The town of Kununurra is the gateway to the Eastern Kimberley, and one of the state's youngest towns, its name only gazetted in 1961. The name of the towns comes from the language of the local Miriwung tribe, and means 'meeting of big waters' - the town sits by Lake Kununurra, which is fed by the Ord River. Originally built to service the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, the town has grown into an important centre for agriculture, tourism and mining.
The climate in this part of Australia can generally be classified as having two seasons, the Wet (or Green) and the Dry. The Wet season stretches from November to March, with the rain falling not constantly, but in concentrated bursts, often accompanied by spectacular thunderstorms. The Dry is characterised by cloudless skies, low humidity and temperatures from the high 20s Celsius to the low 30s, with cool evenings.
The town itself has a good selection of stores, dining establishments, tour operators and car hire companies. The last is especially important, as a 4WD vehicle is essential if you want to explore off the beaten track. The Kununurra Tourist Bureau on Coolibah Drive is a good place to have a look at what the area offers - it has informative videos, brochures and more. Sail on, picnic by or go wildlife spotting at Lake Kununurra, while the Diversion Dam, south-west of the town is an excellent spot for fishing or a picnic. For a terrific view of the area, including over the town, Ord River and Lake Kununurra, head for Kelly's Knob Lookout, situated a couple of kilometres north of the town.
Two kilometres north of the town is the Mirima National Park (formerly known as Hidden Valley National Park), 2,068 hectares in size. The park is full of spectacular rock formations, which change character in the varying light of the sun over the course of the day. There are several walking trails, which take you to lookout areas, and amongst the animals you might see are dingoes, wallabies, short-eared rock wallabies, echidnas, frogs, tortoises, geckoes, goannas, snakes and more. Take care when near rock ledges in the park, as the rock in the park can be brittle and crumbly.
The first farmers arrived in 1963, and with the success of the irrigation scheme the area produces such crops as melon, mango, banana, pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, maize, sorghum, sunflower, soybean, sugar cane and chick pea. A little over 10 km north there are various farms you can visit, with the opportunity of tasting the fruits of their labour.
A little over 175 km by road south of Kununurra is the Argyle Diamond Mine - diamonds were first discovered here in 1979, and it has grown to be one of the world's most successful diamond mines, producing more than a third of the world's supply. Industrial, orange, yellow, champagne, cognac, white and the very rare pink diamonds are mined here, and it is only from Kununurra that guided tours of the operation, either by coach or by plane, can be undertaken. Highlights of the 3.5 to 4 hour (on-site) tours include a viewing platform to take in the scope of the mine, a guided drive through the processing plant, and a visit to the viewing room, with its display of rough and polished diamonds. Kununurra itself has several stores selling the diamonds mined from Argyle.
North of the diamond mine is Lake Argyle, though covering an area of 812 square kilometres it could perhaps be called an inland sea. A little over 70 km south of Kununurra the lake was formed by the damming of the Ord River, it is the lagest freshwater storage in mainland Australia and contains water that is the volume equivalent of 9 Sydney Harbours. What were once mountains are now islands dotting the water surface. In addition the wonderful scenery and play of sunlight on rocks, the lake is home to an extensive array of wildlife - take one of the cruises on offer, with commentary on the lake's history and ecosystem, and the opportunity for a swim.
Further south of both the lake and the diamond mine is Purnululu National Park, and its star attraction the Bungle Bungle Range. Numerous operators out of Kununurra run aerial tours of this park's natural and geological marvels.
The town has a good range of accommodation
available, with hotels, motels, holiday parks and B&Bs available. Additionally it is from Kununurra that you access two of Western Australia's more unique properties, The Bush Camp at Faraway Bay
and El Questro Wilderness Park
For a literary take on the region, read some of the books by Dame Mary Durack, particularly Kings in Grass Castles
. Much of the land of this area was owned by the Durack family, indeed the family were involved in the establishment of the Ord River Irrigation scheme, and her reminisces of growing up in the area paint a clear picture of the land before the changes wrought by the scheme.
As in many places in the Kimberley, be sure to be crocodile aware when swimming in waterholes, rivers and the like. Look for signs, and consult the locals.