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Lake Argyle, Australia

Understand why Lake Argyle exists before joining a small group package tour for mature and senior travellers of Western Australia's Kimberley region in the preferred dry season. Limited to 12 travellers for your peace of mind we learn about the landscapes and the aboriginal stories often via the rock art in far North.

24 Apr 20 · 4 mins read

Lake Argyle, Australia

Lake Argyle, Western Australia.

An immense man-made reservoir in the remote East Kimberley, Australia, Lake Argyle has transformed the surrounding landscape, creating a beautiful marine environment and refuge for local fauna.

The traditional Aboriginal owners of the lands around what is now Lake Argyle are the Miriwoong Gajerrong peoples, who called the Ord River Goonoonoorrang. European settlers first came to the region in the late 19th century, following an 1879 report by Alexander Forrest, claiming that he had found over 10 million hectares of fertile land around the Ord River, near the Northern Territory border. Cattlemen and graziers from the east trekked to the new region, establishing the cattle empires of the Kimberley.

The land proved to be harsher than in Forrest’s report. While in the wet season, the lower reaches of the Ord River supported fertile lands, in the dry, the river would reduce to a series of waterholes. Without some way to harness the waters of the wet season, there was no way that the region could support an agricultural industry.

In 1959, the Australian Government gave permission and a grant to dam the Ord River. The Ord River Irrigation Scheme, led by the Western Australia government, began work soon after. A spot on the river, about 80 km from the Kimberley coast, was chosen to be flooded. The project saw the region transformed, as the town of Kununurra was established as a residence and service centre for the thousands of workers who contributed to the project. Controversially, the local Miriwoong Aboriginal people were not consulted about the project.

The Ord River Dam (or Lake Argyle) was completed in 1972. It is the second-largest man-made reservoir (by volume) in Australia, after Lake Gordon in Tasmania, and holds 32 million cubic metres of water (about twenty times the size of Sydney Harbour!).

In 1996, Lake Argyle became a source of hydroelectricity for the Kimberley region, a clean and renewable source of energy.

Since the completion of the project, Lake Argyle has developed an incredible and intricate eco-system. The Ord River pools had been home to small populations of freshwater crocodiles (or as the locals call them, ‘freshies’). Since the development of Lake Argyle, this has risen to a population of over 35, 000 freshwater crocodiles. While freshies are mostly harmless, occasionally a rather more fearsome saltwater crocodile (or ‘saltie’) can be found lurking! The lake is also home to several forms of fish – including barramundi, southern saratoga, archer fish, forktail cat fish, mouth almighty, long tom, bony bream and sleepy cod.

Freshwater crocodile on land.

The Lake Argyle region, including surrounding mudflats and grasslands, has been declared by BirdLife International as an ‘Important Bird Area’. It is home to over 240 species of birds – almost 1/3 of Australia’s known species. Birds found in the region include magpie geese, Australian bustards, wandering whistling-ducks, Australian pelicans, black swans, egrets, and wedge-tailed eagles.

An easy day tour at about 40 minutes drive from Kununurra, Lake Argyle can be explored via lake cruise, scenic flight, or walking trail.

If you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating Kimberley region, why not join one of our Kimberley outback tours? Odyssey Traveller’s tour of the Kimberley begins in the Indian Ocean town of Broome, before winding up the beautiful (Timor Sea) Kimberley coast to Cape Leveque and the Dampier Peninsula, home to several Aboriginal communities and pearling towns. We then head inland on the infamous Gibb River Road, visiting Windjana Gorge National Park, Tunnel Creek National Park, Galvans Gorge and Bell Gorge. We make a side trip to the remote Mitchell Plateau, home to Mitchell Falls, one of the area’s most spectacular waterfalls.

Back on the Gibb River Road, we spend the night in El Questro, a former cattle station converted into a wilderness park centred around Emma Gorge, Chamberlain Gorge, and the Pentecost River. El Questro offers a variety of accommodation, from tented cabins to luxury suites in the old El Questro homestead. Finally, we head to Purnululu National Park, where we see the Bungle Bungles, Echidna Chasm, Cathedral Gorge, and the Piccaninny Creek Lookout, before heading back to the west Kimberley.

What sets an Odyssey Tour apart is that we don’t just jump from tourist site to tourist site, but take the time to uncover the hidden histories and quirkly local culture of our destination. On our Kimberley tour we delve into the history of the area at the towns of Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing (on the Fitzroy River). We have the privilege of viewing Aboriginal rock art believed to be among the oldest works of art in the world. We also learn about the tragic impacts of colonisation at the Boab Prison Tree.

Our tour ends in Broome, giving you the opportunity to explore Cable Beach, Roebuck Bay and Gantheaume Point, and delve into the fascinating history of this pearling town before you get back to daily life, wherever that might be.

Odyssey Traveller has been serving world travellers since 1983. Our tours are designed especially for mature and senior travellers. We move in small groups, and are led by tour guides chosen especially for their local knowledge. Contact us to find our more information about our tour of the Kimberley, or our Australia outback tours.

Lake Argyle
Cliffs on the edge of Lake Argyle.

Articles about the Kimberley and Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to the Kimberley:

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