of visitors every year, and many pass through eastern regional hub Kununurra. This unassuming town has a rough and ready charm all of its own and offers easy access to some of Australia's most dramatic outback landscapes. Tick off these ten top things to do.
Kununurra in Western Australia’s far north-east is known as the gateway to the iconic Kimberley wilderness, but it has so much to offer travellers in its own right.
Often cited as meaning ‘meeting of big waters’ in the local Miriwoong language (but more accurately, simply ‘river’), Kununurra services the massive Ord River Irrigation Scheme — where a torrent of wet season water feeds into massive man-made lakes and down the Ord River. This resource sustains a diverse agricultural industry and provides visitors with an array of water-based activities. Beyond the irrigated zone, the arid landscape is one of infinite beauty.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Kununurra.
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1. Connect with Miriwoong culture
Kununurra sits within Miriwoong Country, and those interested in learning more about the cultural heritage of the First People should plan a visit to Waringarri Aboriginal Arts. This wholly Indigenous owned arts centre represents more than a hundred painters, printmakers, weavers, carvers and sculptors. Book a guided tour of the centre, which includes the chance to meet artists and learn more about their work.
2. Watch the sun set from Kelly’s Knob
Situated just outside the Kununurra town centre, Kelly’s Knob Lookout is the perfect vantage point for taking in a dazzling Kimberley sunset. Be alert during the short drive as you’ll be sharing the road with locals working out on the steep inclines, strolling with friends, and walking furry friends. At the top, rock hop to find a spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Take some drinks and nibbles and make an occasion of it.
3. Take a scenic flight
If there’s one place in the world where you should splurge on a scenic flight, it’s Kununurra. Locally-based Kimberley Air Tours offers a variety of fabulous options. Choose a seaplane, light aircraft or helicopter flight and take to the endless sky over the Kimberley. See Australia’s largest freshwater expanse — Lake Argyle (which holds eighteen times the volume of water in Sydney Harbour), watch for sparkles from the soon-to-close Argyle Diamond Mine — which has yielded the bulk of the world’s pink diamonds, and marvel at the ancient Bungle Bungles — the striped beehive-shaped quartz sandstone domes in Purnululu National Park. You can even do a flight over the iconic Mitchell Falls in the north-western extremity of the region.
Speed past dramatic gorges and soaring escarpments on an Ord River cruise from Kununurra to Lake Argyle’s dam wall with Triple J Tours. The high speed ride can also be done in reverse at sunset. For a more leisurely experience, Lake Argyle Cruises offers a variety of cruise options on the vast stretch of water. Enjoy an airshow of birds frolicking in the day’s last light, and spot resident freshwater crocodiles.
Forget wine tasting; here in Kununurra it’s all about sampling award-winning Ord River Rum at the Hoochery Distillery, which uses locally grown ingredients in the distilling process. Do a tour of the oldest legal still in Western Australia and learn the secrets to making this handcrafted spirit. Finish the experience with a hearty-but-up-market counter lunch and a nip of the distillery’s liquid wares.
6. Hike through an ancient landscape
Just a five-minute drive from the centre of Kununurra will bring you to Mirima National Park — also known as Hidden Valley. It’s almost a mini version of the Bungle Bungles, with similar rock formations. The park offers a number of different walks and great views over the town. You’ll also find interpretive boards that explain the use of local flora in daily Aboriginal life.
7. Swim at The Grotto
The Grotto is a deep gorge and waterhole about 45 minutes’ drive north-west of Kununurra. It’s a favourite spot for locals looking to enjoy a splash and beat the heat. If you time your visit for the start of the dry season, you may get to see the plunging waterfall in full flow.
8. Make your way up to Wyndham
Wyndham is located one hundred kilometres north-west of Kununurra and is the most northerly town in the Kimberley. It’s worth doing as a day trip. Pack a picnic lunch and head to the Five Rivers Lookout in the Bastion Range — just a short drive north of the town centre. On a clear day you’ll enjoy sweeping views of the Cambridge Gulf and its five rivers — the King, Ord, Durack, Forrest and Pentecost. Watch the comings and goings of big ships in Wyndham’s port, and gaze at majestic birds of prey as they soar overhead. The Wyndham Historical Society Museum offers a compelling collection of dusty memorabilia, while the all-but-forgotten Afghan cameleers cemetery is an intriguing link with the past. 4WDs can return to Kununurra via Parry Creek Road.
9. Explore El Questro
Experience the Kimberley’s remote beauty during a day trip to El Questro Wilderness Park, part of the sprawling El Questro cattle station. The park is situated 100 kilometres south-west of Kununurra and access is only by 4WD. Highlights include soaking in the warm waters of Zebedee Springs, cooling off at Emma Gorge, flying overhead on a scenic helicopter flight, or tackling the 4WD route to Saddleback Ridge or Branko’s Lookout for breathtaking views and sunsets.
10. Hook a big barramundi
Big barramundi cruise Kununurra’s waterways and keen fishers will revel in reeling them in. Throw in a line from the bank of Lake Kununurra or hire a tinnie (note that you need a recreational licence to fish from a boat). Alternatively, join a fishing tour with Ultimate Adventures.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Kununurra? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Lake Argyle. Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Monica McInnes is a keen traveller and is always on the lookout for her next big adventure — even before the current one has concluded! Having recently returned from a three-month road trip with her young family through the Red Centre, the Kimberley, the Pilbara and along the Coral Coast, Monica is convinced that Australia is the most beautiful country on earth. She blogs about her travel exploits at Jiggety Jog.