Kununurra locals are generous with their secrets. In the remote outback town of Kununurra in Western Australia, tucked up in the most northwest corner of the country on Miriuwung Gajerrong land, the secrets are too good to be kept. They need to be shared, respected, and revelled in. Touching down on the sticky tar airstrip in the East Kimberley, you can feel the magnitude of the history of the land and the people.
Ian at Hot Tours has lived in the Kimberley for over 30 years and knows the potholes on the backroads like the pages of a book he’s studied all his life. Embarking on a personalised tour, Ian warmly welcomes you into his troopie and sets off down an unnamed dirt track to a hidden oasis just outside of town. The drive to the destination is lined with native salmon gum trees that have an almost-glowing orange trunk but shed smooth silver bark. You hear the water before you see it. After a short walk through the bush and across a stream, you’ll find it: Secret Springs. The waterfall appears like a mirage, while the glass-clear water of the natural swimming hole calls your name.
You won’t find this spot on any map, but Ian is happy to bring you here – and set up a mighty cheese platter with homemade hummus for lunch.
As I said, Kununurra locals are generous with their secrets.
Flying over the now-closed Argyle Pink Diamond Mine enroute to the Bungle Bungles in a small Cessna plane, the pilot from Kingfisher Kimberley Tours recalls the legendary story of how miners used to smuggle out diamonds in rolls of toothpaste. Cruising up the legendary Ord River, the captain from Triple J Tours stops the boat to point out a tiny fern growing on the side of a sheer cliff face – the only species of its kind to be discovered. Sampling the region’s finest spirits, the friendly team at the Hoochery Distillery stop short of giving up their matriarch Kae’s famous rum cake recipe, but they’ll happily serve you a slice (best paired with a neat glass of Spike’s Reserve).
The locals are guardians of the Kimberley’s secrets, but it’s the land itself that tells the most fantastical tales.
There’s not a breath of wind in the air as we soar above the alien-like rock formations of the Bungle Bungle range in Purnululu National Park. It’s a five-hour drive or a 47-minute flight from Kununurra, Western Australia. Somewhere beneath us, is the Piccaninny Crater where a meteorite hit the area 360 million years ago. That time stamp pales in comparison to the 1.5-billion-year-old diamonds found in the region. And the 1.7-billion-year-old sandstone, which forms the cliffs at the nearby Emma Gorge at El Questro Station. These rocks pre-date life as we know it.
If it all sounds ancient and enchanting, that’s because it is. “Growing up here as a child is magic,” says Bec Sampi, a Gija woman and Kingfisher Tours guide, who leads us on the Cathedral Gorge hike. It’s here, surrounded by the ever-changing colours of the Gorge walls, that Bec pulls out her clapping sticks and starts to sing. Time stands still. Bec’s voice fills the cavern and dances down the valley. The tour group packing up to leave stops to listen and take in the moment. The song Bec sings – in her language – is about strong women. There are other songs, she says, that are just for her and her community. These are the secrets she keeps.
In trying to capture the magic of this Country, Bec says it best: “The Kimberley is like the sand. It will always be here. We don’t own it. We belong to it. And we’ll end up back in the sand.”