Monday, 4 August 2008


31/07/08 Keep River NP – Kununurra 76(5539) kms

Out of the campsite by 8:30am and back towards the road for one last place to visit in Keep.

Cockatoo Lagoon is the receded dry season billabong which is part of a long watercourse through the park in the wet. As the heat of the dry - no such thing as winter up here - thins the lines of the water supplier, deeper holes in the creek lines and rivers become permanent supplies of water for animals. Local stockman always know these holes and head for them when herding cattle clever enough to stay close to scarce water. Cockatoo Lagoon is located behind the main park office and a few benches have been set up for bird lovers and twitchers to sit and watch some of the parks more than 200 known species of birds. We saw some lovely birds in an hour there. The Royal Spoonbills and Magpie Geese were obvious when we first arrived, as were egrets and magpies. With patience we also saw one of the flycatchers species, some cisticolas, a whistling kite and even a Sacred Kingfisher. It was a pleasant relief from all of the barren dryness so obvious throughout the park. The ranger had said the hallmark of the park was diversity and he was right.

With this little bonus notched in our belts, we swung out of the park for the very short trip to the WA border and our first border inspection of the trip and a serious inspection it was. The fridge was removed from the car and our food boxes searched. A look through the car was also conducted. An ant which was observed by the inspector crawling on our fridge was sought out with a specimen container. After about twenty minutes, we were cleared to proceed.

Kununurra was only about 45 minutes drive away and we were soon there. We settled into the Ivanhoe Village Caravan Park and taking advantage of the 90 minute time difference between WA and NT, we set about to resolve some outstanding issues. I needed my ears cleaned out, Sue needed physiotherapy on her back, there were shoes to refix soles to, books to buy ... it wasn't a long list but it was a list. Sue managed to score an appointment with a local physio and was worked on for more than an hour. A lot of what she had been doing was approved of and she was encouraged to continue. My ears took two visits to the hospital and an awful lot of flushing to remove the build up of wax which had impacted on the ear drums but wasn't it wonderful to leave the hospital and hear birds singing across the street and the material of my trousers rustling against my leg. There was the frustration of not being able to satisfactorily develop the nine rolls of film I have shot so far.

All told, it was just a long day as the time change caught up with us when the sun set at 5:30pm. Supposed to write blogs to catch up for those days out of communication, I gave up and went to bed and listed to the bats sending down their guano all night. A big street light in the park which just about hangs over the tent finally blinked out at midnight and sometime about then, I went to sleep.

1/08/08 Kununurra – flight over the Bungle Bungles

It’s hard day to describe today because it had so many highlights and yet, so many lowlights. Sue had most of the highlights (although not all) but I got to own the lowlights exclusively.

For Sue, the flight over the Bungle Bungles has been one of the burning reasons for this trip. Once it became obvious we could not take our gear into the park because of the hideous roads, the plane trip was the only compensation. I felt the same compunction, the same need but tinged with a nervous anticipation. Since a time about four years ago when I was supposed to have an MRI but instead ran from the building screaming, I have suffered from claustrophobia and the planes this particular sight seeing business is to be done in are small. I had done my research and found out the planes used, the configuration on the seats and every detail I could know. Armed with this, I simulated the spatial relationships in our living room with large sheets of cardboard and chairs. All of this, Sue didn't know. With the confidence of my rehearsals, I booked the tickets in Katherine and although nervous this morning, when we headed for the airport, I believed I had overcome my problem with preparation and visualisation.

We had our final toilet break and walked out onto the tarmac, bypassed the plane I had been told we would travel in and were stood in front of a very tiny Cessna - about half as small again as my preparation plane. It seated six plus the pilot. The back four seats were small squares of padded material attached to the fuselage, with a small backrest half that size again. Each seat sat beside its own door release - a simple 90 degree rotation to lock or unlock the door. I would be sitting with my knees in my face with the door pushed against one side and Sue pressed against the other. At this point, I ran from the tarmac, wishing Sue all the best. This was beyond anything I had inside me.

Sue had a lovely flight and her words follow. I spent a dreadful morning trying to counter a massive panic attack, the details of which I won't share. I blame no one for this, it’s just something else I have to deal with, or not, as this morning has made obvious.

Sue writes ... "I myself have never liked the idea of flying in small planes and this was one of the smallest around but the desire to see the Bungle Bungles was up there with Uluru. So calmer than I could ever imagine I could be in this situation, I had the job of locking a side door with a lever! The lady next to me confessed to being nervous, prayed and grabbed my hand for the next ten minutes until I needed it to video. Even though on one level the last passage of time felt surreal I was not going to miss out on what was around and ahead of me. The view finder helped me to focus in more ways than one and I felt a mission to be able to show Peter later what he was unable to enjoy. Just out of Kununurra is an area called Packsaddle Plains. This is irrigated farming area growing mangoes, melons, sugar cane, sandalwood trees etc. After that is the huge body of water called Lake Argyle which has been created by the diversion dam on the Ord River. The Lake is filled by the Ord and Beau River and the water from the wet season. The flight then was over rocky terrain until at last the Bungle Bungles. Wow! They are exactly like we have all seen them on Getaway programs - stripy domes and lots of them. I wanted to stay over them for hours they were so amazing. We had to land shortly after viewing them and drop people off at the airstrip in the Bungles for their two day Safari. This meant the return flight was just the pilot and myself. He had me trim the plane - sit on the other side to balance the plane - and positioned me where I could get the best footage. On the way back we circled the Argyle Diamond Mine which is owned by Rio Tinto then home."

I'm looking forward to the video footage!

We finished the day with something we both enjoyed, a dinner cruise through Lilly Creek and then along the Ord River to the Diversion Dam. We were fed - lovely fruit dip and vegetable platters to start, seven or eight cows for main course and then fruit platters for dessert. Throughout we had a few quiet drinks and met new folks. An interesting couple was a former resident who was educated in the USA and has returned to Kununurra to help inspire her people to have dreams act on them and her partner, a Texan who had been in the country five days and had seen Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and Kununurra and today is riding in the local bull ride at the Kununurra Rodeo. He wasn't like the usual Yank. Bit edgy, bit creative and very interested in places other than his own home soil. I enjoyed his company and as most of you know, I don't say that about Septics very often. We didn't see any promised crocs - the new chum was disappointed.

2/08/08 Kununurra

Lovely day ... lovely day.

The more we take the pace off, the more we feel like ourselves. This morning we drove out along the Ivanhoe Rd to the Fruit & Veg Cafe. Kununurra produces wonderful fruit and veg thanks to the endless supply of water from the Ord River and the canny scheme which keeps most of the wet season water here. The F&V Cafe is a funny little joint out of town which serves drinks and meals in the same room as having an old style of fruit and veg shop. I kept expecting to hear "coupla days" in every conversation involving two old ladies who ran the shop. It was one of the friendliest places I think I have been. We left with a big box of produce and a few homilies which they have on the wall and sell for 20c each!

Stacked up with unbottled vitamins, we crossed Kununurra and drove down Packsaddle Rd to find the Zebra Rock Gallery. This place uses rock who’s source was first shown to the Duracks by an indigenous woman more than 100 years ago as a favour for the good treatment. It is a sedimentary rock which is laid down in very narrow bands which produces the effect of nearly uniform zebra stripes which range in colours but have a predominance of deep maroons against very light pinks. It’s claimed age of 60 million years they say predates animal life on Earth. I must look that up. They cut this into all sorts of things, including the most popular pendants and perfect spheres on shallow indented trays. When rotated, the spheres will turn for ten minutes or more on the very low friction surface. We had lunch here with an inquisitive peacock for company and then wandered down the grass lawn to the shore of the Ord River where we could feed the fish. We took pictures instead and soaked up some more of the blues, greens, reds and oranges that dominate the landscape here in the extreme north east of WA. I got some snaps of Elephant Rock.

It was a hot afternoon so we retired to the accommodation’s pool for solace and to look good among the Nomads who were wrinkling their wrinkles. As usual, it was Sue who drew attention and had the conversations. Tomorrow, I’m wearing the bikini.

Later in the afternoon, we drove the short distance to Mirima NP (Hidden Valley NP). Now here is one instance when the English name is very appropriate. The entrance to the park is in the suburbs of Kununurra and you are almost immediately swallowed by this very tiny valley between two ridges of near vertical sandstone. Boabs, cabbage palms, the kapok tree (aboriginal calendar tree), wattles and some eucalypts all cling to a sandy existence in a small area which spends a lot of the day in shadow owing to the small distance between ridges. There is excellent interpretive signage explaining bush tucker along the walks and you soon climb the western ridge for a view back into the "hidden" valley and over Kununurra. Being so close, the main summit looked straight into a car wreckers yard!

We turned from the view and were stopped in our tracks when a Rainbow Bee Eater landed in the small tree we were just about standing under. He sat and called for five minutes, his little body and wings vibrating with the effort. If the flight of red-tailed cockatoos at Keep River had been a special moment, then this was also in that category. My Mum's favourite bird just sitting there talking to me. Everywhere we went, a Rainbow Bee Eater was there to talk to us.

We put on our glad rags and went out for a few quiet drinks and bumped into our American new chum. He had survived his rodeo experience for a 1.2 second ride and proudly showed us the video of the action. Man, here was a guy with life shooting out of him and smashing against the walls. He told us his brother was always getting into scrapes and if something went wrong, Scott expected his brother to be in the thick of it. He also dropped into the conversation he has been shot by drug dealers and stabbed. Sue was rather surprised that he thought it was brother who was the one in the thick of the action!

What a lovely, lovely day.

4/08/08 Lake Argyle

Our last day in Kununurra was largely spent in Lake Argyle, about 70 km by road to the south east but considerably less if flying Crow Air. The drive there takes in the best examples of the landforms about this place. Once you leave the Victoria Highway, 35km east of Kununurra, you are almost immediately among large orange mountains which odd-shape themselves in front and beside you but leave these narrow passage ways to lead you on to their greater treats. It’s as though they were characters in a Tolkien novel, waiting scratch themselves when your back is turned.

Lake Argyle Township - settlement really - is all that remains of the digs established for the construction workers of the Ord River Dam from 1969-72. In three dry seasons - no construction work was possible during the wet - they built a dam wall across the Ord, various tunnels to redirect the river flow during construction, a hydroelectric plant and access roads to and around the site. It is an amazing achievement still. The resultant Lake Argyle sits with blue peaceful beauty between tall mountains that stand with their feet wet in the waters of the lake. When at it lowest capacity, it holds nine times the water of Sydney Harbour and when brinking the overflow spillway, it is more like fifty five times. Gee, imagine the pollution you could fit in that? No such animal up here. Not even farm pollutants in the clear waters.

After taking in all the facts and figures over bottomless mugs of tea at the visitor's centre, and drinking all the views from the lookouts we could hold, we went over the dam wall - perhaps that should be along - to one of the best picnic areas I have ever enjoyed. Grass everywhere because it is watered every night by automated sprinklers - no shortage of water here - and trees the construction workers planted to provide full shade cover. One of them is a tall mango tree which was growing an abundance of fruit too green for Sue to eat. The birdlife is fantastic. After lunch, whilst Sue slept on a rug, so that other visitors could walk past and her, I identified and photographed heaps of birds. We spent three and a half hours in this little paradise and were reluctant to leave.

That finishes the Kununurra experience for us. In the morning we move camp to Fitzroy Crossing and some time at Geikie Gorge NP - time which will include a cruise with indigenous guides and perhaps a ranger talk too. After that, we’ll gradually make our way past Tunnel Creek NP and have three nights in Windjana NP before joining the famed Gibb River Road for the trip to Derby and our first view of the west coast.

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