The bar doubled as a TAB and in general it was the sort of place where you puff on your asthma inhaler then go outside for a couple of ciggies before making a second pass at the bainmarie.
Man, you don't realise how big and empty this country is until you drive it.
The one change in the landscape is the appearance of the fabulously rotund Boab trees. These fat babies vary in size according to age, and there are giants that are several hundred years old, many likely over a thousand years old. They're deciduous lose their leaves in the dry, but as we reach Kununurra and a greater water source, we notice more keep their leaves. The fruit is very high in vitamin C and traditional food source for Aborigines.
|The hunter-gatherer becomes a tree hugger|
Turn the clock back a couple of hours and 40kms from the border we arrive in Kununurra. What a difference water makes. The town (pop 7,000, tripling in the tourist season and harvest times) was originally settled to service the Ord River irrigation system and the surrounds are now expansive agricultural land growing melons, mangoes, chickpeas, bananas, citrus and other tropical crops, but also sandalwood which fetches good prices for both the oil and wood. It's positively lush after the land we've driven through.
An hour drive west along the Gibb River Road and we reach Emma Gorge, part of the massive El Questro station. We have a couple of nights in rather nice safari tents and spend the days walking the gorges and finding swimming holes. At the natural oasis of Zebedee Springs the pools are thermal and the palms make it feel like you are in an expensively landscaped luxury spa resort.
|thermal luxury in the middle of nowhere|
A flight over the area and another 250kms south takes us over the green and verdant cropping lands, Lake Argyle, the Bungle Bungles and Argyle Diamond Mine. Lake Argyle is massive and, of course, even more massive in the wet. Apparently you can water ski 60kms from the north end of the lake to the south end without making a turn. And I'd suggest you do it without falling off as there are approximately 30,000 crocs living in those waters.
|Lake Argyle with its thousands of islands and even more crocs|
The diamond mine is not as huge - about 1600m by 600 m - but a lot uglier. They initially underestimated the size of the strike and have now had to go underground; the walls of the open pit became too steep and liable to collapse as they went deeper. The volume of mined diamonds is the largest in the world, however most are industrial quality as opposed to those sparkly ones you see on the bodies of the rich and famous.
|There's diamonds in them there hills|
I hadn't realised how seismic Australia was until we flew over this area. Between 375 and 500 million years ago active faults changed the landscape. It's awesome - and I mean that literally.
Our flight also takes us over Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungles, a geographic oddity of beehive shaped towers, only brought to general attention in 1982 when a documentary film crew was in Kununurra. In the pub one night they were asked by a local helicopter pilot if they were including the Bungle Bungles in their story. "The what?" was the response, no-one other the local aborigines and cattle station pilots having seen them. It's now a World Heritage site.
|and we thought we had seismic shift in New Zealand|
|Bungles Bungles from the air|
|Purnululu National Park - walking in to the Bungle Bungles|
|inside Cathedral canyon|
|sunset at Lake Kununurra - our cabin looked out over this view|