Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Australia - Darwin to Broome: Part Two - Kununurra and the Bungle Bungles

At the end of Part One we were on the seemingly endless drive through the Kimberley region from Katherine to Kununurra.  We'd had dinner at the local Katherine Golf and Country Club, which welcomes visitors as long as they aren't wearing singlets or work boots.  

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.

next corner?

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
After endless red dust and brown grass as our constant companions we cross the Northern Territory into Western Australia.   Nothing changes.    We pass through a border check,  where they ensure we are not transporting cane toads or fresh fruit and vegetables.  Drugs and alcohol are fine though.

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
From the main road it's nearly two hours on a rough 4WD track to get into the Bungle Bungle formations - you would have had to be seriously lost to stumble on them.  And when you get there it is spectacular, but hot as hell with no shade until you get up into one of the canyons.  The layers are made up of sandstone and compressed pebbles and stones cemented together by finer material, and the shapes have been formed over thousands of years of wind from the desert, and rain.  The rich red layer comes from the iron and manganese in the sandstone and the darker layers, which hold more moisture, are an algal growth called cyanobacteria.  

Purnululu National Park -  walking in to the Bungle Bungles
inside Cathedral canyon
The contrast from drought dryness to lush growth when there's water about means you just don't know what you will find next.  In the gorges we were stunned to find palm trees and the sorts of flora you'd find in a much less harsh climate. The massive rock formations and folded terrain take your breath away. Spending time in the landscape here puts meaning back into the words amazing, spectacular and awesome. 
sunset at Lake Kununurra - our cabin looked out over this view

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