Steve & Buddy's Big Adventure | Part 3 - 55km on the Ord River

Steve & Buddy are on a 4 week road trip to Lake Argyle to film updates for the 2019 edition of Discovering Lake Argyle and making a YouTube video series about their trip (Starting in August).

Click here for all trip updates

13 days after leaving Melbourne on a cold, wet and generally miserable evening we’ve finally made it to Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley.

Typically for this part of the country during the ‘dry season’ the weather is perfect . . . sunny and warm with a virtually cloud free sky.

Which goes a long way to explain why everyone here at the Lake Argyle Resort & Caravan Park, including me, is in a great mood - why wouldn’t you be?!

One thing I know about myself is that I am ‘solar powered’, by which I mean that I need the sun to run at my full capacity. Anything below 20 degrees celsius and I’m slowing down, below 10 degrees and I’m positively groaning.

How people live their lives in the really cold parts of the world where it gets below zero and actually snows is beyond me.

But enough about the weather.

Our home base for the next 5 or 6 days (Lake Argyle Resort & Caravan Park)

I'm making a YouTube Series about our trip! Subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch the series starting in August.

I’m here at Lake Argyle to film some new content for our documentary ‘Discovering Lake Argyle’. I shot the original film while we were here on our Big Lap trip around Australia and over the 10 or so years since then things have evolved and moved on in the East Kimberley and my goal is to capture as much of the ‘new’ as I can to keep the film up to date.

We sell the film from our website and they also sell it here at Lake Argyle, as well as at the Durack’s 'Argyle Downs Homestead Museum’ down the road and at the Kununurra Visitors Centre.

The film is intended as a ‘take home’ for travellers who come through the area and want to learn more or as a research guide for people planning a trip up this way so we want to make sure it remains as current and up to date as possible.

Note - If you already have the DVD or Online version of the film you’ll get access to the updated 2019 Online Edition when it’s completed.

So with this in mind, Charlie and Caitlin have been busy creating a schedule of activities for me for the next 5 or 6 days to make sure I experience, and film, as much as I can.


On the list are boat cruises, camp oven dinners, helicopter and plane flights to name a few - it’s going to be a hectic week but I’m excited to get into it.

For today though there is nothing on the itinerary as they weren’t sure what time I’d arrive, so after setting up our simple camp in the caravan park I decide to take Buddy for a long walk around to the ‘Bluff’ lookout which provides a great view of the resort/caravan park and Lake Argyle.

He’s been cooped up in the car for the best part of 2 weeks and will appreciate the opportunity to stretch his legs - me too for that matter.

The very first day we arrived here on our Big Lap trip I did exactly the same thing except there was no obvious track to follow then so we were pretty much blazing a trail through the spinifex and orb spider webs.

These days there is a clear track to follow and Buddy is ready and raring to go as we head out past the infinity pool and down the side of the hill towards the lake before turning left to follow the track around the cove.

Along the way we pass a couple of other walkers heading back from the bluff and after about 45 minutes we’re working our way to the top of the ridge line where we get the best view across the cover to the caravan park and the lake beyond.

This is where I shot the cover photo for the current edition of Discovering Lake Argyle and I figure I’ll try and recreate the shot today as well.

Buddy though has other plans and doesn’t like the idea of sitting quietly while I set up the shot.

Instead I give up on the '10 second timer' and opt to just hit the RECORD button and video it instead.

Close enough.

While we take in the view we share a bottle of water before hitting the trail back to the caravan park, arriving soon after sunset.

My attempt to recreate the DVD cover shot!

Keeping the pooch hydrated

Triple J Ord River Cruise

All of Western Australia sits in the same time zone which is 90 minutes behind the NT and SA and 2 hours behind the eastern states.

But being right on the NT border at Lake Argyle we are actually closer to the centre of the country than the western extremes of WA which results in very early sunrises and sunsets.

So next morning the clock is still reading ‘five something’ as the sky is turning orange from the imminent sunrise.

This is a good thing though because today I need to be up early and on the transfer coach into Kununurra 70 kilometres away to get on board the Triple J boat cruise which travels the 55km length of ‘Lake Kununurra’ from Kununurra to the Ord Dam.

Thankfully the girls working at the reception, bar and kitchen at the Lake Argyle Resort have offered to look after Buddy for me while I go out on these filming excursions which is a massive help.

Of course they are also enjoying having a dog to play with so it’s a win:win:win as Buddy is getting pampered, walked and slightly over fed.

Tying up Buddy to a tree behind reception I jump on the bus and meet Josh for the first time - he’s our driver into town and as I’ll discover over the next few days he has many job descriptions around Lake Argyle.

That's the 'why are you leaving me?' look!

The 55km stretch of the Ord River between the Ord Dam at Lake Argyle and the Diversion Dam at Kununurra is called Lake Kununurra because the water level is controlled to within 1 centimetre year round by the release of water from Lake Argyle at the top into the river, and out again at the bottom onto the irrigated farms around Kununurra via the M1 Channel and also through the Diversion Dam into the lower section of the Ord River where it eventually flows into the ocean further north.

Before the construction of the dams in the 1960’s and into the early 1970’s the Ord River would be in full flood during the wet season with massive volumes of water scouring out the river system from the Bungle Bungles where it begins all the way to the ocean.

Then during the dry season it would stop flowing altogether and be reduced to a series of water holes.

The extremes between wet and dry season made it impossible for any plant life or animal life to really get established beyond a single season.

Now with dams at Lake Argyle and Kununurra keeping the water level steady all year round the result is a pristine 55km kilometre stretch of the river that is now teeming with life, both animal and vegetable.

There are thousands of freshwater crocodiles, many fish species, birds, reptiles and other animals that are thriving from the permanent water supply and the banks are thick with reeds, trees and other plant life that provides a haven for fish, birds, insects and other animals.

Human interference in the environment is more often than not at the detriment of the environment but up here in the East Kimberley it is the opposite.

Damming the river has instead created an ecosystem that couldn’t exist before.

Triple J Tours have been running boat cruises up and down Lake Kununurra for three decades and they have it down to a fine art.

So jumping on board the purpose built boat in Kununurra we head upstream towards the Ord Dam 55km away.

Our driver and guide is a local who grew up here and what he doesn’t know about the Ord and the area in general is not worth knowing.

Cruising up the Ord River on the Triple J 'Peregrine' boat

Our first croc sighting - just a baby.

The first couple of hours of the cruise is a mixture of high speed sprints along some sections and slow cruises through others as we spot crocodiles and birdlife living in and on the reeds lining the waters edge.

The boat is designed with the pillars that hold up the roof at the front and rear of the boat instead of down the sides or centre of the boat resulting in completely unobstructed views from every seat. Clever design and a real bonus for myself and the other guests with cameras trying to capture as much of the scenery as possible.

By late morning we pull into a small gap in the trees on the river bank and it’s time for lunch.

As we walk along a gangway off the front of the boat and along a small path the forest opens up to reveal a purpose built shady lunch area with toilet, running water and tables with bench seats.

Pulling in to our hidden lunch spot on the rivers edge

The Big Lap All Formats

Meanwhile our guide unloads the boxes containing our lunch onto a small trolley and gets busy laying out the lunchtime spread.

Cold meats, salad, fruit, bread rolls, tea, coffee, soy drinks and all the usual fare is on offer and after loading up my plate I find a spot and get busy chasing with the other guests.

The consensus from everyone I speak with is that they are loving the cruise so far and can’t believe just how beautiful this river system is.

Plenty of great food for lunch

After our leisurely lunch we’re back on the boat and cruising up river again and soon pull over to check out a colony of fruit bats filling the tree tops along the rivers edge.

Our guide explains how at night the younger ‘mum and dad’ fruit bats will fly out to find food and will fly past the easier/closer food sources to feed further away.

Meanwhile the grandparent fruit bats stay back and baby sit the young ones.

When the mum and dads get back, it’s the grandparents turn to go and feed but they don’t have to fly as far as the closer food sources have been left alone for them.

Sounds like they have it figured out.

A fruit bat colony on the rivers edge

Continuing up the river we reach a section which they call the ‘head water’ - it’s effectively the top of the lake where the water running down from Lake Argyle meets the more stationery water that is backed up from the Diversion Dam many kilometres further down stream.

From the head waters up to Lake Argyle there is a 10 metre rise in the water level and with the river narrowing as we go, the current becomes stronger.

Our leisurely cruise becomes something closer to a thrill ride in some sections as we skim past overhanging trees and rocky ledges jutting out into the river.

Obviously our skipper has done this many times before.

Twisting our way through the towering Carr Boyd Ranges surrounding the river we stop to photograph several sea eagles in their nests along the waters edge & pass a few canoes paddling down stream, a 2 or 3 day journey that is still on my bucket list.

Rounding the last corner the Ord Dam finally comes into view and while it is a small dam as far as dams go, from the perspective of the river looking up, it looks massive.

At the base of the dam is the hydro power plant which generates electricity for the Lake Argyle village, Kununurra, Wyndham and the surrounding area and just enough water is allowed to pass through from the lake on the other side to run the hydro and keep the water level in Lake Kununurra consistent.

Pulling in to the boat ramp our transfer bus is waiting to take us up and across the top of the dam and drop me and a few others back to the Lake Argyle Resort and the rest of the guests into Kununurra.

Next update coming soon

Steve & Buddy

Click here for all Steve & Buddy's Big Adventure Blogs

Almost giving the trees a trim on the way through (almost!)

1000+ Horsepower - just enough

We made it to the base of the Ord Dam

The Ord Dam from below

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  1. Hi Steve,
    Having just done the ‘kununura, Argyle & JJJ tours this last week, can totally relate to your story here.
    Amazing isn’t it.