ORD RIVER EXPLORER
A GUIDED TOUR BY BOAT from KUNUNURRA
JUNE 6, 2018
'If one wants to get a boat ride,
one must be near the river'
This morning's early morning flight had been magnificent, and with only an hour to have a quick bite to eat, we find ourselves waiting near a crocodile-shaped rock, aptly named Croc Rock for our afternoon tour. It is 11:30am, and although the sun has not quite reached its peak for the day, it is warm and sunny. The azure sky is cloudless and as I rub sunscreen into my arms, I can hear the throbbing sound of an approaching engine. As the shallow-based boat pushes onto the bank of the river, it provides easy access to embark. I lower myself into a seat after ascertaining from our driver/tour guide the side of the boat with the best view. I guess it doesn't really matter because there are not too many passengers on the boat and I can always move, if necessary.
After the regulatory safety demonstration, we are off! Our driver and guide for the afternoon tells us to relax and enjoy the ride, as we make our way along Lake Kununurra for fifty-five kilometres to the huge walls of the Ord Top Dam.
We are advised that the formal commentary will commence on the return journey, but we are encouraged to ask questions at any time during the journey to the end of Lake Kununurra. After this morning's early start and because of the warm day and low throbbing of the boat, it would be easy to drift off to sleep as the boat zips along the river. We had followed the river all the way to Lake Argyle in the aircraft this morning, so being on the water now provides another dimension to our overall East Kimberley experience. Despite the lack of commentary during this part of the trip, our guide often slows down to point out wildlife and other interesting things that we may miss on the way back.
I am thoroughly enjoying this lazy sightseeing on this beautiful, pristine lake, and I soon forget about dozing; becoming fully alert to the surroundings.
Lakes Kununurra and Argyle are man-made lakes, which had been formed in the 1960s and 1970s by the construction of dams on the Ord River. The creation of Lake Kununurra has provided an environment of naturally forming wetlands, into which several species of migratory and waterbirds and other wetland creatures, including freshwater crocodiles, have made their home.
The sound of the boat's engine is dulled as our guide eases into a large patch of floating weeds, which supports many long-legged birds and, if we look carefully, a freshwater crocodile. It is apparently not very hungry, since the birds are happy to wander within the proximity of the crocodile's open mouth.
Freshwater crocodiles are relatively small and are not considered man-eaters, although they will do some damage if they are cornered. They are shy and will usually disappear if approached. Aerial surveys are regularly conducted to count the numbers of crocodiles and to monitor whether any of the more dangerous saltwater crocodiles have made their way into the lakes. During the wet season when flooding occurs and the salt and freshwater meet, saltwater crocodiles have been known to make their way into Lake Kununurra. Park rangers and tour boat operators constantly monitor the crocodiles, so salties are are rapidly caught and released into their saltwater environments.
We continue until we arrive at the spot where the lake finishes. Here, is the high dam wall, beyond which is the huge Lake Argyle. In front of the wall is a small but effective hydro-electric plant, which provides a reliable source of energy to the region. Tom mentions that we really need to explore this tomorrow, and I'm already sweating over his remarks because deep down, I know I've not allowed enough time to fully explore this beautiful region.
Before the Ord River Irrigation Scheme was proposed, the heavy annual rainfall during the wet season could not sustain the agricultural industry during the dry season. The semi-arid cattle country of the northern reaches of Western Australia could be transformed into lush pastoral and agricultural land if the rainfall was harnessed and an irrigation system developed. Damming the Ord River now captures much of the 2500 gigilitres of water that flows into the ocean each day during the wet season storms, controlling the flow and providing year-round access to water for irrigation.
We stare up at the extraordinary wall holding back the huge volume of water stored in Lake Argyle and marvel at the irrigation project, which has provided a rich and sustainable food bowl for the northern parts of Australia. When we flew over here this morning, the patchwork of paddocks filled with crops on the irrigation plain was amazing, yet none of this could be possible without the most important commodity: water. Our commentary now starts in earnest, as our driver describes the development of the Ord Diversion Dam at the other end of the Kununurra River, and Lake Argyle six metres above where our boat is currently sitting.
As we turn around and travel back along the same route, I am suddenly aware that the view from this perspective is probably even more scenic than that of the journey from the forward direction, and now understand why the commentary had been delayed until now.
I relax and listen to facts and figures, not only about this amazing landscape, but the history of the dam construction and the impact it has had on the region over the past forty years.
I see a black darter, or snake bird, drying its wings in the sun because they are not waterproof. It stands on a branch and looks like a huge bat with its wings unfolded, exposed to the sun. We see two tiny rock wallabies shyly peering out from a rock ledge high up on an ancient cliff. The abundance of wildlife and flora is unexpected. Somehow I had imagined that this regions was far too arid to sustain such as rich and diverse habitat.
And then, out of nowhere, nonchalantly, as if it didn't have a care in the world....
... a crocodile floats past on a log.
I giggle at the irony.... Crocodiles have a reputation for attacking everything they see, opening their huge jaws, grabbing their prey, doing the death roll, and burying their prize under a mouldering log at the bottom of a river. I've seen the warning signs all over Western Australia, and yet, here I am watching a potential death machine using a log as a surfboard as it floats along the river current, eyes staring into the distance. Surreal!
The boat pulls into a sandy beach, and as we spill out, we are directed to a short trail beyond the trees. At the end of the trail, I look up at the rocks and see one that, if you squint, the rock is shaped like one of our ANZAC soldiers. I am always amazed at the way in which erosion shapes rocks into identifiable shapes, and I marvel at the way in which humans can discern a certain picture from natural formations. A little further on, we see an arches-type erosion in the shape of a horse's head, which I think is cute.
After a delicious afternoon tea of home-made pumpkin scones and patty cakes, we return to the boat to resume our journey down the river. This afternoon, there is little movement on the water, and the reflections of the vegetation are remarkable. I really love seeing scenery reflected in water as if it's a mirror.
We turn into a backwater, and explore the little river off-shoot, where the waters are still and the birds are abundant. Our guide stops to point out an osprey nest. The bird flits from tree to tree; perhaps a little agitated with the noise of the boat's engine so close to its nest.
This beautiful river has a surprise at every curve and I am astonished with not only the wildlife but the incredible reflections in the water. These are as close to perfection as one can get.
We turn into another backwater and find ourselves surrounded by thousands of waterlilies, most of which are in flower. The tiny white flowers are starting to close in the deepening light of the late afternoon. We are possibly in Australia's answer to Monet's Garden as we float through the lilies on our way back to the main river.
The sky blazes with orange and yellow light as we make our way back to Kununurra. We focus on the sun as it quickly falls toward the horizon. Our guide quickly manoeuvres the boat so we can experience the best view of the impending sunset. The clear air accentuates the colours of the Kimberley sky and I cannot remember ever seeing the setting sky with so much clarity.
Behind us I hear the roar of engines, and I turn to see two boats racing with ours along the glassy surface. It is time to return to Croc Rock, and our accommodation.
Tour: Triple J Tours
Cruising the 55km to Lake Argyle, you will marvel at the spectacular scenery, wildlife, flora and fauna found along the way, including the elusive freshwater crocodile! Remaining on the boat at the base of the Ord Top Dam, you will cruise back towards Kununurra, stopping for afternoon tea at our riverside camp. Scenic photographers will appreciate the contrast in colours as the light changes the way the gorges and ranges look on the return journey. We will return you to your Kununurra accommodation at around 6.00pm after enjoying an East Kimberley sunset on board the boat.
Rating: ***** Excellent tour
Accommodation: Discovery Parks Kununurra - Lakeview Dr, Kununurra WA 6743