After another predictably uncomfortable but unusually eventful trip (a guy got chucked off at Halls Creek for being drunk and a little bit touchy-feely with some of the other passengers) it was bliss to be walking into my air-conditioned dorm at the Kimberley Croc YHA in Kununurra. Surprisingly it’s the first place that I’ve found with air-con in the dorms and one of the few with lockers in the dorms too. They’ll pick-up and drop-off where the Greyhound stops – I hadn’t phoned to confirm this but when I saw the mini-bus driving past me as I was about half-way to the hostel I realised they’d read the note I’d put on my online YHA booking and had come to get me anyway. Anothernice thing they do is offer a weekly rent-rate which you can further reduce by doing various cleaning shifts and other odd-jobs round the place – I spent 3 hours trying to rid their internet computers of viruses and earned 2 nights free for my efforts.
My first day at the hostel was spent doing a few chores – signing up at the Job Shop and the Grunt recruitment agency in the hope of landing some harvest work (I’d heard that the mangopicking season was about to kick off and there’s a lot of sandlewood taking advantage of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme too) and making use of my Medicare card for the first time. My day of surfing at Cable Beach had inadvertantly killed a small skin tag on my stomach and by the time I got off the bus it was swollen, black, and generally looked quite ominous, but a quick visit to the GP had it chopped off, not before the doctor took a photo of it and even emailed it to me – doubt I’d get that through the NHS!
Apart from generally sitting around almost disabled by the heat, the second day saw me hitching a ride to Lake Argyle – the largest man-made body of water in Australia – with Constance and Wendel who’d rented a 4×4 for a few days. We made it just in time to throw our credit cards at the receptionist and get on the bus to the jetty for the sunset tour of the lake. The tour starts at 3 giving almost 3 hours out on the water and the guys who do it keep a constant stream of facts and stories going towards you for that time. We saw a couple of crocs (freshies so not too dangerous), pelicans and fed some fish who have evolved the ability to spit water almost a metre in the air to catch flies – it was bizarre to be holding bits of bread over the side of the boat and having the fish sticking their mouths out of the water then squirting my hand with amazing accuracy. I was so engrossed getting the fish to actually jump out of the water and take bites at a slice of bread that I missed a croc jumping out of the water, completing the food chain.
The lake is over 70 times the size of Sydney harbour, so after the fish feeding it took about 20 minutes of cruising to break out of the corner where we started from and reach the main part of the lake. The sun was getting near the horizon and the water seemed to go on forever – it looked as though we could have been out at sea, had the water not been perfectly calm. Once we were in open and deep water (20m, the crocs don’t venture out this far) the pilot killed the engine and we jumped in the 26 degree water and watched the sun go down while – slightly pretentiously – enjoying sparkling wine, crackers and dip which had been handily placed on a float so we could eat and swim at the same time. Getting home was a bit interesting as Wendel admitted it was the first time he’d driven a car on the left side of the road, never mind in the dark!
The next day Wendel, Constance and I headed west to the Gibb River Road and into El Questro National Park. The first stop was Emma Gorge, and, although the walk to the plunge pool at the end was only a couple of kms and relatively flat, the heat definitely made it feel like a bit more of a challenging treck. The gorge is well worth the walk though and, if you don’t mind quite chilly water (at least in September), then the pool is great to cool down in. After dipping my feet in, I gave the pool a miss and got distracted by a photographer who’d lugged a box-brownie and a bunch of slides in and was setting up for a shot in a way which definitely takes much more time and discipline than I’m generally used to. Next stop was the Zebedee Springs, a tropical oasis in the middle of the barren landscape where water flows over rocks and between the palms into small jacuzzi-sized pools, and all at around 30 degrees. The springs close to the public at midday but we stretched out our stay – incidentally getting the place to ourselves – for at least an extra half hour as the place was so intoxicating. At the township, I had a really good steak, although I felt a little bit guilty as there were cows walking around the camping area that we were looking out onto, but they seemed blissfully unaware of the atrocity being committed beside them. The drive home took a lot longer than it could have, mainly due to a good hour being spent parked on a section of the Gibb River road that had great background views, very similar to those in the film Australia, trying to synchronise our jumping with not only ourselves – which turned out to be tricky enough – but also the self timer of my camera. More distractions were to be had further down the road as the sun set over monumental Boab trees and the equally monumental ridges behind them.
In the end, I spent just over 2 weeks waiting in Kununurra and apart from a trip to an isolated Aboriginal community, which I’ll blog about later, it was pretty quiet and featured a lot time in the pool as well as playing Connect-4. A few evenings were spent watching the sunset from either Kelly’s Knob or the Hidden Valley national park (also known as the Mini-Bungle-Bungles) and one, quite scary, night was spent light painting in the national park with a french artist. I wouldn’t say we got anything really compelling out of the 3 or so hours we spent in a dead-silent valley with only the light from the stars to see with but I certainly won’t forget how any little noise or perceived movement got us on edge and how we walked just a bit faster after a massive flying-fox flew over our heads. It was also one of a few times where I did a longish (15 minute) exposure just to find that my battery had died during the black-frame noise-reduction – not something I was ever careless enough to let happen when I’ve been doing the same thing in Scotland.
Another nice spot I visited was the Ivanhoe river crossing – the first crossing of its kind I’d ever seen – basically a 300m long low bridge in which the water almost always runs over. Driving over it the first time was a little nerve wracking as the water was high enough to go over the marker posts at either side of the crossing and the current just strong enough to pull the 4×4 a little sideways. Despite saltwater crocs visiting the area, it seems a fairly popular spot in the dry season for a dip.
Talking of dips, one evening near the end of my stay I saw a few flashes of distant lightening in the sky and once I saw the trees swaying in the wind that was starting to gather I walked over to the park opposite the hostel to get a better view, and hopefully some photos, of the impending storm. What I didn’t realise that, with the build-up to the wet season underway, the storm was pretty big and a few minutes later a couple of us were sheltering under the supermarket watching the strongest combination of wind and rain I’ve ever seen. Soon after, lightening struck what I guess was some part of the electricity grid a few hundred meters away from us, plunging the entire town into darkness. Getting back across top the hostel turned out to be a bit hairy as the now dark street was an ankle-deep torrent of water and branches that had been ripped from trees and once we did get back to the hostel we found that most of the outside areas were also flooded. One of the most comical images of the night was the soapy silhoutte of one of the guys taking a shower in the rain, lit up only by the odd flash of lightening. If this were Britain, there’d be news about all the flooded houses the next day, but about 5 minutes after the rain stopped, the hostel and streets were clear of water and the only sign of the storm was the slightly over-filled pool and mess of branches everywhere.