Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kununurra: 3-Day Ord River Canoe Safari

We awoke early and drove straight to the base for the canoe safari where we were told we had 5 minutes to pack what we needed for the 3-day trip before we went to pick up the rest of the group. We did a quick scramble and got together what we hoped would be enough stuff and said goodbye to the Space Pig which would be staying with Maka for the duration of our trip.

Each pair was provided with an esky for food, a large water-tight barrel with pillows and sheets, a smaller barrel for personal stuff, a tent, two air mattresses and a water-tight bag for our valuables such as camera.

We drove out to the hostel to get a couple of people and then to the airport. All up there were eight of us in four canoes. There was Dave and I, a couple from Taiwan (Anna) and Germany (Dietmar), a couple from Australia (Ben) and Canada (Daniella) with Ben's Dad (John) and another lady from NZ called Joan (72 years of age and still just as fit as the rest of us - an inspiration!!)

We piled in the van and drove to Lake Argyle where we had a quick look around:

Lake Argyle is pretty interesting. It was dammed up in 1971 by a small wall as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and is now a huge water supply. It is Australia's second largest artificial lake.

We had a quick look at the maps showing us our journey and stop-overs. The maps were easy to follow and detailed lots of side trips along the way. The first day there were a few bits of faster water to navigate and we were told that this is the most common place to capsize. We were then sent on our way, starting at the top of the Ord River to complete 22km of the 53km trip.

Packed up and ready to go:

We were told that there were plenty of freshwater crocs in the water (when I asked on the phone about this, Maka said "Yeah, there's plenty of em, you'll be canoeing with 'em, swimming with 'em" - Yikes!) We were a bit apprehensive at first and every twig, log or leaf in the water took on certain croc-like features. However by the end of the trip we had learnt a lot about them and come to realise that the freshwater crocs are a completely different (relatively harmless) species compared to the larger saltwater (estuarine) crocs which would devour you in a second.

The first 5kms was very calm and we used the time to get ourselves settled in the boat and enjoy the great view:

There were a few faster sections but we got through them with no problem at all. We passed a flying fox camp with hundreds of smelly, noisy bats hanging from the trees - we had been told not to go too close to them as you may feel something like rain on your head!

We continued on to Sandy Beach where we stopped for lunch. This was the end of the fast water sections and we all made it in one piece!! Ben, Danielle, John and Joan had done a Nature Cruise in the morning and caught up with us at Sandy Beach. While we were waiting for them, Dave threw in a line and managed to catch a Bream on the first go!

Relaxing on Sandy Beach:

We set off on the second leg for the day. It became a bit wider and not as fast so we had to paddle a little harder.

There was plenty of stunning scenery to take in along the way and it was good to stop paddling and just drift along quietly, listening to all the sounds around us.

We went through Carlton Gorge which was lovely:

We saw a few Freshies on the way to camp and managed to pull up at the little jetty with about an hour of light left. Ther campsites were a great set up with tables and chairs, a great open fire and gas hotplates. We set up our tents on top of individual sleeping platforms. Even the toilet had a great view - up, some steps above the camp, with no walls, just a great view of the stars.
We had dinner and sat around for a while, chatting. The only thing missing was some beer which we'd had no time to purchase in the morning. Dave set up the yabbie trap overnight and then we headed to bed pretty early for a good sleep.
We woke at 5:15am for a beautiful sunrise over the water:

Dave checked the yabbie traps but there was nothing. However he found a different trap and put the bream head into it and waited for a yabbie to walk in before pulling it quickly out of the water. He managed to catch two this way, but not enough for all of us so he threw them back:

After breakfast we went for a walk up to the lookout behind the camp. This entailed a bit of a steep climb but the view at the top was most definately worth it!!!

After this we canoed up Cooliman Creek, a little side creek near the camp. We just drifted along quietly and saw lots of wildlife, managing to catch a great close-up shot of this darter drying its wings:

We threw a line in at different spots but the only managed to catch the dreaded catfish (or "Silver Cobbler" as it was renamed by an enterprising person to make it sell better!)

Ben releasing a small bream from Joan's line:

After this we went back to camp to re-load our canoes for the next leg. We felt like it must have been about midday but it was only about 8:30am!! The benefits of waking early!
We paddled up Pelican Creek and had a swim in one of the waterholes there which was lovely:

Following this we paddled up a very small creek which was fortunately marked with a buoy, otherwise we would probably have missed it. This was the entrance to Herbie's Hideaway which we had been told not to miss.
We parked (or should that be moored?) our canoes at the end of the creek:

Before walking about 20 minutes through the bushes. We arrived at an incredible spot - just stunning. A 100m gorge wall towered above us with a huge plungle pool at the bottom. Unfortunately our camera couldn't fit it all in!

We hung out for a while, enjoying the swim before heading back out to the Ord River.
Along this stretch we came across a "Party BBQ Boat" full of people celebrating something. Actually we heard it before we saw it, with loud bass intruding upon our tranquility. However, we couldn't complain when they beckoned Dave and I over and handed us a couple of beers each - ice cold on a hot day. Two of them were open so we just had to throw them down quickly before they warmed up:

After stopping for lunch at a JJJ picnic spot, we continued on to our second camp - Stonewall Camp. We quickly set up our tents and then jumped back into the canoes to go and visit "Jump Rock" a perfect rock for jumping off into the 26m deep water below.
Of couse, the ninny that I am, I was pretty scared as I don't tend to go thowing myself off rocks on a daily basis but I made myself climb up and have a look. Dave jumped off first with Ben and then I decided "what the heck" and decided to give it a go. Thanks to Daniella who took the best photos ever.
1) Dave and I up the top:

2) One, Two, Three.... Jump!!!

(Click on this for best view of pic - you may even see the expression on our faces - pure joy for Dave and scared shitless for me!)
3) Made it!

4) And still smiling.

It was a funny thing, wanting to go up 8 metres to jump into crocodile infested waters!
After this we paddled up Rawsons Creek to have a look around.

Our tent site. Room with a view!

"This is much easier without all our gear!"

When we got back to camp we were met with Ben who had just caught a decent sized Sooty Grunter:

Dave headed back out to try his luck with Ben while John gutted the fish (Interestingly it changed colour when it was hit over the head - to a pale yellow colour).
Back at camp we saw a Bower Bird nest. These are pretty incredible as the (very boring brown coloured) male bower bird makes the nest and collects stones, bones and coloured things (usually blue or green) to display around the nest to attract the female bird.

Daniella and I went off to have a look at the huge Boab Tree:

Unfortunately Dave and Ben had no luck catching anything else but we cooked up the Grunter for dinner and it was pretty good, stuffed with onion and garlic and cooked on the hotplate over an open fire!
At around 7pm when it was pitch black, we all got back in our canoe and paddled out to the middle of the river where we all racked up together and lay back and gazed at the stars. What a wonderful way to see them (albeit a little eerie!)
After this, we went back to the camp fire and sat around for a bit of a chat. Another great day with great company.
We woke up again at 5:30am - bright and early as we wanted to head back as early as possible to beat the heat. After breakfast and packing up we headed back to the Boab Tree for a group photo:
Joan, Ness, Dave, Anna & Dietmar, John, Daniella, Ben.
Paddling back to Kununurra, we were faced with a big head-wind which made it pretty tough going. After about 2 and a half hours of intense paddling we pulled into a rest area and waited for Anna and Dietmar. When they arrived we decided to get picked up from Zebra Rock Gallery as it was a bit closer.
A monitor at the rest area:
Beware of crocs:

We paddled for another half an hour and arrived at Zebra Rock where we packed up and waited for Maka to pick us up. We were pretty tired but absolutely buzzing.

This is a trip we would recommend to anyone. It is by far one of the highlights of our whole travels. We were lucky enough to be with a great bunch of people who made it such a fun experience.
$165pp - all gear provided - So worth it!!

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