If one wants to get a boat ride, one must be near the river.
June 6, 2018
It is 11:30am. We walk to the designated pickup point; a crocodile-shaped rock, aptly named Croc Rock. We wait. The sun has climbed to almost its peak for the day, and as I rub sunscreen into my bare arms, I hear the throb of an approaching engine. A shallow-based boat pushes itself onto the bank of the river, allowing us to easily step onto before finding a seat under cover.
After a quick safety demonstration, we are off! Our driver and guide for the afternoon tells us to sit 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 encouraged to relax and enjoy the river views and to ask questions during the voyage to the end of Lake Kununurra, as the formal commentary will commence on the return journey. After the early start this morning, I start to doze off as the boat zips along the river. We had followed the river 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 captain slows the boat often to point out wildlife and other interesting things that we are likely to miss on the way back.
The lake is pristine.
Lakes Kununurra and Argyle are man-made lakes, which were 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 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, saltwater crocodiles have been known to make their way into Lake Kununurra, but they are rapidly caught and released into their saltwater environments.
We continue on our way until we come to the spot where the lake finishes. We are confronted by a 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.
Despite heavy annual rainfall during the 'wet season', the Ord River was reduced to a series of billabongs during the 'dry season', diminishing the ability to develop and sustain an agricultural industry. 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.
Our commentary 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 was 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 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 amazing and very much unexpected in this region.
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 is in the shape of one of our ANZAC soldiers. I am always amazed at the way in which erosion shapes rocks into identifiable shapes. 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 into the water is amazing. The water is like a mirror, and I enjoy watching the scenery reflected in the river.
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. An osprey flits from tree to tree, 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 at the wonderful 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.
We join the main river, just as the sky blazes with orange and yellow light. We focus on the sun as it quickly falls toward the horizon. Our guide quickly manoeuvres the boat so we can experience the best of the impending sunset. The clear air accentuates the colours of the Kimberley sky. 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.
Quote: Anchee Min
Accommodation: Discovery Park, Lakeview Dr, Kununurra WA 6743
© 2018 Janette E Frawley - All Rights Reserved