Western Australia Road Trip

Kununurra – The Heart of the Kimberleys

Broome to Kununurra (via Fitzroy Crossing/Halls Creek): 1043 kms / (via Gibb River Road): 990 kms

Perth to Kununurra: 3600 kms

We continue the trek northwards travelling from Broome to Kununurra.  Weather is getting much warmer, and the cold, windy conditions of Perth seem like half a lifetime away by now.  Western Australia is such a huge state, the visitor gets to experience seasonal extremes without crossing state borders.

Again, it’s a long way between the start and finish of this leg of our trip, so we pre-book a night’s accommodation at Halls Creek.

Turnoff to El Questro Station – Gibb River Road

Broome to Halls Creek

Distance: 684 kms

It’s a longer day ahead of us, so we set off from Broome reasonably early. The roads in this part of the world are excellent.  Long, straight and very little traffic.

One of the interesting aspects of travelling in this part of the state is the RV Free Camps.  Out in the middle of nowhere we see a number of RVs parked.  These free camping areas are well patronised. They don’t have much in the way of facilities, maybe a long drop toilet but that’s about it.  Most of the time they’re on the banks of a river or creek, so the scenery is pretty spectacular. The distances out here are huge, so these pullovers are popular.

The Jeep is refuelled at Fitzroy Crossing, and continue on our way. It’s been running flawlessly for the entire trip, but seems to be losing power.

We suspect it’s got something to do with the fuel we’ve put in at Fitzroy Crossing.  After 100kms on the road, the vehicle is clearly running poorly.

We wait until getting some sort of mobile signal and call ahead to Peter Reado who runs a garage in Halls Creek.  We’re still not sure what the problem is at this point, but he agrees to take a look in the morning.

Arriving at Halls Creek, we book into the Halls Creek Motel.

Halls Creek to Kununurra

Distance: 358 kms

It’s fair to say towns out in this part of the country are basic, functional and don’t offer a lot.  However, the Halls Creek Motel is the exception.

Michael, who runs the motel, offers superb accommodation.  The rooms are 4 star, and the motel has a restaurant called Russian Jack’s. It has a great menu, and is fully licenced and is named in honour of Ivan Fredericks (aka Russian Jack). He became a legend in the region for his heroic feat of pushing his sick mate for 300kms in a wheelbarrow to Wyndham in 1885.   You can read his amazing story here.

There are restrictions on the sale of alcohol out here, due to the proximity to indigenous communities.  They’re not onerous, and make sense when thought about.

I catch up with Peter Reado the next morning. 

The fuel we took on at Fitzroy Crossing was basically diesel, even though it was from a ULP pump. He drains the fuel tank, and fills it up with clean ULP fuel.

So we’re off to Kununurra.  However, the saga isn’t quite over yet.  About 100 kms from Halls Creek, the vehicle engine light comes on and we’re in ‘limp home’ mode.

Make a phone call to Kununurra 4WD Spares.  They are very busy, but Dustin very generously offers to put the engine analyser on to see what’s happening when we arrive.

On arrival, he does that.  Nothing appears to indicate a serious issue; maybe some contaminated fuel was still in the system and gets picked up and fed to the engine.

We leave the vehicle with him overnight, where the checks it out thoroughly the next day before resetting the codes. We drive the vehicle around for a while.  All seems good.

Greatly appreciate his help in making sure the vehicle is OK to continue on to Darwin.

One thing we’ve noticed with the people over here in the West.  Despite having weeks of work in the pipeline, they still will help visitors like us to sort out a problem.  We’re very grateful. They don’t have to.

Plane Flight to Purnululu (Bungle Bungles)

Distance: 236 kms

After dealing with the contaminated fuel issue, we take a scenic flight over Lake Argyle, Argyle Diamond Mine and across the wonderful beehive-like Bungle Bungles.  There’s no better way to appreciate the vastness of Lake Argyle and Purnululu than from the air.

Scenic flight over Lake Argyle and Bungle Bungles.

One of the wonderful aspects of being in this part of the world is the stories that get told.  We love the one about Argyle Diamonds.  Security at Argyle Diamonds is pretty damn tight, as you can imagine.

The Argyle Diamond Heist

A tale of a ballsy theft, infidelity and mystery.  This one has it all.

The story starts off innocently enough.  A wealthy lady wants to buy a second diamond and have it fashioned into a piece of bespoke jewellery. She wants it to match the first one she owns.  So she goes to a dealer in Europe, who takes a look at the first diamond. Her valuation certificate for the first diamond states it’s sourced from a mine in South Africa.  The dealer is immediately suspicious, as he recognises it as an Argyle diamond.  Turns out the African mine doesn’t even exist.

A covert investigation is undertaken over many months at the Argyle Diamond Mine.  Head of mine security is involved, and so he should.

Long story short.  The head of security, the wife and a close family friend who is a jeweller were in cahoots. He’d smuggle the diamonds out, they think, in tubes of toothpaste. The wife would take them to the jeweller to be fashioned into high end items, who sold them to overseas buyers.  She launders the money.

Here the plot thickens. As the investigation comes towards the end with no clear outcome, the head of security decides to ‘retire’.  It’s important to realise at this stage he’s not under suspicion. He leaves early on that day to surprise wifey with the good news about his impending early retirement; only to find her in bed with her long term lover.

He’s very upset. He makes serious threats.  She retaliates by informing on him.  He serves a short jail term; on release quietly moves to country Victoria and fades off the scene. As you would.

No one really knows how much they made out of the scam, or where the money actually went.  Estimates are as high as $15 million.  Is the story true? Not sure, but it’s sure one Hell of a tale.

Just another priceless story from the mighty North West.

Sunset Cruise on Lake Argyle

No trip to this part of the country is complete without a sunset cruise on Lake Argyle.  Only when a visitor is on the water can the enormity of the lake be fully appreciated.

Lake Argyle – it’s big!

Here’s a few numbers to press home how big this tract of water really is.

  • At full capacity it covers 980 square kilometres. When you’re on the lake, it becomes apparent it’s a long way to the far bank.
  • It has a holding capacity of 10.7 million megalitres of fresh water. Just to put that into perspective, it holds the equivalent of 20 times the water in Sydney Harbour.
  • 25,000 freshwater crocodiles call it home; as well as hundreds of species of birds, marsupials and fish.

It’s a 45 minute drive from Kununurra to the spot where the tourist/cruise boats leave from.  You can drive there, on catch a bus. Highly recommended.

Gibb River Road

Derby to Kununurra Distance: 766 kms

There’s two ways to get from Broome to Kununurra.  One is the way we went, via Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.  The other is to go via the mostly unsealed Gibb River Road; 660 kilometres of stunning scenery of gorges, waterfalls and mountain ranges.

The Gibb River Road allows the visitor to see some of the most spectacular scenery every imaginable.

Here are some of the ‘must-see’ places along this incredible road.

Mowanjum Aboriginal Art & Cultural Centre – this is near Derby, but a showcase of magnificent indigenous arts and crafts by the Mowanjum community.

Windjana Gorge – cool waters and towering limestone walls. Get to share with the local freshwater crocodiles.

Tunnel Creek – Back in the 1800’s, an indigenous freedom fighter called Jandamarra (or ‘Pidgeon’) used this as his hideaway.  He was a brilliant strategist, and was looked upon as being god-like to his followers.  One of the earliest, and best accounts about him was written by Ion Idriess in a book called ‘Outlaws of the Leopolds’.

Bell, Dimond, Adcock, Galvans, Manning, Wunnamurra Gorges –  Beautiful and spectacular natural wonders along the way.

Ellenbrae Station, Home Valley Station are excellent places to stopover along the way.

Towards the Kununurra end of the road, there’s El Questro Station.  When we got the Jeep sorted, we went for a day trip out to ‘El Q’, as the locals call it.  Its sealed road all the way to the turnoff, with the last 16 kilometres into El Questro a well maintained unsealed road.

We visited the magnificent Emma Gorge, which is part of the El Questro property spread.  The walk up the gorge itself is along a rocky, uneven track.  But the effort is worth it.

Late afternoon at Emma Gorge.

Our trip is coming to an end now, as the Broome to Kununurra drive is the last long drive in Western Australia.  Next stop is Darwin.

WA Road Trip - Kununurra
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We use and recommend Hema maps and products. A must-have on any road trip.

Previous stop: Broome – A Completely Different Experience

Next stop: Kununurra to Darwin – The Final Leg

Read about our Top 5 Places to Visit in Western Australia

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