Lotsa Water: Lake Argyle & Kununurra

We’ve changed states and have moved over into Western Australia.  Leaving the NT was a little sad but we are keen to explore and revisit beautiful Western Australia.

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Lake Argyle has a nice van park with a lovely infinity pool.  This was a serene environment being enjoyed by many pensioners… until we arrived. The kids rush in splashing and yelling about how cold the water is. I inched my way in, while Craig laughs at me, as I stretch up as high as possible on my toes to get as far into the pool and get as least wet as possible. Amelie decides to join her dad in tormenting me by sending a wave full of water my way. Got me square in the face and over the head, straight onto the pensioner behind me. I apologised to the inadvertent victim, but then Xavier who’s seen the ‘Let’s splash cold mummy’ game rushes over with a war cry and sends another wave my way. Ladies with their styled hair and make-up are glaring but the old boy who copped the spray did have a chuckle, especially when Craig said “The kids are toilet trained, just not pool trained and mummy is going to get them now!” The kids thought it was pretty funny until I got both of them by the tops of their heads and dunked them under water. Not so funny now.

The only way to check out Lake Argyle is by plane, boat or kayak.  We don’t have any of those and opted for a boat cruise.  The guide is funny and informative about the history of the dam, the flora and fauna. Xavier’s favourite part of the tour was jumping off the roof of the boat. Off course Craig did too! Amelie jumped from part way up the ladder and I got to float around in the dam with the fish and take photographic evidence of the jumps. Two species of catfish live in the lake, one large and one small. The large one eats the small one. The large catfish used to fetch $3/kg at market, but after a rebranding as “Silver Cobbler” sets the palate alight at $30/kg in all the best restaurants.

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Second place winners, are grinners!

When we crossed the NT/WA border, we surrendered any remaining fresh produce. The campground shop and only shop for the area stocked a bowl of red onions and one sad looking tomato for sale.  I’m not clever enough, nor inclined to create an onion soup for dinner, so we ate out at the restaurant with the Port Philip family we were chatting to at Gunlom Falls.  That night was also a trivia night.  Bonus!  The kids wanted to play too and got their own table. I love trivia nights as I have the unfair advantage of Mr ‘I remember a ridiculous amount of stuff’ Maskiell as my partner in crime. After a slow start we managed to come in second place, thanks in part to answers to some obscure questions such as, ‘What was John Candy’s characters’ job in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles?’ There’s no reception here so you can’t even cheat with Google! I totally would too, but Craig had seen the film once when it came out and says, “Curtain rings. Shower curtain rings.” For real!

The kids also did well. They escaped being on the bottom of the ladder, answering the majority of questions themselves and were stoked to have beaten a couple of tables of adults. They scored keyrings, placemats and snow globes as prizes and we scored a bottle of wine. The only way to split that was to open it there and then of course. We also shared a lot of laughs (everything is funnier when grog is involved) and made plans to catch up in Kununurra.

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I wasn’t expecting a lot from Kununurra but I was pleasantly surprised. This little town is great! The van park is right on the edge of a picturesque lake, the town has a great couple of cafes and there are a few places to explore not far out of town. There’s a fun water crossing called Ivanhoe Crossing, which still had water flowing over it.  It wasn’t too high and the bollards were visible both sides.  Still, a water crossing is a fun crossing, just ask Amelie.  On our first afternoon in town we ventured out to WA’s only licensed distillery “The Hoochery” to sample the produce. Following this we visited the Sandalwood Factory, sandalwood plantations being a significant industry in the area. There is also a great lookout at Kelly’s Knob and Mirima National Park (mini Bungle Bungle) on the edge of town. The Mango cafe in town has some of the best food we’ve eaten since our Mother’s Day dinner at Mission Beach. Zucchini, chickpea frittata with avocado dressing on a bed of rocket and spinach. Delicious!

At the local markets we got chatting to a group who were very active at trying to prevent the dreaded Cane Toad from entering the Kimberley. I just asked Craig what you’d classify the group as. They aren’t strictly a conservation group or an environmental group but kind of both. He said they were like zombie hunters “The Croaking Dead.” Boom, tish. Bad dad jokes continue. The toads are a real problem for the native carnivores like large lizards and quolls, who eat them and then die from the poison.  Although our Queensland goannas and lizards must have learned they are bad as we still have plenty of them on the coast coexisting with the millions (billions?) of cane toads. Did you know there is such a thing as ‘Super toads’? They’re toads who grow to enormous size that can take bigger, faster jumps and lead the way in populating areas that were previously cane toad free.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done about them.

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Boab trees along Parry Creek Rd, Kununurra.
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Inside the Boab nut

We took a back road to Wyndham, the Kimberley’s northernmost town, which takes you across the Ivanhoe Crossing (yay water crossing), along a corrugated dirt road a.k.a Parry Creek Road. Boab trees are everywhere along this road and we stopped to pick up exactly two boabs nuts for the exactly two nutty children in the back of the car, who couldn’t possibly consider it fair if one got to inspect a nut before the other one! The thin hard shell is covered with velvet like hairs.  The local indigenous guys don’t recommend handling them too much, those boab nut hairs make you really itchy! We cracked the fruit and inside was a crumbly, white, polystyrofoam-like substance.

IMG_7788Along the road we passed a lone chimney stack on a small mound. It was kind of random as there was no evidence it belonged to a larger structure, no info signs to tell us what it was used for, no mention in the guide book and the Internet offered no clue either. You’ll just have to use your imagination like we did. Was it an old school road stop where you could boil a billy or bake some bread? Was it a regular stop for cattle mustering where a camp cook would use the chimney to make up a big feed? Who knows?

The historic Telegraph Hill was an old communications line that still has asbestos at the site, but offers a great view over the land.  We detoured to Marlgu Billabong bird hide spotting many types of birds but no great big crocs.  Apparently it’s a great place to spot a croc.  Not great for swimming though! We saw, Brolgas, a Sea Eagle, Cormorants, a Pelican, Egret, Pied Heron, Whistling Kite, Honeyeaters, Rainbow Bee Eater and another bird of prey that we couldn’t identify.

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There is a lot of flat dry land and the kids enjoyed seeing the dusty willy-willy’s scoot across the ground, throwing dust high in the air.

The town itself is dying.  The mine recently ceased operations, the croc farm closed and the pub was shut.  That’s right the bloody pub was shut!  I don’t know who was disappointed more, me or the kids.  We stopped in a crazy tin shed that was a secondhand store with local celebrity, Pixie, behind the desk. Pixie was a right character and told us all about the town.  She also had some Boab nuts cracked open and was offered it up for a taste. Tastes like chicken. Not really. It tastes like stale, slightly acidic popcorn. Not too bad really. Pixie said she crushes it up and uses it as a coating for her fish before pan frying it. I’d give that a go!

Either side of the Great Northern Highway (Craig would later reclassify sections of this road as the “Not So Great Northern Highway”), the land is white, flat, dried up flood plains.  Plenty of car tracks veered off in the distance, confirming my suspicions that it was a great place to do a bit of circle work in a hotted up car.  At the Five Rivers lookout you could see the Pentecost, Ord, Durack, Forrest and King rivers all emptying into the Cambridge Gulf. Again great and vast views of the area.

Back in Kununurra, we gathered provisions, said goodbye to the van as we head back on the road with the tent to tackle the Gibb River Road.  Adventure awaits!