During our time in Broome, we kept coming across people raving about a town in the East Kimberley called Kununurra, and the general consensus was “You’ll love it!” When we started going a bit stir-crazy in Broome due to the lack of camping and swim spots available in the wet season, we decided to make a move to Kununurra. Doing this in the middle of the wet season was risky; there was a chance that we would come across flood waters during our journey. Highway 1, the main thoroughfare of Australia and the only way to get from Broome to Kununurra in the wet season, almost always becomes impassable at some point in the wet season. We definitely did not want to have to brave rushing waters while towing our van or end up getting stuck somewhere along the way!
Our first night on the road happened to coincide with the two year anniversary of commencing our trip, and the free camp at the Ngumban Cliffs was a great spot to celebrate it! Just off the highway between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, this camp is extremely popular during the dry season thanks to its convenient location and great views, but the beauty of us travelling during the off-season meant we had plenty of space to ourselves to enjoy the spectacular sunset.
Our next night we stopped just short of Kununurra at Doon Doon Roadhouse, mainly because we had heard rave reviews about their burgers…and they did live up to the hype! The following morning we drove through some spectacular countryside and shortly found ourselves in Kununurra, checking in to the Kimberleyland Caravan Park based off of fellow travelers’ recommendations, where we ended up staying for the majority of our time in Kununurra.
One of our favourite things about the caravan park, besides it being practically empty for the wet season, was the local freshwater crocodile, Gummy, so named because she (someone told us it was a female croc) only had a couple teeth left. Almost every evening around 5pm, Gummy would swim up to the concrete mooring near the boat ramp to make an appearance for tourists. Then at night, our usual pastime was to shine our torch over the water to see all the freshwater croc eyes shining back at us…there was always a few around!
There are more than a few attractions in Kununurra itself to be easily entertained for a few days. On the eastern side of town sits Mirima National Park, commonly referred to as the “Mini Bungles” for the several million year old sandstone formations similar to those found in Purnululu National Park (The Bungle Bungles). There are a few short, easy walks to explore the park, and mid to late afternoon offers the best light to really show off the colours in the rock formations.
Nearby Kelly’s Knob is a great spot to get a literal overview of town, particularly spectacular at sunrise or sunset. The first half is driveable, with a small lookout just next to the carpark, or it’s a short and steep climb up to the top for an even better view.
Elephant Rock, the notable rock formation that sits along the banks of the upper Ord River just a few km’s out of town, can be summited but be aware, the path can be difficult to find during the wet season or early dry until more people have created a path through the growth so make sure you know where you’re going before attempting! It’s a short walk but a pretty tough scramble so best done early or late to avoid the heat of the day. From the top though, you’ll get the best views over the Ord River and distant Carr-Boyd Ranges, absolutely worth all the effort!
The Ord River, the lifeblood of Kununurra, is split into two parts (upper and lower) by the Diversion Dam, part of the Ord Irrigation Scheme that was completed in 1963. An impressive feat of engineering, it consists of 20 floodgates which open/close according to demand for irrigation and to control wet season floodwaters. This dam means that the upper Ord River is almost guaranteed to be free of saltwater crocodiles (there is even a swim beach there during the dry season), but the lower Ord is a much different story! The Lions Park Picnic Area and lookout is the best spot to admire the dam and see if you can spot any salties AKA “snapping handbags.”
Further along the lower Ord is the famous Ivanhoe Crossing, part of the original road between Wyndham and Katherine. Nowadays it is a shortcut from town to attractions on Parry Creek Road (see below) and a bucket list item for four wheel drivers. During the height of the wet season, it is definitely not accessible as floodwaters controlled by the Diversion Dam need to drop first, which happens early in the dry season. Even if you can’t cross it, it is still an impressive sight to see and a popular fishing spot to try to catch that elusive Barra, just watch out for crocs!
Speaking of Barra, fishing for Barramundi is a popular activity up here and summer/the wet season is the best time to try and catch one as Barramundi tend to be more active in hot weather. We had heard of a few different companies offering tours, but after some research we decided to go with Kirsten Hunter and Explore with Lamparanga, and we are so glad we did! Kirsten offers land-based fishing in the Keep River region right on the WA/NT border. We had an amazing and memorable time, and while we weren’t one of the lucky ones in the group to catch a Barra, Sandy did catch a 77cm blue nose salmon, by far the biggest edible fish caught by either of us yet! Marc did also catch a small bull shark, but that one went back to the water. Kirsten is a fishing wiz, and just all around top bloke, and we can’t wait to go out with him next time we’re in town to land that Barra!
Kununurra town has a few great waterfalls just near town. Normally it’s a quick trip along Ivanhoe Crossing but when crossing is inaccessible in the wet, it means taking the long way around from the Highway onto Valentine Springs Road. There are likely going to be some pretty interesting water crossings so a high clearance 4WD is a necessity! Valentine Springs is a lovely little cool down spot with little cascades. Next up is Middle Springs, which starts off with a pretty paperbark tree lined pool just off the carpark.
But if there’s one thing we learned from our time in Kununurra is to follow the water, so don’t stop there! To the left of the falls is a walking/scrambling track that continues up, first to cascading rock pools, and then further to some of the most pristine waterholes we’ve ever seen! You could easily spend several hours here exploring and enjoying all the waterfalls.
To get to Black Rock Falls from here, you can do a quick trip back onto the main road or take the connecting 4WD track. It’s not an overly challenging track, but it is narrow and could be challenging if a car comes the other way. Black Rock Falls only runs in the wet, when flowing water drops down the 30 meter sheer black cliff into a beautiful blue (and cold!) pool.
Back-tracking onto the highway and continuing east, there’s a turnoff for a site called Molly Springs. There’s toilets and picnic/BBQ facilities here, and a short track leads to a pretty little pandanus-lined pool with a nice flowing waterfall. Being spring-fed, these falls run year-round when some of the other spots have dried up.
Continuing on to the road to Wyndham is one of our favourite local swim spots, the Grotto. The path to the pool involves a short hike down some steps and a bit of clambering over rocks to get to a lovely swimming area, complete with rope swings for a bit of extra fun! During the wet season, there is an impressive rush of water into the ravine, but this is still swimable during most of the dry season.
Wyndham used to be the major town of the region due to its port until Kununurra overtook it with the Ord Irrigation Scheme. However, there are still some attractions worth at least a day trip if not a stay. The drive itself is lovely, a winding road through undulating hills with the Cockburn Ranges and plenty of boab trees as a backdrop…a classic Kimberley landscape! Driving into town you’ll be welcomed by a 20 metre Big Crocodile statue, a good reminder to be croc-wise around the local waterways.
Speaking of waterways, the Five Rivers Lookout offers fantastic views over the countryside and the five main rivers of the region: Ord, Pentecost, King, Forrest and Durack.
For a dose of history, head to the Wyndham Port, Jetty, and Museum to read all about what this town’s heyday was like. For a final stop, we recommend the local bakery; you can try crocodile and barramundi pies, or stick to the classics.
No trip to Kununurra is complete without a trip to Lake Argyle. At more than 18 times the size of Sydney Harbour, it’s hard to wrap your head around just how big this lake really is. Apparently there are over 30,000 freshwater crocodiles that call Lake Argyle home, it’s a known habitat for black-footed rock wallabies, and it’s a popular spot to fish for catfish (or Silver Cobbler as it’s been rebranded). The beauty of this man-made lake is it offers entertainment year-round, whether during the wet or dry season. The caravan park, the only place to stay near the lake, has great views and probably the most well-known and photographed infinity pool. Most people have dubbed it the coldest pool in Australia, but during the summer it is actually quite refreshing and makes a great place to watch the cliffs changing colours as the sun sets.
For exploring the lake itself, there are a plethora of options. A short, steep walk from the caravan park leads to a small pontoon, great for doing dive bombs into the water and having a safe little paddle around. You can also hires canoes or SUPs (or use your own as we did) to explore around. During the wet season, a great spot to see is Homestead Falls, which only flows for a few days after recent rain.
Another fun spot is Jump Rock (ask around for details and location), where you can moor your vessel to the buoy and see who’s most keen to jump the highest (for us, it was Sandy!) If canoeing or SUPing sounds a bit too active for your liking, you can hire a dinghy or BBQ boat for a half or full day of self-guided cruising. The most popular option though, and with good reason, is the sunset cruise. We went with Lake Argyle Cruises and loved it! Greg, who’s lived here for decades, was a wealth of information and wisecracks. We got to see freshwater crocodiles, rock wallabies, spitting archer fish, and more. Sitting in the water with our pool noodles and beverages and floating table of nibbles at the end, enjoying an unforgettable sunset over the lake, was a great way to top it all off. Speaking of sunsets, another good place to see one is the Ord River Lookout, a short and moderately steep climb from the caravan park. The way the light hits the river and Kimberley hills as eagles soar about is nothing short of magical.
Beware that one obstacle you could face coming here in the wet season is flooding. We ended up getting stuck at Lake Argyle for an extra day because of a dumping of 100ml of rain overnight which made the road back to Kununurra impassable. By the following day it was all clear to go, but this could be a major inconvenience if you have a tour booked or a plane to catch. Definitely worse places to get stuck though if you’re not on a deadline!
CANOEING DOWN THE ORD RIVER
Technically this wasn’t a wet season activity as these tours only operate in the dry season, but it’s still worth mentioning as it was one of our favourite activities during our time in Kununurra. Go Wild Adventure Tours offers 1, 2, or 3 day (and apparently even 4 days now) eco-noeing down the Ord River. All you have to provide is your food and drink, sleeping bag/blanket, and ice for the eskie, and they provide the rest! We chose the 2 day tour, which we reckon was the best value for money, as most of the attractions are on the first 2 days, and you get a sunset cruise back to Kununurra at the end of it. Starting at the top of the Ord River at the dam at Lake Argyle, you get a quick canoeing lesson, then you’re off!
There’s something so special about exploring some of the most remote country in Australia, and the world, by canoe. On the first day there’s some fun rapids to navigate, a lovely beach for a lunch and swim stop, and plenty of awe-inspiring scenery to enjoy. The camps are well set up, with platforms for your mozzie dome tent, firewood and bbq facilities, stovetop cooker, and plates and cutlery. There’s a toilet and even a shower, but we found a swim in the river refreshing enough. The next day is full of great little spots hidden away in the surrounding bush, our favourite being the adventurous Herbie’s Hideaway, once we found it that is! Even with the map provided, it was a difficult spot to locate so make sure you’re on the lookout. Once you get to the second night’s camp, all that’s left to do is relax and wait for the boat pickup back to Kununurra. We cannot recommend this experience highly enough!
Every town has its secret spots, those places that locals guard fiercely and rarely share with tourists. Kununurra is no different, but the locals here are friendly enough that they’re willing to part with some of these secrets. In turn we’ll share of few of these but won’t be giving specific directions to them. Half the fun is finding them anyway…so happy searching!
While most of these spots are wet season only, Secret Falls/Springs is apparently flowing year-round and is probably better in the dry season as it’s much easier to access. We tried a couple times to get to it while it was still the wet season but had to turn back each time as the road was still too flooded. A local told us (after these attempts) that it’s not uncommon for people to need to be rescued from this track during the wet season. The good news is Secret Falls is not so secret; it’s actually signposted (under a different name of course).
Twin Tubs, probably our favourite of the secret spots, is just out of town. A short walk through a little creek will lead to two circular pools, one feeding into the other, with beautiful pandanus trees all around. Later on we found out the track keeps going (remember: follow the water!) and leads to a stunning set of cascading waterfalls. It is possible to climb up the side of the falls, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart!
Packsaddle Springs, and another falls/cascades that we stumbled upon by accident while looking for Andy’s Chasm (which we never did manage to find…one for next time!), are located just south of town. These tracks also tend to be very boggy during the wet. Packsaddle Springs was a challenging walk; being late wet season there was no really track to follow which meant a lot of walking through spinifex and pandanus (read: ouch!) to get to the final destination. It was the most adventurous of all our wanderings around Kununurra; several times we thought about turning back, but the springs and falls at the end were beautiful and (mostly) worth the struggle.
Closer to Lake Argyle are another two great spots: Thompson Springs and one we heard called Walk of a Thousand Falls. Similar to Packsaddle Springs, our exploration of Thompson Springs was limited due to the lack of an adequately cleared track, but the swim in the main pool surrounded by vegetation was lovely. The Walk of a Thousand Falls, pretty self-explanatory really, is a walk up a cliff with countless little falls and cascades along the way, with great views over the surrounding countryside.
As you can see, Kununurra is so much more than a transit town or dry season only destination. In fact, it’s the first non-coastal location that we thought we could easily live in, and we can’t wait to get back there one day!