Taking a detour to Australia’s second-largest man-made lake was an easy option, especially as my mate Rod had never been there before. In fact, he’d never been to Western Australia, so I thought we’d kill two birds with one stone to tackle two of the most iconic Kimberley destinations, Lake Argyle and Ivanhoe Crossing.
Having crossed the border from the Territory into Western Australia we made our way through the strictest quarantine checkpoint in the country. Ivanhoe Crossing was then entered into the HX2 and it navigated us to our destination. The crossing was busy with tourists too scared to drive it, but more than happy to watch in awe and snap away on their smartphones and cameras as others braved the Ord River ford.
Once part of the old road to Wyndham, the Ivanhoe Crossing is located 13km from town and is a popular fishing spot for locals. Be very aware though as estuarine crocodiles inhabit the area and swimming is not safe. I had to warn a young European couple who were about to walk in to cool down – they hadn’t read the signs.
A four-wheel drive is necessary and enabling traction controls or high range low is recommended as the flow might catch you out, it can be forceful if the water is higher and the concrete slippery with green moss covering most of it. As intimidating as it looks, this is a great drive, and you’ll love the rush of adrenaline that matches the sound of the water as it passes over the crossing and crashes below. At times, Ivanhoe Crossing is closed due to the force of the torrent of the height of the water.
After spending some time capturing our driving shots, Rod and I returned to Kununurra to stock up on supplies and fuel before chasing the sun as we raced seventy kilometres to Lake Argyle.
You always feel welcome on arrival at the Lake Argyle Resort, the staff are so friendly and go out of their way to make you feel at home. After being guided to our campsite and a quick set up, we retired to the restaurant for a feed and a couple of icy cold Matso’s. It had been a long day on the road driving 720km from Mataranka and our detour to Ivanhoe Crossing, so feeling wrecked it was great to finally fall into the swag.
Up with the birds, and there are many that enjoy the protection of the shade trees planted throughout the resort. I first stayed out here in 1994, it was rough as guts back then and the mosquitoes had a ball day and night. Originally built to house the dam builders in the 1970s, the Lake Argyle Resort has been turned into an excellent place to stay and enjoy the expanses of Lake Argyle and everything that comes with it.
We’d decided to join a morning tour with Lake Argyle Adventures, a great little business run by Josh and Tamsyn with a focus on the incredible local bush tucker from around the Lake Argyle region. We all piled into the stretched Landcruiser Troopy and set off to the base of the Argyle dam wall and into the pretty Ord River Gorge, enjoying homemade delicacies such as Kununurra lime cheesecakes, wild passionfruit muffins, lemon myrtle bush tea and wattle seed infused coffee along the way.
After an afternoon spent relaxing beside the incredible infinity pool, it was time to hit the water on the Kimberley Durack Sunset Tour on Lake Argyle. The bus picks you up from the resort reception and drops you off at the boat ramp before you are welcomed aboard by the captain and crew of the Kimberley Durack. As you cruise past the dam wall and old blast site, the captain explains how the idea behind Lake Argyle was begun by Kimberley Durack back in 1939 and that the small gap between the mountains made it the perfect place to build the wall.
The build was completed in June 1972 and by January 1974 the lake had reached storage capacity thanks to a couple of great wet seasons. Argyle Downs, the old Durack Homestead, had to be quickly evacuated with cattle and wildlife saved by legends such as Malcolm Douglas and Harry Butler. The lake can hold up to 18 times the volume of water in Sydney Harbour at a normal full supply level, which is hard to fathom until you see the immense expanse of water for yourself.
The cruise takes you past sleeping crocodiles, don’t be alarmed, they are Johnston River freshies and timid so more likely to avoid human confrontation than their distant relatives, the fearsome saltwater variety, before stopping by an island to feed the local silver cobblers. As golden hour takes over, afternoon tea is served with beer, wine and soft drink available plus well laid out grazing platters.
This is also an opportunity to enjoy a refreshing swim in the lake with the brave ones climbing onto the roof before launching themselves into the water to the cheers from onlookers. It’s then time to enjoy the setting sun, with a cold beverage and the camera working overtime before returning to shore and the short bus trip back to the resort.
There is a bucket load of things to see and do as a self-drive exploration and with the help of the Hema HX2, I discovered a couple of 4WD tracks that might take us to great viewing points of Lake Argyle. This turned out to be an adventure and offered magnificent views of Lake Argyle and the Carr Boyd Range.
Only 250 metres from the Argyle Downs Homestead is a track off to the right that leads out to the Pannikin Bay lookout. It is a 1.2km unmaintained 4x4 track that may need some traction control or low range activity when climbing up to the final section. The locals love this spot, with spectacular views out over the lake and the range, and many wedding photos have been captured here.
Rod and I sat here for an eternity, watching the brown goshawks gliding in the breeze as they searched for a meal and the boats cruising across the blue waters. It is a great place to have a picnic or a pie with sauce and enjoy the serenity of this amazing place. The best time to really enjoy this spot is at sunset, don’t forget your camera. If you don’t have a 4WD, you can drive to the base of the ridge and then walk the final 600 metres to the lookout.
The next stop was Dead Horse Springs and just 4km from the resort. This beautiful little billabong is picture-perfect when there is a good amount of water in it as the gap in the range offers views of the lake, while also looking stunning reflecting from the water. Again, it would be an amazing place to be at sunset.
Almost opposite the turnoff to the springs is a little track that leads to an excellent Aboriginal art site that few travellers know about. A short walk into the range leads to a cave with a fire-blackened roof and ancient images painted on the walls. The most obvious is a beautiful crocodile using red and white ochres, a real work of art. In respecting the Miriuwung Gajerrong people, please leave only footprints, take only photographs, and don’t touch the artworks.
If you want to learn more about the pastoralist history, especially on the Durack dynasty, drop into the historic homestead that was originally built in 1895 on Argyle Station. Once the dam was built, it was dismantled stone by stone, relocated and rebuilt exactly as it was so that it can be preserved for all time.
For a small fee, you can explore the homestead that is now a museum that tells the story of the pioneering Durack family.
The old Durack Homestead Museum
If a sunset cruise on the water isn’t your preference, there’s also a buffet lunch cruise that includes complimentary beverages, BBQed Silver Cobbler and a smorgasbord of cold meats, salads and fresh fruit. We came up close and personal with several of the freshwater crocs warming themselves on the stony banks of the lake.
At Hagan Island, we watched a small troop of wallaroo munch on food pellets thrown from the boat. In another sheltered bay, the Silver Cobblers teamed as the food was thrown into the water by the kids. The cruise concludes with a swim, the water temperature sits between 22 and 26 degrees and is extremely pleasant. It's no wonder 35,000 crocodiles love it here.
If you can’t be bothered cooking dinner and don’t feel like enjoying another fine meal at the restaurant, I have a better idea that will surprise you. You see, Josh and Tamsyn are the people behind the Gourmet Camp Oven Experience, an outstanding dining experience unique to Lake Argyle.
Josh picked us up at the resort and drove us in his Troopy up a rocky track to a private lookout overlooking the resort and Lake Argyle. Here we were met by Tamsyn who greeted us with a smile and a complimentary Matso’s alcoholic ginger beer (BYO any other drinks you may want).
The three-course “Gourmet Camp Oven Experience” was one of the most memorable meals I have experienced. Using local produce fused with bush tucker the tastes and textures were divine. A locally caught Barramundi sitting on a potato rosti, crispy skin pork belly served with basil infused damper and a Kimberley salad and finishing with an Ord River Rum brownie dusted with powdered boab, my mouth is watering as I reminisce.
Throw in the ambience of a Kimberley sunset followed by clear skies dotted with sparkling stars, the laughter of fellow travellers and Josh’s live music performance, you must experience it for yourself.
Being a journalist sometimes does have its privileges, so when I was offered a night’s accommodation in one of the Kimberley Cabins, who was I to refuse? Crisp and clean white sheets on a real mattress vs a dusty swag with 70mm of foam, the acceptance wasn’t hard to come by. The air-conditioning was relieving as it the weather is hot at Lake Argyle almost 365 days of the year. Anyway, back to Lake Argyle.
Kimberley Air Tours
One thing I’ve always dreamed of doing was seeing Lake Argyle from the air and with the helicopter service booked solid, Rod and I decided to jump on a scenic flight with Kimberley Air Tours. We were told to wait at the boat ramp where we’d be picked up, strange, until the floatplane landed on the water and taxied towards us. This was going to be one hell of a ride!
The flight takes you 70km north to where the edge of Lake Argyle reaches prime cattle country. As we crossed Bow River, the pilot began singing Cold Chisel, a little weird before the distinctive beehives of Purnululu came into view. I’ve flown over the domes and gorges in a helicopter a couple of times and that is spectacular, however, being a little higher in the sky showed off the natural wonders from a different perspective. Just stunning.
We turned south, back to Bow River (ahhhh now I get it) before flying over Argyle Diamond Mine, famous for its pink diamonds and for being one of the largest diamond fields in the world. Once over the waters of Lake Argyle, we landed beside a secluded island to enjoy morning tea and a little time to explore the island before the final leg of the flight over the resort and dam wall before touching down gracefully on the water. If you decide to join this tour, take a long-range zoom lens to really pick up the detail of Lake Argyle, Purnululu and the dam wall.
How long is enough time to make the most of a visit to Lake Argyle? I suggest at least five days as then you will also have plenty of time to relax by the most amazing pool. Taking part in a few tours will add to your experience, so putting aside some money in the travel budget before you get there is a wise move. Also, booking tours and accommodation before you get there is highly recommended as you’d hate to miss out.
Getting there: Lake Argyle is 70km from Kununurra and 513km west of Katherine via the Victoria Highway and only 34km from the turnoff.
Best time of year: It’s open 365 days a year, even during the wet it is busy with the Kununurra locals using it as a holiday spot.
Where to stay: Lake Argyle Resort has powered and unpowered sites, cabins and villas, bistro/café, clean amenities, Infinity Pool, tour bookings, grassed sites.
Top 7 Things to do in Kuninurra for under $20
- Walk Mirima National Park
- Climb Kelly’s Knob Lookout
- Drive Ivanhoe Crossing
- Fish Lake Kununurra
- Taste Rum at The Hoochery
- Sniff at Sandalwood Factory
- Watch the sunset at The Pumphouse