Ord River, Australia: Far from ordinary

Ord River landscape
Ord River landscape

A plethora of life-providing waterways carve their way across the wondrously ethereal landscape of the Kimberley, but the might and glory of the Ord River is the grandest of them all.

Once the fastest flowing river in Australia, it was harnessed by the construction of two dams more than 40 years ago to develop the agricultural industry in the verdant Ord Valley.

Fertile valley above Kununurra
Fertile valley above Kununurra

The damming of the Ord created two spectacular storage reservoirs - Lake Kununurra and Lake Argyle. The latter is the southern hemisphere's largest man-made lake, with mind-blowing dimensions. Its average water volume is the equivalent of 21 Sydney Harbours, while its maximum capacity equates to over 40 Sydney Harbours.

The lakes and the entire river scheme boast a bewildering array of wildlife. Lake Argyle alone is home to over 25,000 freshwater crocodiles and 26 native fish species.

This "inner sea" is so humungous, it sports bays, inlets and a multitude of islands, including Crocodile Island - which is freakily shaped in the spirit of its name.

Argyle Downs Homestead
Argyle Downs Homestead

Our AAT Kings guided journey called into the Lake Argyle Resort for lunch, a stupendous holiday playground, complete with camping facilities, boutique studios and excellent dining options.

Formerly it was the camp site for the dam construction workers, but in its reincarnation as a holiday resort, the star turn is the hillside infinity pool, high above Lake Argyle.

Ingeniously designed, it's showered with accolades as being Australia's best infinity pool. One glimpse of it - and you won't disagree.

Mike at Australia's best infinity pool.
Mike at Australia's best infinity pool.

We also stopped by a vestige of legendary Australian heritage at the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum.

Originally located in the Ord Valley, the historic 1890s homestead was the family home of the pioneering Durack family. Following reports about Kimberley's Ord Valley being favourable for pastoral land use, Patrick Durack organised the droving of 7250 head of breeding cattle and 200 horses on a 4800km trek from Queensland to the East Kimberley.

It was the longest such cattle trek undertaken in Australia at that time. It took them nearly two and a half years to reach the Ord River, with the loss of half of their cattle.

The beautifully graceful homestead, with its wide verandas and handcrafted limestone blocks, was relocated from its original site before the dam project, to safeguard it from being flooded and to serve as a monument to the guts and glory of those early pioneering cattle farmers.

Patrick's grandson, Kimberley Durack, was highly instrumental in bringing about the hugely ambitious irrigation scheme, transforming the Ord River region into a highly productive agriculture and horticulture area.

Kununurra's fertile alluvial plains are heavily planted in sandalwood, chia and seed crops, alongside a profusion of fruit and vegetables, notably melons and mangos.

The fabled Bungle Bungle Range
The fabled Bungle Bungle Range

Cruise chance to soak up scenery

The fabled Bungle Bungle Range and Mr Croc sunning himself.

Arunaway highlight of my time in East Kimberley was to drink in the river views aboard an epic cruise traversing 55km on the water, from the Ord's Top Dam to Lake Kununurra.

Flush with flora and wildlife, the scenic medley serves up more vividly coloured rock formations in red earthy hues, torched by sunlight.

Mr Croc sunning himself
Mr Croc sunning himself

Adding to the spiritual pull of this watery world, there's a slew of uncannily shaped rock formations with self-explanatory names like the cliff face nicknamed Queen Victoria - it's a dead ringer. Another rocky crag mimics the map of New Zealand.

But the best in show is Elephant Rock, a monumental spitting-image of a massive elephant head and tusks. Alongside ogling even more snoozing crocodiles, we lapped up bounding wallabies, sea eagles, kingfishers and hordes of fruit bats.

Gliding into Lake Kununurra, the sinking sun kissed the lake like a starburst. The following morning, I was up with the jabirus to join a sunrise flight with Aviar across the East Kimberley from Kununurra.

My scenic flight was piloted by a young and chirpy Kiwi, Sam from Tauranga, who expertly guided us on a gob-smacking aerial spectacle. Being aloft graphically illustrated the immensity of the Ord River and its man-made lakes and the multi-hued majesty of the landscape.

The irresistible show-stopper was our flying foray with the fabled Bungle Bungle Range. This spectacular landform of tiger-stripped, beehive-dome shaped sandstone towers is nature at its theatrical best. They are whimsical, wondrous and utterly unforgettable.
* www.aviaiaircom.au

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