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Visiting Kununurra is a truly Australian experience that brings together magnificent red rock forms, abundant water, high temperatures and the vastness of the Aussie outback. Kununurra itself is a fairly small but bustling town with all the amenities that families need, and it’s the perfect gateway to exploring the Kimberley region.
We spent two weeks in Kununurra in winter 2016. Winter is the perfect time to visit Australia’s top end, as the humidity is gone but the warmth remains. Each day the weather was around 30°C, while back home in Victoria is was more like 15°! Winter is the dry season, which means the flooded waterways from the heavy rains have disappeared, enabling access to all adventures in and around the region.
Kununurra is quite remote, making many prices higher than other parts of Australia. Flights are expensive from pretty much anywhere. Kununurra has its own airport and some direct flights are available, otherwise stopovers in Darwin or Broome are common.
We were lucky to be able to stay with friends when we visited, so we didn’t have accommodation costs as well. I’d advise to book flights and accommodation very early if you’re planning a trip there, as most people visit in the dry season. Eating out and take away food is also noticeably more expensive: we ordered four pizzas one night and it cost close to $100! Supermarkets did not seem to be much more expensive though. They were always busy and sometimes sold out of products before they could be replenished.
But please don’t be discouraged about visiting Kununurra if this area of Australia interests your family: we loved it and our trip was definitely worth every cent we spent. It is stunning and fascinating there, and a wonderful place to visit as a family. Taking the time to drive over would be a great way to keep your costs down, and as a bonus you would have your own transport to access all of the adventures around the region. Time is your greatest asset there. Many activities are some distance from the Kununurra township, and having the time to enjoy them together is what memories are made of.
The climate and environment of Kununurra make for a great range of outdoor activities. We got to experience fishing, waterfalls, rock pools, camping, hiking and climbing! There are also some interesting industries unique to the area, which are fun to learn about. These were our top ten adventures:
El Questro is an enormous former cattle station that is only accessible during the dry season. It is about 100km north of Kununurra and has several accommodation options: The Station has resort-style bungalows; the Homestead is an exclusive eco-luxury hideaway; Emma Gorge has safari-style tented cabins; and the Black Cockatoo campground has powered and unpowered sites as well as permanent tents for hire, and a private riverfront camping option.
We camped for two nights at El Questro with our friends, and we loved the shallow rocky streams to splash about in, meeting other families as we camped amidst hundreds of other campers, and even getting bogged while collecting wood for the fire! The kids had a great time with some new friends and they were often off playing together. We also had several excursions to beautiful lookout points within El Questro: Saddleback Ridge and Branco’s look out. Both of these trips were difficult 4 wheel-drive only drives, and I would recommend only experienced drivers undertake them. Branco’s lookout has no safety rails so be extra mindful of young children there.
Costs for camping start at $20 per adult per night, with discounts for longer stays and families. Kids under 12 are free. At certain times throughout the season they have musical concerts and other special events which require advance booking. More information about the whole park is available here: https://www.elquestro.com.au/
This was our favourite place of all! It is one of the amazing natural formations within El Questro, which combines perfectly warm water and lush greenery with rock pools that are so inviting to explore, you want to try out every single one! They are all different shapes and sizes, which is great fun for a group and also allows people to have to some privacy.
Surrounding and warming the springs are red rock faces that glow with golden hues in the morning sunshine. Can you tell we adored it there? We went twice, once on the way back to Kununurra after camping, and another time on a day trip just to experience the springs. After that morning we found Emma’s Café in Emma Gorge for a lovely lunch, as all that relaxing in heated rock pools really works up an appetite!
It is free to attend Zebedee Springs, and it’s open to the public until 12pm each day. After 12 it is reserved for some of the guests staying at El Questro.
This little swimming hole is only 30km from Kununurra, off the main road out of town. The signage is not great for it so keep an eye on your speedometer or enlist a local’s help to find it. Molly Springs is wonderful to cool off on a hot day, as the water is cold and refreshing. It has a slight waterfall in the dry season and is accessible all year round.
The water is quite deep here, and there are some lovely spots to sit at around the edge. The big kids loved to climb the surrounding rocks too. Allegra and I sat on the edge with our feet in the water and some little fish nibbled on our toes! They remove the excess skin if you stay still, but you can’t actually feel it.
There is a picnic table and chairs a short walk from the carpark, and the water hole is another short walk from there. There are no other amenities at Molly Springs.
Kelly’s Knob is right on the edge of the Kununurra township, and is the highest point in the area. The view from the top is absolutely worth the climb! You can see all of Kununurra and the surrounding region as well as more beautiful red rock formations in the distance.
It is a fairly challenging upwards climb in some places, though there is railing and stairs when it gets steep. I didn’t take my kids up as they were busy at the playground, and I think I would have struggled to carry a toddler all the way up. Older kids can climb it quite easily though: our friend Lenni has been hiking up regularly since she was four.
This huge lake is almost an hour’s drive south of Kununurra. We took a sunset cruise on the last night of our stay, and even though tours can only cover a small portion of the 980 square kilometer lake, it’s fascinating to do. Lake Argyle was filled in the 1970’s and is regarded as a great success. Wildlife abounds in and around it, and we saw rock wallabies on the edge, a crocodile and huge golden orb spider webs. We also took a quick dip in the very deep water, after being assured that crocodiles don’t swim that deep!
All tours departed from the Lake’s caravan park, which has an awesome infinity pool that you can relax in (for a small fee) and admire stunning views of the lake. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable but I found his presentation to be more rote than passionate. Still, I would recommend it if you’re interested in exploring water eco-systems, huge lakes or boating experiences. It was a little pricey at $290 for a family of four, which included afternoon tea and beer or champagne upon sunset. There are other tours and self-guided activities you can take as well. Check it all out here: http://www.lakeargyle.com/cruises-tours-activities/
Through the dry season it is possible to drive over rushing waterways that are impassable in the wet season. We took a drive through some of the Ord River and marveled at the feeling and incredible views while driving over water. We also hiked along the rocky banks and through some shallow streams, which is fascinating when you come from a very dry and flat town!
Anthony also went fishing along the Ord River one day with our friends and caught his first barramundi there. It is common to catch these popular fish in the Ord and he really enjoyed cooking it up for tea and eating a freshly caught meal.
Sandalwood is a big industry for Kununurra and there is a small outlet and lovely café to visit if you’re interested in sandalwood products. We had a nice lunch there and the kids especially enjoyed the playground!
Zebra Rock is unique to the East Kimberley region and this is a fun place to visit for zebra rock products. It also has a café and playground, and a nice garden and jetty. You can buy food to feed the many catfish and a few turtles from the jetty, which kids love to do. (It is not great for the animal’s feeding patterns though.)
The Ord River winds its way through Kununurra township, and this park is a beautiful shady space looking out over the water. It’s perfect for picnics and there’s loads of room for exploring and running around. We had a lovely time rolling down hills (well the kids did), marveling at the huge boab tree and enjoying the abundant play equipment there.
This is an awesome market that has many local items on sale, including fresh produce and crafts. There is also has some great food, and we especially loved the fruit ice-creams that are made to order, with whatever fruit you choose! The market is open on Saturdays in the dry season, from 8-12 at Whitegum Park (near the visitor centre).
Kununurra is a wonderful place for a family holiday, and there’s more to explore than we were able to discover in two weeks there. If you get the chance to visit during the dry season, you won’t regret it! The stunning hot weather and huge array of activities on offer make it a fascinating and fun family destination.
Travelogue shared by Emma at small footprints, big adventures