Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The Hidden Vally, stoped to admire the view, not a rest!

Inside the Hidden Vally

View over Kununurra

The boat on Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle dam wall

The old quarry at Lake Argyle where the dam stones came from

A view over Lake Argyle

Spiders who live on Lake Argyle

Looking down Lake Argyle

View of the Ord River from the dam. The dark bands in...

View down the Ord River

View up the Ord River

A Rock Wallaby with a nice safe spot. Can you see him?

Sunset over the Ord River

We will have to turn back, Ivanhoe Crossing

Sandlewood trees and sugar cane growing


After a two hour journey through superb countryside we arrived on Thursday 05 at Kununurra during the afternoon, and learned the town would be virtually shut over the Easter holiday. We stocked up at the local supermarket and settled down on the best camp site we have yet stayed. There was no magnificent beach frontage but it was 10 minutes walk from the town centre. The surrounding countryside was flat and the camp was picturesque, very well managed with great facilities.

Kununurra, gazetted in 1961 is 25 miles from the Northern Territory border. It is one of the youngest towns in Western Australia and was developed as the service town for the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. Agriculture, Tourism and Mining are all growth industries and this town is guaranteed to grow. The backbone of the irrigation scheme is Lake Argyle. A farmer will telephone the dam and state how much water he wants in cubic what ever measurement is used, (I got a bit lost when this was said), and the water is released from Kununurra Lake. Lake Argyle releases the equivalent amount from their dam and this flows down the Ord River into Kununurra Lake which always remains full. Easy isn't it.

Australia is having drought problems in a number of areas. If it could be made cost effective, Lake Argyle could provide the water for Australia; more of that later. The farmers here pay less than 3% for their water compared with other farmers in Australia. The downside is they don't have the labour to harvest all of their crops. More backpackers please. Main crops have been sugar cane, melons, mangoes, pumpkins and bananas. Twelve years ago Indian Sandalwood was first planted in this area. It takes 15 instead of the 20 years other sandalwood needs to grow, and this growth industry, so to speak, has raised the cost of farm land by 50%. There is still much room for further expansion in this area, and unlimited cheap water for the farmer.

Our first full day involved a bike ride to the Hidden Valley. There are two major hills and the valley is hiding in one of them. One minute you are on a winding road and then suddenly you find yourself in a valley surrounded by cliffs made about 360 million years ago, (same time as the Bungle Bungles), and wondering, where did this come from. It was a hot day. We walked and climbed to the lookout point, walked back and biked the two miles home. It was great to be in the Hidden Valley but an exhausting journey in the heat of the day. Back at 3.30pm, followed by an hour of sleep for me. Well tomorrow is a busy day, sort of.

Saturday. Up early and collected at the camp gates at 8am. The bus driver is also called Jeff and he owns Triple J Tours. This tour involves a 44 mile drive to Lake Argyle; a two hour cruise on Lake Argyle; a visit to the historic Durack Homestead; a 34 mile return boat journey down the Ord River to one of the jetties at Kununurra. Lunch was to be in a pub at our own expense; we could manage that. Throughout the day we were looked after by excellent informed tour guides.

The tourist season is just starting and this was only the second tour of the season. Jeff, our tour guide, told us many interesting things during our scenic journey to Lake Argyle and even managed to point out a Coolabah Tree at my request; well I do keep singing about one. Apparently there aren't many up here but he knew where one was. We were left in the hands of the boat operators for a really nice boat ride.

The capacity of Lake Argyle is measured in the world time honoured system of Sydney Harbours. It originally held the equivalent of 18 Sydney's and this went up to 23 when they found out the capacity of Sydney Harbour had been over estimated. If full it would hold 54 Sydney's. It only cost 23 million dollars to build the dam wall, Over Flow Creek and Diversion Dam. The inside of the dam wall is of local clay which is kept at the correct elasticity by sensors which allow water through the dam wall as required. The stone came from a nearby hill. This was quarried by two tunnels packed with explosives which created the biggest underground explosion second only to nuclear tests. The second explosion was registered on the Richter Scale in Indonesia.

It is a very big lake with a unique eco system and is home to an amazing array of wildlife. Once the billabongs begin to dry up many more birds will be in this area. Our guide on the boat came out with the usual patter of telling us many interesting facts of the lake and wild life. He said he had intended to show us a snake but had mislaid it somewhere; and due to the time of year and heat of the day we were unlikely to see a crocodile unless someone was prepared to be a sacrifice. He did demonstrate how to pull a fish out of the water with a bread roll and then he let it go with its trophy. Our history lesson of the lake was with the use of a large rolled down map whilst the boat idled out on the lake with a lovely breeze playing around us. We had cruised for two hours, been in various corners and round islands and only been in a small part of Lake Argyle.

The lake can cover more than 2,000 square kilometres. The amount of water that is allowed to flow down to the sea is phenomenal. What was once 'Argyle Downs', a million acre cattle station, is now an immense body of water. We visited the historic Durack Homestead which had been moved to high ground, (the rest of the building are somewhere under the lake), before visiting a viewing spot by the dam wall and boarding the boat for our Ord River Cruise. Some fresh water crocodiles which had found themselves in the water pipes leaving Lake Argyle were swimming by the hydro station on the wrong side of the dam wall. Apparently the fish at this spot are so plentiful the crocs just decide to stay.

We were told that if the boat could not dock we would have to swim out. We would be given a plastic bat for our left hand to hit out at any crocodile near by. It had to be plastic because we were not allowed to harm the wildlife. The boat docked and the bat was unnecessary. Jeff the tour guide was at the helm of a very fast and easily manoeuvrable boat and his wife was with him to help serve up juice at one stopping point and drinks and snacks at a shore picnic site further down the river.

During the three hour boat journey we visited three creeks which were really the size of a good river; observed a Rock Wallaby high up the cliff; observed the river bird life and the 'Flying Fox', which turned out to be a few bushes full of Fruit Bats. We were told the Rock Wallaby could be down at the waters edge in seconds. I said, "If I was up their I could do that". Apparently the rock Wallaby can get back to its ledge in seconds, so I gave in. This was a journey to remember and it ended with a sunset.

Sunday was a lazy day. We drove to the Ivanhoe Crossing which is a concrete causeway over the Lower Ord River, about 9 miles from Kununurra. Before 1961 it was part of the main road from Wyndham to Darwin and usually impassable during the rainy season. After the recent cyclones it was impassable now but great to view. We then drove around the irrigation system which is gravity fed before heading for the Zebra Rock Gallery by the side of the holding dam. Zebra Rock, so called because of its stripes, is estimated at 600 million years old and is only found in the East Kimberley Region. It is not heavy as rocks go and the craftsman had made some beautiful items. A tranquil pleasant place; they also sell Devonshire Cream Teas.

At our camp site was two people who had shared our journey to the Dampier Peninsular, and a very nice couple who live at Derby. It is a pity we did not know them when we were their. We invited our friends to share happy hour outside our van and with everyone contributing to the drinks, nibbles and conversation, happy hour ended at 10pm. A very interesting and informative night spent amongst very good company, even though no one got an evening meal.

Lake Argyle is so large it is classed as an inland sea. The name Kununurra is a local Aboriginal word meaning 'meeting of the big waters' and the town is aptly named. There are already several caravan sites as well as a great deal of tourist accommodation of various types. We took so many pictures it has been difficult to decide which ones to put on the blog site. This area is well worth a visit and the town although still small, is a nice place to stay; I'm sure it will grow and prosper.

We are now heading for Timber Creek where they tell us we will see crocodiles.

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