21 Jul 2017
WATCH: Lyndon from Discovery Parks – Lake Kununurra take us for a spin on Lake Kununurra and give us some local fishing tips.
It’s the dead of winter and across Australia people are waking up to frosty windscreens and a high chance of rain. Not in Australia’s Top End. Here, it’s tan time. The weather is positively perfect. Hordes of Aussie families, grey nomads and tourists flee chilly climes for the warm embrace of the far reaches of Western Australia and The Kimberleys to visit Kununurra.
Late April until October brings the dry season’s clear blue skies, balmy nights and warm days. Holiday parks are packed with peak season adventurers making their way from Broome toward Lake Kununurra, Darwin and back again. The Top End is beautiful no matter what time of year you go but there’s something special about winter. The conditions are perfect for outdoor activities, sundowners with an alfresco view and barbeques under the stars.
Pic: Kelly's Knob.
British expat Bob O’Connor adjusts his shorts and settles back in the fold-out chair in front of his caravan.
“We live in Perth and head north during winter every year,” he says.
“I can’t handle the cold. We leave Perth as soon as it looks like it’s getting cool and we head back at the end of October. This is our tenth year without winter.”
Pic: Lake Kununurra.
He’s not alone. Discovery Parks –Kununurra is heaving with travellers in thongs and t-shirts. Bob and his partner Penny park their van on the same waterfront spot every year and spend most of their time looking out over Lake Kununurra.
Pic: Discovery Parks - Lake Kununurra.
Sundowners don’t get better – find your perch by 4.30pm (the sun goes to bed early) and have your camera ready.
There’s plenty of spectacular scenery to snap in and around the little town known as the Kimberley’s gateway from the east. Its far north Western Australia location is approximately 37 kilometres from the Northern Territory border.
Rotund Boab trees dot the red earth and rocky outcrops, and towering cliff faces reach toward the clear blue sky. World Heritage Site the Purnululu National Park is unmissable.
Pic: Boab tree. Credit: Tourism Western Australia.
Here you’ll find the gobsmacking Bungle Bungle Range – a hotspot for guided tours (it’s 300 kilometres away so take a scenic flight if you have the time and spare cash). The Cathedral Gorge, Domes and Echidna Chasm walks are an example of Mother Nature at her best. It’s not all dry earth.
Kununurra means ‘big water’ in the local Indigenous language and there’s no shortage of H2O to explore. Lake Kununurra (on the Ord River) is a freshwater man-made reservoir full of barramundi and freshwater crocodiles. The stretch of water is great for fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, waterskiing and boating. If you don’t have your own vessel, hire one from Discovery Holiday Parks or take a leisurely Lake Ord tour with tourist favourite Triple J Tours.
A 55-kilometre boat ride along shimmering, mirror-like waters (or a 71-kilometre drive) takes you to Lake Argyle, a vast stretch of water home to more crocodiles, birds and fish. There’s more than 1000 square kilometres to explore – from some points on the lake you can’t see land, so it’s best done with a tour guide such as Lake Argyle Cruises.
Pic: Lake Argyle. Credit: Tourism Western Australia.
Back on land, the rugged terrain is best explored with a 4WD but there’s plenty to see and do with an on-road vehicle, too. Just ask the likes of Bob and Penny.
“Ivanhoe Crossing [a concrete causeway over the Ord River] is great,” Bob says.
“Especially at the moment. There’s so much water going through it, it’s unbelievable. The other thing you’ve got to do is go to Wyndham. Poor old Wyndham town is dead but the Five Rivers Lookout is quite spectacular. On the way back, head to the bird sanctuary at Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve. People come from all over with their big fancy cameras to visit it.”
Pic: Hoochery Distillery.
There’s plenty to eat and drink in the region, too. Pop in to Hoochery Distillery – the oldest continuously operating, legal distillery in Western Australia. It’s where you can taste award-winning Ord River Rum. Allocate a designated driver and let owner Raymond ‘Spike’ Dessert III, his daughter Lubise and the team take you through a tasting flight of locally made rum and liqueurs.
Pic: Hoochery Distillery.
There’s a kid’s cubby house, tours, an outdoor eating area and a menu boasting burgers, Ord River Rum cake (delicious) and rum ice-cream sandwiches.
The Pumphouse (walking distance from Discovery Parks – Lake Kununurra) is a character-packed bar and restaurant in an old pump station. Sunday night pizza and tapas are popular – book ahead during peak season (especially for the riverfront terrace). No bookings required for breakfast or lunch.
Pic: The Pumphouse Restaurant.
The Sandalwood Factory is also worth a visit. Mount Romance is the world’s largest distillery and single supplier of pure Australian sandalwood oil to more than 35 countries worldwide. Learn about the harvest, distillation and manufacturing process, have a bite to eat in the café, and take a piece of the precious wood – or one of the many beauty products – home with you.
Pic: Mount Romance.
On the way back to town, keep your eyes peeled for Indigenous art among the trees on Kelly’s Knob. A must-see for art and culture buffs is Waringarri Aboriginal Arts. Here, Indigenous artists work on contemporary and collectable art and share Miriwoong culture with traditional corroboree performances and cultural tours throughout the year.
If you’re lucky, artist Ben Ward may be on site. Ben grew up on Argyle Downs Station – back when the Durack family had it (now covered by Lake Argyle) – and knows the region and its history inside out. He’ll tell you about the Grasshopper Dreaming, traditions, and the work he and his fellow Waringarri artists create today. The art gallery is owned by the artist group, so if you want to buy a piece of Indigenous art, this is the place to do it.
Pic: Zebra Rock Gallery.
The Zebra Rock Gallery and coffee shop is also a great place to find local souvenirs. The gallery produces original jewellery and keepsakes from Zebra Rock.
It’s no ordinary hunk of rock – the only known deposits in the world were discovered in the east Kimberley and they clock in at up to 600 million years old. The views of Elephant Rock (aka Sleeping Buddha) are great from here, too.
Pic: Elephant Rock.
If you have the time and opportunity, a spectacular way to see the region is from the air. Nothing showcases The Kimberley’s diversity like seeing them from above. It’s truly unforgettable stuff.
WATCH: Lubise shares the tale of Ord River Rum at Hoochery Distillery.
AVIAIR SCENEIC AIR TOURS
If seeing the Bungle Bungle Range from high above isn’t already on your bucket list, add it immediately.
Pic: Aviair Bungle Bungle Range Tour.
The Bungle Bungle Adventurer tour is a two-hour journey in a small plane above the full expanse of Lake Argyle, the Ord Top Dam wall, Lake Kununurra and the Ord Irrigation Area. You’ll gasp at aerial views of the Carr Boyd and Osmond Ranges, the Ord River, Bow River and World Heritage-listed Bungle Bungle (the rocky domes look a bit like giant brown beehives).
You’ll also see the Argyle Diamond Mine, rare pink diamond specialists and the world’s largest supplier of diamonds. The view below is a patchwork of colour, history and intrigue. A friendly pilot narrates what you’re seeing…
Pic: Aviair Argyle Diamond Mine Tour.
“Have you heard the story about the diamond theft?”
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, there’s a Bungle Bungle Wanderer tour that involves landing on a dusty red outback airstrip and walking through spectacular national park gorges and caverns, additional helicopter tours, and the option to add on an overnight stay.
Do it. After all, you’ve come this far and the experience is unforgettable.
“I’ve done this flight hundreds of times. I see something new and spectacular every time,” our pilot Shane Severn says. Don’t forget your camera.
WATCH: Come fly with us as Aviair takes us over The Bungle Bungles and the Ord River.
LAKE ARGYLE CRUISES
Greg Smith has been leading Lake Argyle boat cruises and tours for more than 19 years. He’s got it down to a fine, fact-packed (and quite humorous) art.
“Let’s go wake up the rock wallabies,” he says as we set off on the two-hour morning cruise exploring the lake’s rugged northern end. The furry critters don’t disappoint, delighting tourists and young children on board.
Pic: Lake Argyle. Credit: Eric de van der Schueren.
We see crocodiles lazing in the sun and spot birds (a black-necked stork on his nest is a highlight).
“He’s waiting for his girlfriend,” Greg says.
“He’s been waiting for a year.”
Greg knows this landscape like the back of his hand and it’s almost like the wildlife are family. As we cruise through some of Lake Argyle’s 90 islands and inlets on a boat equipped with a bathroom and tea and coffee facilities, we stop to feed catfish and the delightful spitting archer fish (you won’t forget this in a hurry). For anyone willing, there’s a chance to take a dip in the lake.
Other tour options include a half-day birdwatching cruise, a three-hour sunset magic cruise, dingy hire, and a four-hour fishing charter (there are 26 species of fish in Lake Argyle, so you’re in with a shot).
Prices start at $70/adult and $45/child for a morning cruise, so it’s affordable family fun.
WATCH: Discover the vast waters of Lake Argyle and see the sights of the Lake Argyle Cruises morning adventure.
Getting there: Kununurra is approximately 880 kilometres from Darwin and 3206 kilometres from Perth. Flights from Darwin take about one hour.
Click here to find out more about Discovery Parks – Lake Kununurra
This travel feature was published in G’DAY Magazine.
Header image of Spike from Hoochery Distillery in Kununurra, WA.