The day we got to Kununurra WA started WAY too early.
As the clock ticked over past midnight, Are You Lonesome Tonight and I was only 19 thundered from (respectively) the vehicle cab and the top-of-the-range caravan parked next to us in Timber Creek.
Yes, you’re right. You’d have to be VERY drunk for that to sound good.
A couple of hours later, our lonesome loser neighbour finally dropped into a drunken stupor putting an end to both the impromptu musical experiment and our misery.
Two bleary-eyed hours drive west got us to the Northern Territory/Western Australia border (the flat tyre didn’t help) where we scored an extra 90 minutes, courtesy of the time difference between the NT and Western Australia. Making it about 9:00 am, WA time!
Half an hour later, the different world – make that universe – of our camp-site at the Lakeside Resort Caravan Park on the shores of Lily Creek Lagoon – with lonesome losers noticeably absent – made an excellent base from which to explore the attractions of the East Kimberley.
And because we’d got there so early in the morning, we could get started on our long, long list of things to do in Kununurra and surrounds straight away.
Yes, camping in Kununurra is the best way to see it all – and there’s a LOT to see and do for independent travellers who like natural attractions. We were planning a four-day stay – but ended up being there for 10!
SO … where to start? Just use this list of my favourite things to do in Kununurra and start exploring!
I hope you enjoy them (and Kununurra!) as much as we did 😀
1 Kelly’s Knob and the Ivanhoe Café
It’s VERY convenient that the best view of Kelly’s Knob in Kununurra is from the Ivanhoe Café! Or is that just MY opinion?? If you’re anything like us, you’ll find yourself spending a LOT of time at the cafe, especially during the heat of the day when exploring grinds to a halt.
That’s why the best time to visit Kununurra is during the Australian winter and Top End Dry Season, from about April to October. But be warned … that’s also the busiest time!
After a session at the cafe, work off the spectacularly fabulous icecreams, smoothies and other goodies chock-a-block with awesome Kununurra produce by climbing to the vantage point at the top of Kelly’s Knob to get your bearings AND enjoy the spectacular view over the town and mountain ranges beyond. The landscape’s surprisingly green in this part of the East Kimberley, courtesy of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
Pssst! The real view is even better than what you can see in the photo above!
Why the excellent Anzac Hill Lookout we stumbled upon just out of town heading west, and giving an entirely different perspective, doesn’t appear in any of the tourist information I’ll never know … track it down for yourself and see which one you prefer!
2 Ord River Adventureland
The East Kimberley’s natural attractions can so spectacular they overshadow its hazards. And that could be fatal in Kununurra – because while the Ord Irrigation Scheme has turned this harsh landscape into a food bowl thanks to the engineering marvel of the Ord River Dam, it didn’t get rid of the crocodiles!
There are plenty of reminders of the dangers along the river banks – but don’t let that stop you fishing for barramundi (does anyone bother with any other types of fish?); having a picnic; or even taking an upstream cruise for 57 kilometres to the Lake Argyle Dam Wall.
No boat? No problem! Local cruise operators will be happy to see you on board!
But no matter how hot it gets, don’t even THINK about going swimming!
3 Lake Argyle – the Inland Sea
The arid Carr Boyd Ranges near Kununurra probably aren’t where you’d imagine an inland sea over 1000 km² to be.
If that’s what you thought, you’d be right. Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest body of fresh water, didn’t naturally occur. It was formed when the Ord River Dam was slapped across the river’s narrowest point in an incredible feat of engineering and construction that drowned valleys, pastoral leases and a whole mountain range!
But the staggering scenery surrounding Lake Argyle is SO worth the ~70 km one way drive south-east from Kununurra back towards the WA/NT border we did it twice. The first time was just to explore; the second for the must-do early morning cruise.
It’s also worth doing for the wildlife – over a third of Australia’s bird species can be found here at various times of the year.
Oh! And there’s also a proliferation of scenic public loos!
It’s said that the damming of the river means none of the large and deadly saltwater crocodiles live above the dam wall, although there have been sightings. But the absence of predators means there are a LOT more of the less dangerous freshwater crocodiles.
SO … if you’re crocodile-averse, don’t go in the water AND definitely don’t sign up for the annual Lake Argyle 10 or 20 km swimming races, held annually on the first Saturday in May!
4 Hunting the Wild Boab Trees
Australia’s only species of Boab tree grows almost exclusively – but plentifully – in the Kimberley. Even if you haven’t seen a Boab tree for real, its distinctive shape and silhouette appear in all the galleries – on paintings, prints, cards, carvings, photographs and jewellery. I’m still having withdrawal symptoms over the earrings that got away – how I managed to leave those brightly coloured glass squares with tiny Boab tree silhouettes in the shop remains a mystery to this day.
And now it’s too late … I can’t find them ANYWHERE on line 🙁
Luckily, wild Boab trees are easy to find around Kununurra.
But if you haven’t got time for hunting, they’re also found in captivity – at the Kununurra Celebrity Tree Park at the edge of Lily Creek Lagoon. And although I couldn’t find a celebrity tree dedicated to Red Nomad OZ amongst those for notables such as John Farnham and Princess Anne, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time!
Isn’t it?!?! Please say yes!
5 Lily Creek Lagoon and the Sleeping Buddha
Like its giant friend Lake Argyle, Lily Creek Lagoon on the outskirts of Kununurra isn’t natural. But it’s an awesome backdrop to a rock formation that looks (supposedly) like a Sleeping Buddha from the Celebrity Tree Park; and (even more supposedly) an Elephant’s head from the Zebra Rock Gallery’s vantage point just down the road.
It’s also a wildlife hotspot.
Of course it’s a helluva lot easier to go wildlife spotting on Lily Creek Lagoon when you’re camping right on its banks at the Lakeside Resort Caravan Park campground like we were. By day, watch a variety of bird-life on and around the lagoon, including Comb-crested Jacana, also called the ‘Jesus bird’, hopping around on the lily pads; and the Crimson Finches hopping around on the banks – and at our campsite.
You might even get to take part in a real life rescue! Like we did when a bird misjudged the length of a lily pad and slid into the water. Did I mention the lagoon is full of fresh-water crocodiles?
Sunset brings the Sleeping Buddha to life – at least as much as is possible for a reclining figure – and the Lagoon dramatically reflects the sky’s RED glow.
But the night belongs to those crocodiles … take a torch and watch the RED glow glinting from their eyes if you dare!
6 Mirima National Park
Wondering when the selfie-taking joggers completely oblivious to the 3 metre snake sunning itself at their feet would either notice it or step on it was like watching a car crash.
Was it so wrong to have my camera ready?
Luckily (or unluckily, depending on whether you were them or me), neither happened, and the joggers jogged off into the sunrise to post what could have been a REALLY exciting update (read about that adventure HERE).
I waited for the snake to move so I could admire the view over Mirima National park from the top of the range vantage point on the Lookout Walk (no prizes for guessing why it’s called that!), one of four shortish walks showcasing the park’s attractions.
I can’t guarantee the excitement of a sunrise snake stand-off in the sandstone at Mirima, on the outskirts of the main Kununurra township. But you WILL see dramatic sandstone domes and valleys – smaller, but not unlike those of more well known Purnululu (aka Bungle Bungles). So if you don’t have time to trek there, or the bucks for a helicopter flight, Mirima National Park is a cheaper, closer, and more charming alternative.
The top of the range view also overlooks Hidden Valley – and the Hidden Valley Tourist Park who I mention here because they were nice enough to put RedzAustralia at the very top of their TOP 10 Grey Nomad blogs (even thought I’m a RED Nomad)!
7 Ngamoowalem Conservation Park
En route to discover the Kununurra waterfalls, by the time we’d managed two of the conservation park’s four sites we’d already experienced a grumpy grey-nomad who should have stayed in bed; and a flamboyant four-wheel-driver developing some experimental techniques in what can only loosely be called ‘driving’ (read about that adventure HERE).
Who knows what other weird experiences we might have had if only our car had had enough clearance to visit the Ngamoowalem Conservation Park’s 3rd and 4th localities?
The spectacular setting amid the Livistonia Range means the springs and falls that make up the park run hot during the wet season. There wasn’t much water happening during our dry season visit – but that meant we could explore the rocks up close and admire the cluster of butterflies flitting through the undergrowth.
And wonder why Black Rock Falls was called Black Rock Falls!
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Middle Spring and Molly Spring, but no matter.
The other visitors to Valentine Spring and Black Rock Falls had provided quite enough excitement for one day.
Besides – don’t they say you should always leave something for next time?
8 Killer Kununurra Producers!
There’s not a lot of point visiting the Ord River Irrigation zone without actually sampling the produce, right?
So we gave it our best shot.
A daily dose of something with mango in it – smoothies, cheesecakes, ice-cream, we weren’t fussy – from somewhere local – we weren’t fussy about that, either! We didn’t even care if they sold other products!
And so we did the rounds of the Zebra Rock Gallery Café; Lovells Gallery, Hoochery Distillery, the Sandalwood Factory and a number of Open Door outlets that sold Kununurra and Ord River Irrigation Scheme fresh produce!
Hard to believe, I know, but it’s not always all about cake 😀
9 Kununurra Agricultural Show
They say you always remember your first time. And the Kununurra Agricultural Show was where I lost it.
My Cane Toad Race virginity, that is! (Read that awesome story HERE!)
The Cane Toad Race fund-raiser for Kununurra Wildlife Rescue topped the bill of weird and wonderful events celebrating rural life – with audience participation encouraged.
If you’ve never seen the Melon Olympics, where participants skate in watermelon shoes to throw honeydews into 44 gallon drums; a lawnmower race; the Kimberley Cowboy Challenge – a farmer’s daily life event multi-tasking race; and the Haystacking Challenge where a hapless volunteer perches atop an ever-growing stack of hay bales just before it topples then this is the place to be.
All accompanied by even more of that killer Kununurra produce!! Frozen chocolate-covered banana, anyone?
Experience all the fabulous fun for yourself at the Kununurra Agricultural Show on Friday 10th & Saturday 11th July, 2020!! It’s the most fun you’ll have for $AUD20 (the 2020 cost of an adult admission).
10 Wyndham Rivers and Tides
It’s just over 100 km from Kununurra to Wyndham on the sealed main road, but the back route past Parry’s Lagoon takes you through stunning East Kimberley scenery (and more of those Boab Trees). Stop at the lagoon for a wildlife extravaganza then continue to the small town of Wyndham with some of the highest tides in Australia, and the fantastic Five Rivers Lookout overlooking an incredible landscape. Read more about things to do in Wyndham HERE.
11 Crocodile Spotting
Finding a crocodile in the East Kimberley is what’s generally known as a ‘sure thing’. So take care when you find freshwater (the small ones) and/or saltwater crocodiles (the BIG scary ones) in Lake Argyle, both above and below the dam wall; in the Ord river; in any/all of Wyndham’s five rivers; in Parry’s Lagoon and right next to your campsite in Lily Lagoon. Want more places to find crocodiles in Australia’s Top End? Go HERE!
12 Sunset – Kimberley Style!
When you’ve enjoyed yourself to the max in the East Kimberley, max out a little bit more on a Kununurra Kimberley sunset. Sunset from pretty much anywhere will do, but our campsite by the lake gets my vote!
With nothing but the gentle hum of mosquitoes, plopping of crocodiles and chatter (and sometimes snoring!) of the Southern Grey Nomad to disturb you!
Staying in Kununurra (where 26º C is a COLD day) for any length of time puts the careless visitor in serious danger of having a food baby. So it was just as well for us we left, albeit reluctantly, after 10 days!
The good news is that once you’ve seen the sights of Kununurra, there’s the rest of the awesome Kimberley Region to explore (Read my 7 Kimberley Random Adventures HERE)!
Having trouble getting there? Check out the best flights and get your Kununurra adventure off the ground NOW!