The Expeditioner Blog
Last week we told you about some of our team’s favourite things to do in Broome before or after your Kimberley Cruises. So, it's only fair that this week we share a few of our most-loved activities around Kununurra – the eastern gateway to the Kimberley where quite a few Kimberley cruises start or finish.
In no particular order, here’s some of the East Kimberley’s best attractions:
Purnululu National Park – The Bungle Bungle
Perhaps the East Kimberley’s most impressive landmark is the World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungle Range. It is hard to believe this massive massif was only ‘discovered’ in 1983, and was granted World Heritage-listing as recently as 1996.
Known for its iconic ‘Beehive Domes’, Punululu Naitonal Park (the Bungle Bungle’s formal name) offers great hiking opportunities and a true taste of the outback. Whilst the domes capture the imagination of most visitors, the northern gorges of the park are home to Mini Palms Gorge and Echidna Chasm, both well worth a visit.
Purnululu National Park is located around three hours drive south of Kununurra, and if you’re going to self-drive you will need a 4WD for the Spring Creek Track part of the drive, the final 55km into the park. Otherwise, there’s guided tours from Kununurra and Broome, and even ‘flightseeing’ tours of varying lengths. Once you arrive, you can pitch a tent at designated camp grounds, or for a bit of luxury check in at one of the park’s lodges where luxury tented cabins and gourmet meals await.
Cruising the Ord River
On my first visit to Kununurra many moons ago I jumped aboard a cruise on the Ord River with Triple J Tours, and I still look back on it as one of the very best things I have ever done in the Kimberley. So, if you’re going to be in Kununurra make sure you leave aside some time for this excellent activity.
For those who don’t know, back in the 1970s Lake Argyle (a man-made reservoir) was designed as the backbone of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. The Ord River itself runs from the lake, via Kununurra and out to Cambridge Gulf. When you board a Triple J Ord River cruise you will join a thrilling 55 kilometre adventure from the dam wall at Lake Argyle all the way back to Kununurra, marvelling at the spectacular scenery, wildlife, flora and fauna found along the way, including the elusive freshwater crocodile!
Tours run daily, and more details are available at the Triple J Tours website.
Diamonds are Forever
Don’t spend all your money on pearls in Broome, as there’s diamonds awaiting in Kununurra! The Argyle Diamond Mine (about 100 kilometres from Kununurra by road) produces about 90% of the world’s coveted pink and red diamonds. Whilst there’s several boutiques selling Argyle diamonds in Kununurra (Kimberley Fine Diamonds is one example), why not consider a tour of the mine itself to see how these precious gems are produced.
Tours of the mine from Kununurra are available on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, combining a scenic flight over the Bungle Bungle range with a 3.5 hour tour of the mine. The tour commences with lunch at the staff village and a visit to the village store where souvenirs and Argyle diamonds may be purchased. Then, drive through the processing plant and visit the diamond and local history gallery.
For more information about these Argyle Diamond Mine tours, visit the Aviair website.
Legendary Cattle Stations
Throughout the latter part of the 1800s the Kimberley rose to prominence as one of Australia’s finest cattle grazing regions. Early pioneers like the Durack family took advantage of huge pastoral leases to set up some of the world’s largest cattle stations. Today, some of these stations offer travellers a taste of life ‘on the farm’ and there’s a couple of great options close to Kununurra.
Perhaps the most well-known is El Questro Station and Wilderness Park, a one hour drive from Kununurra on the Gibb River Road (2WD car access is possible). Although El Questro still runs a herd of around 8,000 head of cattle, the million-acre station now operates predominantly as a tourism venture. Activities include cruises on the scenic Chamberlain Gorge, hiking and swimming below the waterfall in Emma Gorge and the Zebedee Springs hot springs. El Questro offers several different styles of accommodation; from luxury tented cabins at Emma Gorge and camping and bungalows at the station township through to the luxurious El Questro Homestead (where you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous); there’s an option to suit everyone’s tastes and budget.
Adjoining El Questro, Home Valley Station is the largest cattle station in Western Australia at some 3.5 million acres. There's a range of accommodation on offer from stylish lodges to eco-tents, motel-style rooms and a campground, all built around the station hub, the Dusty Bar & Grill. Activities at Home Valley include trail riding (horses), barramundi fishing tours and sun set tours of the Cockburn Range.
A stay at either El Questro or Home Valley is a great way to top off your Kimberley cruises. And, for an extra bit of luxury, if your Kimberley cruise is aboard True North they will even send the helicopter from the ship over to the station to collect you for boarding! Speak to our expert team today for options and ideas.
Art, Rocks & Rum
On most Kimberley cruises you’ll have the opportunity to purchase some interesting Aboriginal art pieces directly from the artist in places like Langii or Freshwater Cove. And, if you’re a fan, there’s some excellent galleries in Kununurra where you can see the artists at work and purchase some great pieces as well.
Waringarri Aboriginal Arts was the first wholly indigenous owned art centre established in the Kimberley and is also one of the oldest continuously operating art centres in Australia. The centre operates artists’ studios and galleries and supports more than 100 local artists as painters, printmakers, wood carvers, boab engravers, sculptors and textile artists. Cultural tours and performances are available, complementing the visitor experience with a rich insight into Miriwoong culture. All proceeds from art sales, art commissions and cultural tourism is returned to the community to support the program of arts and cultural projects.
If time permits, you might also like to visit Artlandish, a large gallery in the centre of town where you can purchase art from some of the Kimberley’s best independent artists.
A short drive from Kununurra brings you to the Zebra Rock Gallery. I’m happy to admit that before my first visit to this gallery I had absolutely no idea what zebra rock was – I’d never heard of it before, and there’s a very good reason for that. The world’s only known deposits of zebra rock have been found in the East Kimberley around Kununurra. The rock itself is very attractive, featuring dark bands (hence the zebra name!) or spots contrasting with a white background. As a soft rock, it is easily carved and the artists at the gallery produce some beautiful souvenirs. Or, you can just grab a piece of the rock in it’s natural state and use it as an interesting paper weight – like I have on my desk.
Finally, Kununurra might seem like an unlikely location to find some of Australia’s best rum being produced, but that’s exactly what you will find when you visit the ‘Hoochery’, home to Western Australia’s oldest legal still and the award-winning Ord River Rum, made from local sugar cane and water. Tours (and tastings!) are available daily at the distillery, located just outside of town.
Images courtesy of Aviair, El Questro Station, Hoochery Distillery, Argyle Diamonds and Triple J Tours