Kununurra – Sun 28th and Mon 29th
We couldn’t leave Zebra Rock without seeing the mine. Leaving at 8am it is just a short drive in the tour bus. Forget images of a large open cut pit, think tennis court sized excavation where the topsoil has been removed to expose the zebra rock.
Historically there were other sources of zebra rock, but with the construction of the Argyle Dam most were lost under the lake. What you see for sale in Kununurra is apparently the dwindling remains of another deposit, mined out and put into storage. There is one other deposit, yours for a snip at $50k, the catch being it is on an island in the lake which will go under in 2018 when the dam wall is raised – best get digging…..
How the rock forms remains an argument between scientists. According to Ruth, one of the owners and our tour guide, the most plausible theory involves the rock, under heat and pressure, forming into liquid bands. Whatever the cause it is quite unique with parallel bands of red / brown interspersed with perpendicular dots or bands, some with a boomerang shape.
As part of the tour everyone gets to fossick around in the mine to choose their own piece. Great fun digging around to find a piece with not only a decent pattern but also smooth sides.
Back at the campsite Ruth demonstrated using Pippa’s piece how to use wet & dry paper to smooth the rock down and bring out the colours; from the girl’s faces the first stop in town looked like the hardware store. If you prefer the easier route, polished stone can be bought from the gallery.
From Zebra Rock it is under an hour back to Kununurra. As the road crosses back into WA this means you arrive before you leave, so long as you don’t upset the border quarantine people. Fortunately they are flexible if you set out from WA and are just crossing back, so we got to keep the fruit and veg.
Kununurra was a chance to restock after a busy week, return the library books and also get a good view of one of the freshwater crocs in the lake adjacent to Kimberleyland.
Lake Argyle Resort – Tue 30th Jun and Wed 1st Jul
Time for a bit of chilling out alongside Lake Argyle. The resort is located on the site of the work camp from when the dam was constructed, on a hill overlooking what is now all water. At 335m long and 98m high the dam, across the Ord River, created Australia’s second largest artificial lake. Normal storage capacity is 11bn litres covering 1000 square km, at maximum flood level the dam can store 35bn litres and would cover 2000 square km. Any way you look at it this is a very large lake, and ironically the water in it the most underutilised in the country.
Before chilling out, however, you first have to negotiate check in. I visited the USSR before the Berlin Wall came down and there was less queuing there; it goes like this:
1 – get a ticket from the guy at the gate
2 – take ticket to the office and pay
3 – take stamped ticket back to the same guy at the gate and get directed onwards
4 – stop at next checkpoint and wait for another guy to walk you to your site
5 – wear green wrist bands to show you have been stamped, processed and approved
Despite being assured when we booked, that unpowered sites have water views, it turns out none of the sites do. Unpowered was still the best though, we had a secluded spot overlooking the bush whereas the powered sites were just rows of vans crammed in like sardines further back towards the road.
Being a commercial operation this place is not cheap, but does offer a stunning infinity pool overlooking the lake.
There are various tours available, from simple canoe hire up to helicopter flights of increasing duration; and of course cost. Hils and the girls took a day tour of the lake and had a great time, feeding the catfish, swimming in the lake and seeing the sights.
Whilst the girls were seeing the sights I was back in Zebra Rock for a spot of fishing. The morning boat takes up to about 10 people and aims for catfish. These can reach over a metre in length and over 40kg. A mainstream eating fish in the USA, it is amusing it had to be renamed Silver Cobbler before Australians would consider it. Whatever the name it is a splendid eating fish; almost like cod but moister and sweeter.
Getting to the lake the boat goes through the wetlands, a beautiful place in the morning light and teeming with birds (sadly I’d not charged my phone, so only had my IPhone for photos). Then as the water deepens dead trees poke skywards before you finally reach open water. Sitting in a boat, rather than looking from the shore, you get a feel for the size of the lake – it is huge. Big enough that the wind can drive 3m waves during the wet season.
Kim, the skipper, is a long time resident of the area, and carries a wealth of knowledge. He certainly seemed to know where the fish were, as in the first hour we had 3 on board of a metre or more. No size limits on catfish so all catch comes home, at the end of the trip everything is shared so no-one goes home empty handed.
Big Horse Creek – Thu 2nd Jul
Time to leave the Kimberly behind and head towards the top end. Between the nomads and school holidays the “free” camps were now very busy. This was certainly the case at Big Horse, a pleasant spot on the banks of the Victoria River. We pulled in at 11.30, to find only a couple of spots left; anyone coming in after lunch was out of luck.
As roadside stops go this was pretty good; shade, toilets and firepits. With the early stop it was an opportunity to get some schoolwork in. Also an opportunity to get the camp oven over the fire. Ever since Ben & Simone’s cake at Sawpit the girls had been keen for another; happy to report the vanilla cake turned out excellent, very moist from using yoghurt in the mix – sorry, no photos, it was dark and I was hungry!
Katherine Gorge – Fri 3rd to Sat 4th Jul
Katherine gorge was the first of the “must do’s” as we turned towards Darwin. Whilst there are campsites in town the best place is the visitor centre campsite down by the gorge itself – all mod cons including a pool.
As luck would have it Chris & Rachel were heading south, a perfect opportunity to catch up with them one last time before they head back to England. The last time we saw them their Patrol had been shipped off for fixing. We must be their jinx, we found them in the car park in Katherine with the bonnet up and Chris cursing; all was running fine until today!
We had hoped to hire canoes and paddle into the gorge, to get a water level perspective. Sadly the fun police had got there ahead of us; only one child per canoe and no child under 12 to go alone, so that was the end of that. OH&S, sucking the fun out of life…..
It is still possible to see the gorge, at least the first part of it (there are 8 in all – to see them all you dig out your wallet and take a chopper). Running from the campsite is a walk to various lookouts, and if you are really keen on to Edith Falls, arriving 5-10 days later. Pats lookout is the first, with cliff top views down into the gorge, where several canoes taunted us as they paddled by.
About 100m back from the lookout a path winds down to the Southern Rockpool. During the wet this is a very pretty waterfall, now dried up to little more than a trickle but still lovely.
Walking beyond the pool you can stand on a beach at the side of the gorge, with the cliffs towering up behind you.
The Jawoyn people of this area believe the Katherine River was created when Nabilil, the dragon-like creation being, was ambushed and killed by Walark the cave bat. On his death the water Nabilil carried was released, forming the river. Another creation being associated with the gorge is Bolung, the Rainbow Serpent, resident in the deep pools of the second gorge – Jawoyn are careful not to disturb Bolung as this may bring on lightning and monsoonal floods.
We didn’t go further than Pats Lookout, it was very hot and the track is not well shaded. Heading back you either retrace your steps or go via the visitor centre and another lookout. With Rachel taking Bonnie and Felicity back the direct route the rest of us took the other way, to find it was not a simple stroll but a tough slog up and down ending in a series of ladders to descend the cliff at the mouth of the gorge. Not the best walk in the midday sun, although the view wasn’t bad.
Now finally a picture of a cake. Hils, assuming my first was not just a fluke, committed me to make another for the group to share; no pressure then! Fortunately, aside from a slight browning of its top all ended well.
Good luck Chris, Rachel, Rhiannon, Esther and Felicity, see you back in England next time we are over there.