Where are we now?
We are Mataranka 105 kms south of Katherine in the Northern Territories.
After a night in Wyndham we moved on to Kununurra which is about 100 kms away. It is a relatively new town which was built when they decided to construct a large dam nearby and needed somewhere to house the workers who were passing through.
We chose to stay at a holiday park near Lake Kununurra. It is a place to which Australians go for their holidays as well as some like us who are simply passing through. Hence the campsite contains many beautifully kept clean vans and clean people as well as some rather dirty looking vans and slightly grubby people.
Our van is parked almost on the waters edge and there is said to be a crocodile (freshie) called George who lives near the water’s edge and comes if you call him. We did not try but we saw others try with no success, they were later told that he had moved up the park at bit and was living closer to the Camp Kitchen.
It is a day for doing nothing so Pat (still the teacher) decides to instruct two Australian Magpie Larks
in the art of finding bits of a biscuit which she has thrown down for them. One of them at least looks rather confused.
At sunset the sky becomes thick with Fruit Bats (the black spots in the photograph above show the start of their flight)
and in moments the sky becomes full as they head off to the mango trees and banana plantations nearby
and our last view of them is as they fly past the moon.
When we woke up next morning, we found that our windscreen was covered with Fruit Bat Shit - it was very hard to get off ! Despite the windscreen, it was a good day which enabled us to recover a bit from the Gibb before we moved on to Lake Argyle.
Somewhere during our travels, someone said to us that we should try to visit Lake Argyle if we could. On every trip we have made, we have met someone who has given us good advice about somewhere we might want to try to add in to our itinerary. We have a couple of spare days to use so we decide to use one to visit Lake Argyle.
Lake Argyle is about 70 kms from where we are and so is barely an hour’s drive away. It is a man made lake which was constructed to provide water for agriculture in the region and hence there are a lot of mangoes, bananas, sandalwood trees and more growing northwest of Kununurra.
It is large, the unit of measurement here seems to be Sydney Harbours and depending on the water level, it holds between 21 and 44 Sydney Harbours and could go as far as 55 Sydney Harbours before it overflowed. In that we work in London Transport Buses in the UK as the unit of measurement, I am left wondering how many London Transport Buses there are in Lake Argyle ! Google does not supply the answer to this question but I could work it out I suppose.
In more conventional units, it has a surface area of around 1000 square kilometres and a normal volume of 10,765 gigalitres - I am sure that means nothing to you and it does not mean too much to me so just think of it as very large.
This is the first view we had of the lake and it fails to give any impression of its size. It is however extremely beautiful.
The Dam Wall probably looks like most other dam walls and is 335 metres long and 98 metres high (you should remember that for a pub quiz). For dam wall fact collectors, I can also tell them that it is an earth wall covered with clay covered with stones, all of which were taken from the immediate area to form the wall.
Having checked into the nearby camp, in the afternoon when went on a three hour boat trip around the lake and I have to say that I would never have thought that a lake could be so interesting.
On the rock faces of the lake are marks indicating where the water level has been. It was a relatively dry Wet Season this year and hence the current water level is about 3 metres below the norm. This has reduced the number of Sydney Harbours but we are told there is still more than enough water for it current usage.
When the dam lake filled, it created a number of Islands and most of the islands and areas close to the water are inhabited by wild life.
They have become used to the arrival of boats such as ours and some Rock Wallabies come down to the waters edge to beg for food
as does a Walleroo.
It is said that there are some 30,000 Freshies (Fresh Water Crocodiles) in the lake and we got to see a few of them plus we learnt why they generally are not a problem for humans, i.e. do not try to eat us because of their jaw shape.
All of those we saw were lying on the shore keeping warm in the sun until our
Captain started feeding some fish (Cat Fish and others)
then one silently slid into the water
and started swimming towards us at what we realised was a tremendous speed.
Notice how little its wake is, it is not creating much disturbance in the water.
It is now approaching the boat (and the fish) at high speed
with its mouth open with an unsuspecting fish just in front of it.
Dinner is caught
and taken back to the shore to be eaten.
Another unusual (at least to us) item of wildlife was the Golden Orb Spider which made its webs in trees along the shore
and therefore positioned to catch insects flying along on the wind.
The spiders are large with a body up to 4 cms long and legs a maximum of a further 12 cms - these ones are much smaller than that. The unusual thing about them is that the strands which hold the central web to the trees are very strong, so strong with respect to their size that reproducing their tensile characteristics in engineering became an important task for many years. The females also eat the males after mating if the males hang around to long and are caught.
One person on our boat remembered her grandmother binding a wound on her finger with Golden Orb Spider web strands to stop it bleeding - apparently it worked well.
The rocks on the island are the usual beautiful colours and shapes we have got used to in the Kimberley Region
and as sunset approaches they change colour
and the sky turns purple.
Then behind us the moon rose between two islands
and because it was a full moon, a "staircase to the moon" starts to appear
behind two travellers who happened to be on the boat and whose camera over compensated for the dark light!
When the lake and its dam was built, it flooded the Station of Argyle Downs which was created by one of the early pioneers Durack (who has a river and a lot more named after him). His history is an example of not only the hardships faced by the early pioneers but also an example of their determination and attitude. The Homestead he built was going to be flooded and so the Authorities dismantled and reassembled it on a bit of land above the water for visitors to come to.
The story of how he came to Australia, became a cattle baron, explored the area and established Argyle Downs as a major cattle station is a perfect example of the pioneering spirit which made Australia.
A Night in Katherine
Katherine is just over 500 kms east of Lake Argyle and is not only just over 5 hours drive, it is also 1½ hours ahead because the Northern Territories is in a different time zone. So we have to allow around 7 clock hours to drive there and of course we must get there before dusk because no one in their right mind drives through the bush during dusk and the night.
What is the problem you might be wondering?Just leave early. The problem is that the Lake Argyle Campsite is famous for its Infinity Pool. We did not get a chance to go in it yesterday because of the cruise so we have to do it as soon as it opens this morning at 0730.
It is a beautifully placed pool and the backdrop is wonderful. The water is also very very cold which might be refreshing when the air temperature is around 35C (which it will be from about 11 am onwards) but it is only around 22C in the early morning.
So we had a quick dip and we were one of the first people in it, then it was dry off and get on the road by 8 am.
The Western Australia / Northern Territories Border is only a few kms away and our clocks go forward although going in this direction does not require us to hand in all of our vegetables (or eat them first) as it would have done if we were travelling in the other direction.
The landscape between Lake Argyle and Katherine is nothing special for much of the way and so we listen to another large chunk of "The Woman in White” (Sir Percival Glyde is now starting to show his true character - hiss). On the few occasions it does improve, it is to offer us some more magnificent rock landscapes. The Kimberley really does have some wonderful rockscapes.
Just west of Timber Creek we make a brief off road side trip to visit the Gregory Tree which is a National Monument and a site of Aboriginal importance.
When Augustus Gregory was exploring the area in 1855, he camped here and found some timber to repair his boat which had damaged its keel sailing up the Victoria River - hence the name Timber Creek.
The tree is surrounded by a fence to protect it and also has a number of well produced informational panels which include reproductions of the original sketches of the expedition artist (Baines) and some extracts from their diaries.
Their arrival and departure dates were carved into the tree, hence July 2nd 1856. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that although the area was “discovered” by Europeans in 1855, members of the Nagakiwurra and Nangaku Aboriginal language groups had been in the area for at least 40,000 years prior to “the discovery”.
As a town, Timber Creek had an important place in the history of early Australia because the Victoria River was sufficiently large to enable cattle to be exported by ship from Timber Creek, Nowadays it is a place which many people drive through or simply stop to refuel.
Katherine is a large (in Australian Outback terms) town on the Stuart Highway (north south) and the Victoria Highway (West East). We stayed here seven years ago and did not really like it then and we do not really like it now.
It has too many traffic lights, something we have grown not used to and seems to lack friendliness. It also seems (at least to us) to have a major Aboriginal problem in that there are more than we have seen elsewhere sitting around aimlessly, the toilets in the shopping centre charge for access in order to keep them out, toilets in gas stations are locked etc. There is a total ban on drinking alcohol in the city centre which does not affect anyone except someone who needs to buy and then drink it immediately and so it goes on.
Last time we stayed at a town centre motel and were kept awake by fights near the Bottle-O, this time we are staying on the outskirts of town at a rather nice Big 4 campsite - the largest we have every stayed at and with really good toilets (by now you must realise their importance). Staying there brings with it some of the sounds of a return to normal life in that we can hear trains, police / ambulance sirens and general traffic noise from the roads surrounding the camp. A foretaste of what is not too far way for us.
This should be a bright blue sky but there is a lot of controlled burning underway locally and the sky is full of ash and a wood fire smell which we find lingers on our clothes for quite a few days. We are staying for one night only and move on 105 km south to Mataranka.
Mataranka is a small settlement on the road from Darwin to Adelaide and we stayed there the last time we were here. We remembered the camp site with some affection because of:
- it being a reasonable campsite;
- being offered a billycan of tea by an adjacent pitch;
- our amazement that a caravan could have a washing machine in it (Pat asked to go and look at it);
- the wallabies in the toilets at night;
- the Thermal Springs adjacent to the site;
- the replica homestead at the entrance to the site; and
- two of the best mango smoothies we have ever had at the Stockyard Gallery in town.
It had changed little since we were last here and groups of Aboriginals are still sitting under the trees drinking or sleeping. We still do not understand the Aboriginal issue and we suspect that most Australians do not either.
It was here we first encountered someones details being entered into a national computer database when they purchased alcohol in the store - presumably to control how much they bought and to check if they were entitled to buy it.
However we were entertained by some Blue Faced Honeyeaters who had learnt that food was usually left by departing customers.
At dusk lots of wallabies come out into the campsite. You are told not to give the bread because they eventually get toothache