Kelly's Knob ablaze at sunset
Kununurra is a small town built on big dreams. In a remote corner of the vast Kimberley region of Western Australia, its unaffected pastoral feel makes a comfortable base from which to explore the majestic natural attractions in the rugged surrounding landscape.
Kununurra's existence is due entirely to a grand engineering scheme to harness the Ord River, and establish an agriculture industry in the area. The town itself came into existence in the late 1950's as a support centre for the Ord Irrigation scheme. A few vanguard families slowly spread their multi-thousand acre properties across the fertile plain. In recent years, it has unceasingly shaken off its pragmatic origins to develop infrastructure for the growing number of visitors to this previously difficult-to-visit part of the Kimberley. From the initial handful of pioneering farmers, the permanent population has now grown to around 7,000. The town was officially gazetted as recently as 1961.
As early as 1882, fortune seeking pastoralists and farmers have been drawn to pin their hopes on the Ord River and the wide open plains around it. The Ords potential was first identified by explorer Alexander Forrest in 1879. He encouraged graziers in search of new land to the area and subsequently built his empire on leases of 51 million acres. The most well known of these pastoralists was the Durack family, who in 1882 drove 7,250 head of cattle and 200 horses overland from Queensland to establish the Lissadell, Argyle, Rosewood and Ivanhoe stations. At Ivanhoe station, north of the present Kununurra townsite, the potential of growing crops on the rich alluvial soils of the Ord Valley became apparent and after early experiments literally bore fruit, many acres of cattle country were turned over to agriculture. It was soon realised that the full potential of the Ord to grow thirsty crops could only be achieved with more water.
Begun in 1958, the Ord Irrigation Scheme was an ambitious idea to capture the huge volume of water flowing down the Ord during the monsoon for irrigation of the fertile plains along the river's lower reaches and to develop a productive agriculture industry and create a food bowl for Western Australia.
The first stage was completed in 1963 with the construction of the Diversion Dam, creating Lake Kununurra and feeding a network of canals that supported 31 farms by 1966. Spurred on by this success, the second stage saw the building of the Ord River Dam further upstream, subsequently creating Lake Argyle, Australia's second largest artificial Lake. Construction of the 335 metres long, earth wall dam was completed in 1971 and ceremoniously opened a year later. The reservoir's initial capacity of a hefty 5,641 gigilitres (equivalent to 11 Sydney Harbours by some peoples estimate) was increased in the early 1990s, when the wall was raised by 6 metres to double its current capacity to an oceanic 10,763 giglitres. The extra capacity enabled a hydroelectric power station to keep spinning and provide the towns power.
In the early days, farmers experimented with a range of crops and had variable results. Crops such as cotton and rice were dismal failures as pests and birds ate it quicker than it could grow. But sugar cane, bananas, melons and mangos became a very successful cash crop. In recent years, sandalwood plantations became more abundant. A trial of commercial hemp proved to be viable and production is tipped to be expanded once the states draconian laws can be modernised.
There are a few explanations for the etymology of the town's name, the most popular being a mangled English pronunciation of Gunanurang - "Big River" in the local Miriwoong people's language.
Many scenes from the movie Australia were filmed in the area surrounding Kununurra.
Kununurra has a tropical climate with two distinct seasons; the monsoonal ‘wet’ season and the touristy ‘dry’ season. The wet season starts around October, typified by heavy rain, 40°C days and uncomfortable humid nights, and ends in April. The rest of the year is the milder, dry season, bringing 30°C highs, blue skies and the bulk of tourists.
When to visit
Though the dry is typically the peak tourist season, the wet is arguably the best time to see Kununurra. The monsoonal weather brews up billowing thunderclouds flashing with electrical storms that make for some beautiful sunsets. The ensuing downpours create rushing cascades to usually dry waterholes and bring a flush of new green growth to the landscape. If you can endure the humidity and incessant rain, you will see a Kununurra that many miss.
- Kununurra Visitor Centre, 75 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 1177 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 9168 2598), . Your best source for free pamphlets about services in Kununurra, maps and Kimberley themed knick-knacks. Staff can be quite helpful in answering your questions, even more so if you look interested in booking a tour.
Crossing the border: What not to pack
Considering the importance of agriculture to Kununurra, it's no surprise they take a Quarantine seriously. A checkpoint on the WA/NT border, around 30km from town, gives all vehicles entering WA a scrutinising eye for disease infested fruit, vegetables, honey, plants, seeds, soil and some animals. Anything on the list, regardless of its freshness, must be declared and dropped into the bins. The Government run Quarantine Direct website  has a full list of what you may bring. If you're coming from the NT, it's best to eat everything beforehand and save yourself some hassles. Generally, the inspector will have a quick poke around your boot, yet there are stiff fines imposed for intentionally hiding a stash of apples. Similar inspections are done on planes arriving from interstate, but you are unlikely to ever see the sniffer dog run over your bag.
Also unwelcome at the border are cane toads, who are slowly hopping over the border on their own and sometimes hitch a ride in under trucks and caravans. They pose a serious threat to native fauna, and though their arrival is inevitable, it'd be a good idea to look over your vehicle for any illegal amphibians trying make an early appearance.
Kununurra is a mere 30km from the Northern Territory border, but a long way from anywhere else. The drive over vast distances, through some very isolated country to get there should not be taken lightly, though with a bit of forward planning the getting there can be a great trip in itself.
The easy way is on the Great Northern Highway, taking about two days to cover the 1,044 km if you push it. The good sealed road passes through a few small towns and sights. The more interesting, but harder way, is via the Gibb River Road, taking at least seven days to trundle over it's 650km length. The Gibb is an unsealed 4WD only track across the Kimberleys northern parts, passing many gorges, waterfalls and generally beautiful country. It is prone to flooding in the wet season and may be closed entirely. It's best to check with the tourist bureau before setting out.
The sealed Stuart Highway runs 324km south from Darwin to Katherine. From Katherine, you can turn right and drive the final 524km stretch on the Victoria Highway to Kununurra.
Kununurra airport (IATA: KNX), is 4km outside of town and has flights to regional centres as well as some charter and scenic flights. The airport is small but modern and the runway has one of the most scenic approaches you are likely to find. Taxis wait for every arriving flight and cost around $10 to town. Some hostels/hotels offer a free courtesy bus if you are staying with them. There isn’t a local bus or airport bus service into town.
- Airnorth (QantasLink), ☎ +61 8 89204001 ([email protected]), . One flight a day leaving at 1:05PM takes just short of 90 minutes. Airnorth is a bit more pricey than the other carriers but offers full service. $230-387.
- Skywest, ☎ +61 1300660088 ([email protected]), . Operates three flights a week. On Monday and Wednesday departure is at 2:10PM but earlybirds can get one on Friday at 10AM. The flight takes about 90 minutes. $191-371.
- Airnorth (QantasLink), ☎ +61 8 89204001 ([email protected]), . One daily flight leaving at 10:40AM (Sa 7:45AM) NT time and arriving at 10:10AM WA time. The flight takes about 90 minutes if you work out the maths for the interstate time difference. $138-306.
- Skywest, ☎ +61 1300660088 ([email protected]), . Operate 4 flights a week, one each on Monday and Wednesday (11:15AM) and two on Friday (7AM - via Broome, 9AM). Flights via Broome take about 4.5 hours whereas direct flights are 1 hour quicker. Though it's a full service airline, you might only get offered a cup of tea and a biscuit. $229-501.
- Qantas, ☎ +61 13 13 13, . Daily flights via Broome. One flight each on Tuesday and Saturday at 9:55AM and two flights on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday-Friday at 7:10AM and 9:10AM. Flights via Broome take between 4.5 hours and 7.5 hours depending on how long they stop over. You will get something to eat on the Perth-Broome leg and a snack on the second half. $474-877.
- From Broome. Greyhound  runs daily services virtually flying there in 14 hours.
- From Darwin, it's only about 9 hours.
- From Perth is theoretically possible, but if you are not insane before taking on the 48hr journey, you may be afterwards.
Even though Kununurra is small, interesting things tend to be far apart. The town doesn't have a local bus service but short hops around town can be easily done on foot. Trips further afield will require a car and getting to places on rough dirt roads need a 4WD.
Driving around town, you will encounter few cars and not a single traffic light. On street parking and carparks are free. Most corners, even major intersections, follow the give way rule and stop signs are given the same regard by most local motorists.
Outside town, the long, straight stretches of highway give you a chance to put the foot down and eat up some miles. If you are inexperienced in country driving, watch out for oncoming road trains that can push you off the road with their draft, and kangaroos at sunset.
The major car rental outfits have offices in town and the airport:
- Budget Car and Truck Rental, 1 Konkerberry Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 2033, . Also has an office at the airport.
- Avis Car Rental, 208 Konkerberry Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 1258 ([email protected]), . Can arrange pick ups from the airport.
Many visitors will wonder how much there is to see in a town this small. The answer is — not much. Aside from two dams and a couple of lakes, there are few man made attractions of interest (unless you count the distillery). But why would you travel this far to such an isolated place to see the same straight lines that surround you at home? Kununurra's real draw is the undulating tangle of rivers, valleys, waterholes, flood plains and gorges scattered in the surrounding landscape that stretches out for many hundreds of kilometres uninterrupted by anything boxy.
A few well known areas, such as Lake Argyle, appear on well worn itineraries, but casting off in any direction will lead to less traversed but no less interesting spots. While some spots are not easily reached without a 4WD or boat, Kelly's Knob and the Mirima National Park are reachable on foot or bicycle and equal anything found at the end of a corrugated dirt road.
Sunset and sunrise are the best times to get out and look at rocky things. Not only are the temperatures cooler, but the quality of light ignites the stone with a luminous orange tone. You're also more likely to see animals that have been hiding from the mid day heat venturing out to feed.
Deep inside Mirima National Park
Black Rock Falls in the wet season
Close to town
- Celebrity Tree Park, Old Darwin Rd (next to Lake Kununurra). Established in 1984, the park displays different species of trees planted by famous people during their visit to Kununurra. Despite the eminent provenance of the trees' placement here, they are really just trees in a park. Free.
- Diversion Dam, (6km west of town on Victoria Hwy). This antiquated looking dam holds back Lake Kununurra on one side and feeds a steady trickle into the irrigation channels on the other. All kinds of massive iron pulleys, levers and mechanical doodads from an erstwhile grand engineering age can be seen as you drive slowly over the wall. A spray on white water continuously surges through one of its 20 gates next to a shady picnic area and boat ramp. A good place to cast a fishing line into the churning water during the dry season, but is sometimes submerged in the wet.
- Ivanhoe Crossing, Ivanhoe Rd (about 10km north of town out past the farms). Permanently submerged crossing over (or under) the Ord River. Popular with locals fishing for Barramundi, it's also a nice spot to have a BBQ or explore along the waters edge. As inviting at the water looks, taking a dip isn't advisable as freshwater crocs got in first, and they don't like to share. Crossing in a 4WD is possible when water levels are low, but during the wet season, the river swells to a torrent and makes the way impassable for all but the most foolhardy.
- Kelly's Knob, Kelly Rd (off Speargrass Rd). Visible from anywhere in town, Kelly's knob is the highest point (191m) for miles, making it the ideal place to get a wide view of the valley and surrounding ranges. A railed lookout area next to the carpark is a suitable vantage point to see all the main features. Those itching to see further can hop over the pitiful fence uphill from the carpark and follow a well worn trail along the hill face to the service stairs that lead to TV tower and the knob's peak. Sunset is the best time to visit. Free.
- Lake Argyle, (drive 35km east on Victoria Hwy and turn at the sign just before the NT border). Literally the reason Kununurra is on the map; this enormous man made lake is about 70km out of town. Any superlative you care to think of fails to do justice to the size and beauty of what is here, but the odd four letter word usually enters the mind of most on arrival. Besides being dumbstruck with the spectacular landscape, you can also swim, hike or fish around the myriad of islands, bays and beaches. Cruise and fishing charter boats ply the waters and are a good way to explore the less easily accessible parts of the lake.
- Lake Kununurra, (right next to town). The smaller brother to lake Argyle. The middle of the lake is littered with the ghostly drowned trees poking their limbs above the water, but the outer edge wet lands support a huge range of plants, birds, fish and other animals. There are a few picnic spots (some with barbecues) where you can swim, off Victoria Hwy. A cruise boat does a tour around the lake and up to the Ord Dam.
- Mirima National Park (Hidden Valley), Barringtonia Avenue (a 10 minute walk from town). Though the park itself is huge, a small area close to town has been developed with walkways, information boards and a viewing platform. Often described as the mini Bungle-Bungles by marketing types in tourist brochures, it offers more diversity than just striped domes. It’s worth visiting at sunrise or sunset when the orange colour of the rock is at its most intense. An entry fee is payable into an often out of order ticket machine, but can be avoided by either walking in from town or parking out front (next to the cemetery) and walking the 500m into the park. $10 per car.
- Sleeping Buddha/Elephant Rock. Named Carlton Ridge on maps, but fancifully called the Sleeping Buddha by locals, this meandering outcrop is said to resemble a slumbering Buddha or an elephant depending on your viewpoint. Kelly's Knob lookout or Celebrity Tree Park are ideal spots for a good view of the Buddha, and the elephant with its trunk dipped into the water is best seen from Packsaddle Rd or a boat on the river.
The outlying areas hide many interesting sights that emerge fleetingly during the wet season, when water flows and brings waterfalls, waterholes and creeks to the normally arid landscape. Only a 4WD will get you to most places and access to some may even be cut off by floods. A visit might be less of a hassle in the dry, but you won't be seeing them in their full splendour.
- Black Rock Falls, (along Parry Creek Rd). Well hidden in the hills northwest of town is a deep waterhole at the base of a 30m waterfall popular with locals in the know. The waterfall only comes to life in the wet season, when monsoon rains flush out the waterhole and temporarily creates a cool place to swim between the sheer rock faces. It's not the easiest spot to find or get to, but if you have the means and get a long enough gap in the wet season rain, its a worthwhile visit.
- Middle Springs. Partly shaded by overhanging trees is a large sandy bottomed pool fed by a small waterfall gently tumbling down the rock face. A climb up the side of the falls will bring you to smaller secluded swimming holes and a great view over the valley.
The view from the Sleeping Buddha
The town has few specific activities to engage in, but that gives you all the more reason to do as the locals do and get outside and make your own fun.
- Climb the Sleeping Buddha, (take the unsealed Drovers Rd to the end, go around the right side of the ridge, turn left at the Racecourse gate down the unnamed road/track to the gate and walk in from there). If the view from afar suitably whets your curiosity, you can access the Buddha's foot (or is it the head?) at the end of Drovers Rd, next to the racecourse/rodeo grounds. Though the sheer rock faces may look discouraging, it is possible to climb to the top, though you will have to forge your own path up. It's not an easy climb, but it offers views that exceed those from Kelly's Knob.
- Explore Lake Kununurra and the Ord River by boat (Triple J Tours), ☎ +61 8 9168 2682 ([email protected]), . With the amount of water around Kununurra, often the best way to see some areas is by boat. Triple J is the only outfit in town to provide trips around Lake Kununurra and the upper reaches of the Ord River. Their big covered boats cruise different routes at varying times of the year depending on what looks good at the time. An informative commentary points out interesting features in the landscape as you pass craggy hills, precipitous gorges and the odd bemused native animal watching as you cruise by. $155-250.
- Hike in Mirima National Park. The rest of the National Park outside of Hidden Valley is open bushland with a network of unmarked trails winding around the rocks and boab trees. It can be accessed from anywhere along the northern side of Victoria Hwy. A good entry point is at the gated service road opposite Hibiscus Drive. Walk up the gravel road, pass the water tank and follow any of the trails into the bush. Many hills can be climbed for a better view but finding a way up can be tricky. Make sure you pay attention to where you are going as it is easy to get lost among the winding valleys and be wary of getting too close to ledges as the brittle rocks are prone to break away.
- Leisure Centre & Swimming Pool, Coolibah Dr (next to the Visitors centre), ☎ +61 8 9168 2120. M-F 6AM-8PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM. If swimming with the crocs is not your thing, you can still take a dip in the eight lane pool or run riot in the children's water play area. There are also Gym and Squash courts facilities.
- Lake Kununurra Golf Club, Lakeview Drive, ☎ +61 8 9169 1055 ([email protected]), . Set on the banks of the lake and striking through some fairly swampy area, this 18 hole course makes avoiding water hazards a definite challenge. Greens are well maintained but fairways give little relief from the surrounding natural terrain. Nonetheless, you would be hard pressed to find a more isolated course of this standard.
Festivals & events
- Ord Valley Muster, ☎ +61 8 9168 2720 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 9168 2241), . An annual festival held over two weeks in May that brings some big names (and big money) for two weeks of art, music, dance and culture events in and around Kununurra and Wyndham. The festival's finale is the Kimberley Moon Experience dinner, featuring a performance by the headline act and lots of corporate schmoozing. Events change each year, but past years have had rodeos, Kimberley inspired artwork and the frantic Diamond Dig.
- Kununurra Agricultural Show, Showgrounds, Cnr Ivanhoe Rd and Coolabah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 2885 ([email protected]), . Held on a weekend in July each year, the Ag Show is a chance for local farmers to meet and see who has the biggest vegetable. It's a good insight into the local way of life, there are displays of prize cattle, local produce, preserves and homecrafts, plus competitive equestrian and lawnmower racing events. Adults $15, children $5.
There's a lot of jobs down there
Kununurra has long been a magnet for travellers seeking backbreaking work to fund few more months of leisurely wandering. Most of the unskilled labour jobs are on the farms when short term harvesting gigs become available between June and November. Harvesting jobs are advertised in the local paper and on backpacker and supermarket notice boards. The truly lazy who want their jobs to come to them can sign up with one of the recruitment agencies.
If you are skilled and they are short staffed, hospitality work at the hotels comes up mainly in the peak tourist season, but most places want a commitment for longer than a few weeks. Most of the time these jobs are not advertised, so the best approach is to do the rounds of the hotels and inquire directly.
Nefarious rumours of working without a valid work visa are often whispered in the dark corners of pubs and, true as it might be, the right way is to have a proper Australian work visa. The main Australia page can tell you what you need to legally work in Australia.
- Grunt Labour Services, 108 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 3711 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 9169 3811), .
Though not a great shopping destination, there are a few small shops where you can pick up an interesting Kimberly style item. Prices for everyday things like food and fuel tend to be higher here due to the cost of transporting it in from far away. Local arts and crafts pop up for sale in all kinds of places and, while quality is wildly variable, there is a lot of great work by Aboriginal artists from communities around the area. The high season is also the peak of commerce in town and the time when normally empty supermarkets checkouts jam with long lines of grey nomads taking too long to pay for their baked beans.
- Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery, 10 Papuana St, ☎ +61 8 91681 881 ([email protected]), . M-F 9AM-4:30PM, Sa 9AM-1PM. Specialising in Aboriginal Art from the Kimberley, the gallery style store displays a wide range of styles from unknowns and established artists alike. If names like Minnie Pwerle, Tommy Carrol or 'Lofty' Bardayal Nadjamerrek aren't on your art radar, it's still worth a wander around to see some good paintings, even if you don't want something for your wall.
- Kimberley Fine Diamonds, 93 Konkerberry Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 1133 ([email protected]), . If you have a bit of style and a pile of cash, a piece of hand crafted jewellery featuring rare Argyle Pink Diamonds could make a unique souvenir.
- Zebra Rock Gallery, 410 Packsaddle Rd, ☎ +61 08 91681114 ([email protected]), . 8AM-5PM daily. Lithophiles can find polished stone sculptures in a myriad of shapes cut from a banded siltstone hyperbolically dubbed Zebra Rock by locals. The rock was discovered in 1927 and is claimed to be unique to the Kimberley. Some of the bowls, vases and geometric paper weights might look more interesting than the type of things you get at Ikea.
The two supermarkets in town are your only option for stocking up on groceries and your last chance for many hundreds of kilometres if you're travelling onwards. Between them, they have most staples and a limited range of gourmet products.
- Coles, Cnr Konkerberry & Messmate Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 2711. 6AM-8PM daily. The usual range of products you would expect, plus some cheap-o camping and fishing equipment. Almost everything is trucked in frozen and then defrosted on the shelf, so freshness of products like bread can be sub-par. Staffed by some of the surliest check out chicks in the state.
- Tucker Box IGA, 191 White Gum St, ☎ +61 8 9169 1270. M-Sa 6:30AM-7:30PM, Su 7:30AM-7:30PM. Less slick looking than the other place, but they do have fresh vegetables and bread from local producers, plus you get a friendly smile at the checkout.
The Boab's nut and tuber are edible
Kununurra's isolation and distance from the capital cities haven't stopped it from having some pretty decent dining options. Most of the better eating is found at hotel restaurants where menus feature modern Australian cuisine, usually with a Kimberley style twist. Dishes made with crocodile, kangaroo and barramundi are prominent menu items and the odd bush tucker ingredient, such as boab chutney, might also make it onto the plate.
Kununurra is surrounded by agriculture, so there's a steady supply of fresh, sometimes organic, vegetables and fruit throughout the year. The popular Kensington Pride mangos come into season between September and December and are prized for their unique flavour.
There was a time when farms sold their produce from rickety wooden tables in front of their properties. Sadly, this doesn't seem to happen much nowadays. If you still like the idea of buying your food directly from the farmer, it might be worth driving around the farmlands on the towns outskirts and keeping an eye out for a hand painted sign propped up against a fence.
Those with a more adventurous palate should try a Boab Nut. Boab trees start to fruit in October and reach maturity around mid-January when the mature nut drops to the ground. The nuts are generally too high up to pick from a branch, so you will need to search for an intact one among the litter of smashed shells left by birds. The flaky dry white flesh inside the thin shelled nut has been described by some as tasting like citrus flavoured powdered milk, but others maintain it's closer to sour Styrofoam. The tuber of baby boabs are also edible and taste similar to a water chestnut. Bottles of boab chutney flavoured with various spices can sometimes be bought at the Saturday markets.
Good budget food is hard to find. If the fast food chains don't appeal, you may be better off heading to a supermarket and eating DIY.
- BP Ord River Roadhouse, 5 Messmate Way, ☎ +61 8 9169 1188. 24 hours daily. You may be asking how food from a petrol station could possibly be worth eating, but this place has decent home-made take away food that's consistently raved about by visitors and locals alike. If burgers and pies are too ignoble for your tastes, try some lasagne or beef stroganoff. $3-12.
- Kimberley Asian Cuisine Restaurant, 75 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +618 9169 3698. M-F 10AM-2PM, Sa-Su 5PM-10PM. Taking an influence from a mixed bag of Asian cuisines, their menu is a welcome variance in your dining options. The Asian-style dishes are not particularly authentic, but are nonetheless spicy in the right way. $5-20.
- Rumours Patisserie, 4/64 Konkerberry Dr (inside the shopping centre), ☎ +61 8 9168 2071. 8AM-5PM daily. Despite the fancy name, Rumours is more of a sandwiches and pies place that does a decent fry up breakfast that is a popular hangover cure. Freshly made burgers are of a hunger busting size and the cakes, slices and muffins taste like something your mum used to make. Avoid going there after 3PM, when school children descend like a flock of crows to eat the last sausage roll in the warmer. $5-18.
- The Durack Room Steakhouse/Sails Bar & Bistro, 50 Casuarina Way, ☎ +61 8 9169 1092. 5PM-11PM daily. These two restaurants operate at different times of the year from the same property. Carnivores will feel right at home at the steakhouse with an animal heavy menu and a decor that feels like you're in someone's lounge room. Sails has a large outdoor dining area and offers pretty standard breakfast, lunch and dinner fare. Steakhouse open Mar-Dec, Sails open May-Sep. Mains $22-35.
- Zebra Rock Bar & Restaurant, 37 Messmate Way, ☎ +61 8 9168 0400. M-Sa 10AM-midnight, Su noon-10PM. Keeping an Aussie theme right through to the menu, they serve up simple pasta, steak and seafood dishes, plus some genuine vegetarian options. Breakfast buffet and limited lunch dining are available on weekdays, but for a truly Australian feed, get to the $20 BBQ on Sundays. Mains $18-32.
- The Argyle Room/The Grande Bistro, 20 Victoria Highway, ☎ +61 8 9193 8340. 7AM-11PM daily. An upmarket place that offers fine dining in the Argyle room and more casual bistro eats out in the courtyard. The menu, albeit limited, is spoken of by many in the same favourable terms as the service. Offering among the usual modern Australian dishes, a buffet, daily specials of local produce and wood fired pizzas. The buffet breakfast can be hit and miss — some days, you may get fresh pancakes and hot food and on others, a loaf of bread and a toaster. Mains $30-42.
- Kelly's Bar and Grill, 47 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 1024. 9AM-11:30PM daily. Popular with locals trying hard to emulate sophisticated city folk, the restaurant's cramped indoor seating area forces most diners to the tables on the spacious deck outside. The menu changes with the seasons and features local produce. The choices can be variable interestingness wise, but it's worth ignoring the usual run of the mill dishes and trying out a unique local style meal such barramundi and crocodile risotto. They also have a decent selection of wine and fancy beer. Mains $28-38.
- Pumphouse Restaurant + Bar, Lot 3005, Lakeview Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 3222 ([email protected]), . 8AM-late daily. Recently opened in a decommissioned pumphouse built in early days of the Ord River irrigation scheme. This stylish place overlooks the Ord River and serves modern Australian dishes made with produce from all over the Kimberley and WA. If the reverberant seating inside the cavernous space dampens your appetite, a table on the riverside deck makes a nice place to simply have a beer and watch the crocs swim past. Mains $28-36.
If there is one thing that Kununurra residents do well, it's drink. As with food, the better drinking holes are in hotel restaurant bars, most of which are are licensed to allow you drink without purchasing a meal. Any establishment with the word bar in the name is a safe bet. Though the usual street drinking laws are still enforced, you are unlikely to be hassled by the local constabulary if you are having a quiet one while lounging on a rock with a good view.
Occasionally, bottle shops are prohibited to sell full strength beer, wine and spirits till after 7PM, whenever the local police deem that a community event will be marred by availability of booze during the day. Though it might feel like a ridiculous inconvenience, there's no point complaining to the bottle shop staff. Just come back after 7PM like everyone else.
The rest of the time there are plenty of ways to get something cold and numbing to slake your thirst.
- Hoochery Distillery, 300 Weaber Plain Rd, ☎ +61 8 9168 2467 ([email protected]), . M-F 9AM-4PM, Sa 9AM-noon. The oldest continuously operating rum distillery in Western Australia, the Hoochery uses local cane sugar to make some pretty potent booze. Though it is aged in oak barrels, it's still a harsh gulp, but the high alcohol percentage (up to 70%) hits in the right way. Tours of the distilling operations run twice a day. $49-135 per bottle, $10 for a tour.
- Liquorland, Lot 2252 Konkerberry Dr (attached to Coles supermarket), ☎ +61 8 9168 3723. 12AM-7PM. Stocks a limited selection of WA wines, imported beers and the most popular spirits. Their walk in freezer is a nice place to browse the aisles on a hot day.
- Thirsty Camel Bottle-O, Messmate Way. F-Sa 10AM-12PM, Su-Th 10AM-11PM. Past the mountains of domestic beer and premixed drinks stacked inside the door is a decent selection of wine, imported beer and spirits. A drive-thru service is also available if you know what you want and are reluctant to leave your car's air-conditioning.
- Aussie Bar, 37 Messmate Way (inside Hotel Kununurra), ☎ +61 8 9168 0400. 6PM–10PM daily. A kitschy Aussie themed place with a corrugated iron bar and other rustic paraphernalia on the walls. Beer aficionados would be well advised to try one of ales from Matso's Brewery of Broome they have on tap. A band or DJ provide the tunes on Fridays or you can belt one out yourself at Karaoke on Wednesday.
- Gulliver's Tavern, 196 Cottontree Avenue, ☎ +61 8 91681666. W-Su 6PM–10PM. A nice place to hangout in the courtyard with some of the less haggard looking locals. They can fill up a pint mug with a half a dozen beers on tap or give you a bottle of something more boutique. Some patrons speak effusively about the friendliness of the bar staff.
- KG Sports Bar, 20 Victoria Hwy, ☎ +61 8 9166 5600. noon-11PM daily. A weirdly minimal styled interior with boxy wooden tables and tree trunk stools. Of course, the big attraction here is the huge TV surrounded by glazed eyed males, glued to the cable sport channel while sipping on one of the wide range of ales the bar has on tap. You might want to bring a cushion for those hard wood seats if you plan on staying till the final whistle.
- Boab Bookshop Cafe, 4 Papuana St, ☎ +61 8 9169 2574. M-F 7:30AM-5PM, Sa 7:30AM-2PM. This is about as sophisticated as it gets here, with fresh coffee, tea, cakes and a limited menu of light meals. The coffee is nothing special, but if you need something with more kick than the free instant coffee in your hotel, this place might be your best option.
For such a small town, Kununurra has a surprisingly wide range of sleeping options. Rates rise in the peak/dry season (1 Apr–31 Oct) and drop in the low/wet season (1 Nov–31 Mar). Most have a range of accommodations at every price point, but it would be worth checking around if you are looking for a private room as a more comfortable bed may be found at one of the bigger hotels for a price comparable to the donga style cabins that some caravan parks offer, especially during the low season.
- Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort, Cnr Coolibah and Ivanhoe Rd, ☎ +61 8 9169 1995 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 9169 1985), . On the outer edge of town, this oldie has numerous camp sites that spread to the local football oval to meet demand in the peak season. The Barra cabins feel a bit rudimentary for the price, but the two bedroom Ivanhoe Suites look like a bargain if you bring friends. Powered site $30-36, cabin $105-210.
- Kimberley Croc YHA, 120 Konkerberry Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 2702 or in Australia 1300 136 702 ([email protected]), . Bang in the middle of town, 600m away from the Greyhound bus stop, this hostel is the best of the backpacker options. It has everything you expect, plus a pool and a nice communal kitchen. Pickups from bus station or airport can be arranged in advance. High season rates are given. It's a few dollars less in the low season. 8 bed dm: $28; 4 bed dm: $30; Dbl: $95; Dbl with bath: $110.
- Lake Argyle Caravan and Camping Park, Lake Argyle, ☎ +61 8 9168 7777 ([email protected]), . One of the best places to stay at the cheapest price would have to be here on the edge of Lake Argyle. Even though it's 70km from town, you won't need to do without any conveniences as a small shop, restaurant, laundry and camp kitchen are on site. There's some upgrading going on, so it might be even better by the time you visit. Camping sites $12pp, extra $7 for power.
- All Seasons Kununurra, Cnr Victoria Hwy & Messmate Way, ☎ +61 8 9168 4000 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 91682622), . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 10AM. This was once the best place in town, but now the rooms could do with a style update. Nonetheless, they are clean, comfortable and quiet, making it one of better bargains in town. The garden provides a pleasant walk to the pool. $118-126.
- Kununurra Town Caravan Park, 40 Bloodwood Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 1763 ([email protected]), . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 10AM. Hidden away in town are shady grassed caravan/tent sites and air-conditioned studio or villa rooms. Facilities to make use of include the shaded swimming pool, plentiful hot water showers, internet and a campers kitchen with possibly the cleanest BBQ in the entire top end. Powered site: $26, Villa: $115.
- Lakeview Apartments, 224 Victoria Hwy, ☎ +61 8 9168 0000 ([email protected]), . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 10AM. Domesticated couples or big groups might find these 1-3 bedroom self contained apartments suitable to their style. The rooms surround a shaded swimming pool with spa next to a BBQ area. Guests have been impressed by the friendly owners helpfulness. $200-300.
- Lakeside Resort, 50 Casuarina Way, ☎ +61 8 9169 1092 ([email protected]), . What the rooms lack in style, they make up for in views. Though it's right on the edge of Lake Kununurra, it is nonetheless somewhat inconveniently located in a residential area, a lengthy walk from the useful part of town. $160-180.
- Country Club Plaza Resort, 47 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9168 1024; 1800 808 999 ([email protected]), . A fairly upmarket place, but the quality doesn't quite match the premium price. Modern rooms scattered through a tropical garden with a pool and popular but overrated restaurant. A courtesy bus can take you to/from the bus station or airport if you arrange in advance. $194-216, cheaper weekly rates.
- The Kimberley Grande, 20 Victoria Hwy, ☎ +61 8 9166 5600 ([email protected], fax: +61 8 9169 1172), . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 11AM. This is about as upmarket as Kununurra can offer. But the large modern rooms have enough style to satiate your expectations if you want some luxury to take refuge in after a day in the sun. $150-280.
Information and news
- Kimberley Echo, . A thin community newspaper that's a good source for upcoming event listings, job ads, classifieds and news reports on whatever local incidents the editor deems newsworthy. Available on the counter at supermarkets and service stations. $1.50.
Payphones are scattered throughout town, but some on the street side suffer from vandalism and may be inoperable. It might be best to try the one at your hostel or at the tourist centre. Phones are coin-operated or use prepaid Phonecards, available from most supermarkets or newsagents. International calling cards are also available at these outlets.
Mobile phone coverage can be sketchy. The Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks have a good signal within town, becoming variable to non-existent the further away you get. Other networks are hit and miss, but those with 3G/NextG phones might have more luck.
If you intend to spend any amount of time off the beaten track, it is advisable to rent a satellite phone to call for emergency services should anything happen.
Most hotels and hostels will have wireless or terminals for you to get your Internet fix. There are a few other options in town though.
- Kimnet, 108 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 2257, . M-F 8AM-8:30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM. Half a dozen computers with headphones for VOIP and grotty keyboards you might not want to touch for too long. They can also put your photos on a disk. $1.50 for 15 mins.
- Telecenter, Shop 3 121 Coolibah Dr, ☎ +61 8 9169 1868 ([email protected]), . M-F 8AM-6PM. Wireless internet and possibly some terminals.
- Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle Range) — a striking jumble of striped sandstone domes that truly deserves to be described as a must see. Although scenic flights from Kununurra are popular, Purnululu is really best appreciated from ground level.
- Darwin — Route 1 continues eastwards from Kununurra into the Northern Territory, passing through Gregory National Park and Katherine before reaching Darwin after about 800km.
- Warmun (Turkey Creek) — an Aboriginal community around 200km south of Kununurra. Besides being an entry point to the Purnululu National Park, it also has a long standing arts scene that's produced a number of internationally recognised Aboriginal Artists. A roadhouse, caravan park and basic hotel accommodation are enough to rest and refuel.
- Wyndham — the oldest and most northerly town in the Kimberley. Wyndham is about 100km from Kununurra and sits in the Cambridge Gulf at the confluence of five rivers. Among the desolate natural scenery are a number of interesting relics from the towns boom and bust history.
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