Kununurra, Western Australia

Explore the sights and history of Kununurra, with its spectacular lakeside beauty and outback charm, Kununurra is one of the Kimberley's most popular highlights. Odyssey offers small group tours for mature and senior travellers, couples, and solo travelers to Australia and Western Australia.

11 Feb 21 · 6 mins read

Kununurra, Western Australia

Located along Western Australia‘s Kimberley coast, Kununurra is a small town nestled in Australia’s east Kimberley region, renowned for its incredible natural beauty, awesome infrastructure works, and exhilarating outdoors experiences. Like many towns in Australia’s largest state, Kununurra is a fair distance away from some of the next major towns, with Broome being a 10 hour drive away, or Darwin in the Northern Territory around 8 and a half. Despite the familiar Australian tyranny of distance, Kununurra is quite the popular tourist destination, with its unique beauty even being used as the main filming location for much of Baz Luhrmann’s film ‘Australia’. One of the reasons for Kununurra‘s popularity is the incredible Lake Argyle, which is a sure highlight of any Kununurra tour, being an enormous 18 times the size of Sydney Harbour and perfect for kayaking, fishing and other water based activities. Aside from the town’s attractions around the lake and Ord River, Kununurra is also popular as a jumping off point for a Kimberley tour, being ideally located along the way the Bungle Bungle Range at Purnululu National Park, or the El Questro Wilderness area to the town’s west. The town also has a fascinating history, with a story of development dating back to the 1960s, shaping the town from deep outback station into an economic and agricultural powerhouse.

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The traditional owners of the land in Kununurra and the east Kimberley region are Australia’s indigenous people, specifically the Miriwoong and Gajirrabeng people, with a history of continued habitation in Australia, and Western Australia dating back roughly 60,000 years, when Aboriginal Australians arrived on the continent. The East Kimberley region could possibly even be one of the original points from which Aboriginal Australians arrived, with different theories proposing this site, as well as others in the Northern Territory as the most likely landing points from the islands of southeast Asia. The Kimberley showcases a rich cultural legacy of Aboriginal habitation from throughout this lengthy period, with only 1-2% of the region’s aboriginal rock and cave art having been recorded thus far, indicating the scale of indigenous involvement in the region. The Kimberley is also home to what is believed to be the world’s oldest examples of rock art, dating back at least 16,000 years. One example, the Gwion Gwion rock paintings, display distinctive spindly stick figures, ornamented with accessories such as bags, headdresses, and tassels. Another major form of rock painting in the Kimberley are the Wandjina, believed by the local Mowanjum people to be the supreme creator, depicted with huge eyes but no mouth. The first Wandjina are believed to have been painted 4000 years ago, with the figures continuing to be painted today, making it the world’s oldest continuous sacred painting movement. As for Kununurra itself, the name is derived from the indigenous Miriwoong culture, with the similar Miriwoong word ‘Goonoonoorrang’, translating to the word ‘river‘.

Aboriginal Artwork The Kimberley Australia
Wandjina rock paintings in the Kimberley.

As for European contact with the East Kimberley and Ord River, one of the first major influences was Irish-Australian pioneer pastoralist Patrick Durack. Durack and his family emigrated to New South Wales in 1853, escaping the harsh life of tenant farming, made increasingly untenable by the crippling land rents and potato blights present in the period. Though originally settling in New South Wales, the Duracks were pioneers when it came to finding new land for livestock, pushing through Queensland, the Northern Territory, and eventually to the Ord River near today’s Kununurra. The area the Duracks settled upon in the east Kimberley, named Ivanhoe station was established in 1893, and marked the first penetration of the old world into Australia’s Kimberley’s, which in subsequent years was earmarked as a concession for sugar cane planting by the Western Australian government, though this was largely never exploited. Interest in the Ord River area was spurred again in the late 1950’s with experimental farms being set up to test the viability of growing cash crops in the fertile tropical climate. This ultimately culminated in the Ord River irrigation scheme, with the goal of creating an Ord River Irrigation Area by damming and redirecting the flow of the river. The Ord river diversion dam was the first part of this project to be completed, irrigating about 750 square kilometers of land for agricultural use, with the second phase being completed 6 years later, which flooded the Argyle downs area, once home to the Duracks home station, turning it into the man made Lake Argyle. Today Kununurra is a large producer of a variety of tropical produce, including sandalwood, melons, mangoes, sugarcane, chickpeas, cotton and much more, proving the irrigation efforts to have been a successful endeavor. In addition to its agricultural importance, Kununurra is also host to one of the world’s largest diamond mines, with the Argyle diamond mine producing upwards of 90% of the world’s pink and red diamonds, as well as highly coveted and extraordinarily rare blue diamonds. In modern pop culture the town has come into the spotlight as the main filming location for Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 film ‘Australia’, which follows the story of cattle ranchers in Australia’s far north.

Western Australia scenes Ord river Farming and crops at Kununurra in the Kimberley region

Travelling to Kununurra

For those looking to delve into some of wild Australia’s most unforgettable places, a tour of Kununurra is a great way to experience the unique and otherworldly beauty of Australia’s Kimberley region and beyond. Starting with the town itself, one of the more iconic landmarks is definitely Lake Argyle. This colossal man made lake is home to a huge host of wildlife, including birds, fish and freshwater crocodiles, making it the perfect spot for either watersports like kayaking, or even a nature cruise. With such spectacular scenery, Kununurra cruises are a popular way to experience both Lake Argyle and the Ord river, with an Argyle, or Ord river cruise being a relaxing way to soak in the endless horizons, and vibrant subsets, perhaps with a refreshing morning tea or picnic lunch along the way. It’s also interesting to note that the Ord river dam produces the town’s entire power supply through its hydro-electric station, even servicing the towns large diamond mine. Heading south of the town is one of Western Australia‘s most spectacular natural landscapes, namely the Bungle Bungle range. Located in Purnululu National Park, the Bungle Bungle range was largely unknown to the general public until 1983, when it was ‘discovered’ by a film crew producing a documentary about the Kimberley’s. Following its accession to public note, the area has become one of Western Australia‘s best known tourist destinations, with its distinctive beehive shaped sandstone towers making it look like an almost otherworldly marvel, with this in mind one of the more popular ways to see the area has been by air, with either a helicopter flight, or scenic flight being popular ways to see this wild sight in all its resplendent glory.

Bungle Bungles.
The distinctive orange and grey stripes of the Bungle Bungle mountains, seen from above. Halls Creek is the closest town to the Bungle Bungles.

Somewhat closer to town, you can also find what’s called the ‘mini bungle bungle range‘ at Mirima National Park, which features some similar looking natural rock formations, albeit at a much smaller scale that Purnululu. To the west of Kununurra, another popular destination for exploring the Kimberley’s is the El Questro wilderness area, another must see spot on any Kimberley tour. The El Questro area is full of waterfalls, gorges, wildlife, and spectacular scenery from its lookouts, with local accommodation on site making it a perfect wilderness escape. Heading west out of town another possibility is to take the Gibb river road, this rugged route can be a great way to experience some of Western Australia‘s most amazing landscapes, running from Kununurra in the east, all the way to Broome in the west, just take heed that this track is designed for 4×4 vehicles. Odyssey visits Kununurra as part of our small group tour of the Kimberley, with the highlight of our stay in town being a cruise along the Ord river as well as Lake Argyle, before venturing forward on to Purnululu National Park. Odyssey’s tour of the Kimberley visits most of the major attractions and landmarks along our way, venturing forward from Broome, past Cape Leveque, to Bell Gorge, Mitchell Falls, El Questro station, and much more, before arriving and Kununurra and looping around. One of the best ways to experience what Kununurra and the Kimberley region has to offer is with a small group tour. Odyssey specialises in this kind of tour, offering and engaged, and intimate tour to Kununurra ideal for seniors, solo travellers, or couples heading to Western Australia and the Kununurra.

Ivanhoe Crossing, Kununurra


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