With a name that means Big Water, Kununurra is located on the Ord River at the eastern end of the Kimberley. It’s a true outback town with an agricultural background that dates back to 1887. The Ord River supplies the area with lots of fresh water and farming in the area includes mangoes, melons and sugar cane.
The Ord Irrigation Scheme started in the 1960s with the construction of the Diversion Dam just outside of Kununurra to supply water to about 9,000 hectares of farmland in the Ivanhoe Plain. A decade later, the Ord Dam was built and increased the irrigated farmland by 10,000 hectares. In the 1990s, a hydro-electric station was built to supply power to the surrounding towns and mining operation. They are currently working on the next stage of the project which has been in the works for the last 30 years. The Government of Western Australia and the Commonwealth have contributed over $500 million to construct a major irrigation channel that is hoped to improve infrastructure and supply remote aboriginal communities. There is also newly released agricultural land available for development, which brings to the total area of farmland in the region to over 29,000 hectares, with Lake Argyle being the water supply.
Kununurra is the only known location of Zebra Rock, fine grained siliceous argillite with bands or spots of red on white. The origin of zebra rock has puzzled geologists for the last 40 years but they believe it was formed 600 million years ago.
While we were in Kununurra, we took the Troopy in for some mechanical work after our bungle near the Bungle Bungles and the folk at Kimberley Mechanical & Tilt Tray Services did an awesome job at repairing our free-wheeling hub, as well as a bunch of other stuff that was close to falling apart.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Celebrity Tree Park & Lily Creek Lagoon
Celebrity Tree Park opened in 1984 and is a large grassed area with various tree species scattered through the park. Most trees in the park were planted by a celebrity; Andrew Daddo, Rolf Harris, John Farnham or Princess Anne.
The park overlooks Lily Creek Lagoon, and from here you can see the Sleeping Buddha rock formation in the distance.
Mirima National Park (Hidden Valley)
Only 3km from town, Hidden Valley was declared a National Park in 1982 to protect the natural rock formations that are similar to the Bungle Bungles. We did all three of the walking trails in the park – two of which were lookouts and one was a bush tucker trail.
Next to Mirima National Park is another rocky peak called Kelly’s Knob. Drive up and look out over Kununurra.
This was the first part of the Ord Irrigation Scheme and was completed in 1962. The dam regulates the water level of Lake Kununurra to manage seasonal floods and also divert water to irrigate the surrounding farmland.
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it. Australia’s biggest man-made lake – so huge that it’s actually classified as an inland sea. It covers 1000 square kilometres and has 21 times more water than Sydney Harbour. It is home to a variety of wildlife like wallabies, freshwater crocodiles, and about 240 bird species, which is about a third of Australia’s total known bird species.
Lake Argyle exists because of the Ord River Dam, which was completed in the early 1970s as the second installation of the Ord Irrigation Scheme. The dam is a rockfill dam with an impervious core made of clay, stands 98 metres high from the foundations and contains a tunnel that runs from the Intake Tower to the valve anchor. There is also the Ord Hydro Station, which was built in the 1990s and supplies power to the Argyle village, Kununurra, Wyndham and the nearby diamond mine.
We spent the afternoon in Picnic Park, which is on the lower side of the dam. It was lush, shady and green with a few BBQs to cook lunch (and dinner). Afterwards, as we slowly made our way back to the main road, we stopped at lookouts, watched boats cruising between the steep, rocky walls and checked out Dead Horse Spring.
FOOD & DRINK
Our first night in Kununurra screamed for a night at the pub. Of all the pubs in Kununurra, Gulliver’s was recommended the most in terms of food and atmosphere. When we got there, we could see why. The bar is decorated with a line of motorbikes (so was the IGA, weirdly enough), and the beer garden is spacious with a big screen to watch sports or music video clips.
Dinner was a steak sandwich and a chicken parmigiana, both of which were delicious (even though the parma lacked ham and the schnitzel was put on top of the chips). The steak sanga was a soft foccacia bun stuffed with smokey bacon, tender steak, egg and bacon, cheese, lettuce and BBQ sauce. The chicken parma was nice and thick but a little overcooked, and put on top of the chips (much to Juz’s annoyance). The drinks were cheap and hit the spot nicely.
The Hoochery Distillery
We were taken to the Hoochery by some locals and got two tasting paddles at $5 each, as well as some spiked cake. Check out our post on the oldest distillery in WA.
The Barra Shak
We received a very strong recommendation to go to the Barra Shak and we weren’t disappointed. Check out our post on the Barra Shak.
INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION
The Visitor Centre is located at 75 Coolibah Drive, across the road from the Tuckerbox IGA. If you’re looking for cheap diesel, check out the Ord River District Co-Op just north of town.
Lake Kununurra – Lakeview Drive, 08 9168 1031
Kimberley Croc YHA – 120 Konkerberry Drive, 08 9168 2702