Where to stay and what to do at Lake Argyle - East Kimberley WA

Rochelle over at www.lovefamilylifetravel.com recently hit me up and asked if I’d like to contribute to her list of "20 Best Holiday Destinations in Australia.

So of course I said ‘YES' and then had to choose one of my favourite destinations to add to her list.

It wasn’t that hard to be honest.

In Australia we have thousands of awesome places to visit and stay but by far one of my favourites is Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley, Western Australia.

Now this probably won’t be a surprise to anyone who has watched our travel series, The Big Lap, or some of the recent videos I’ve posted to our YouTube channel.

We fell in love with Lake Argyle on our road trip around Australia and ended up spending 7 weeks there out of our 16 month trip around the country. While we were there I filmed a documentary called ‘Discovering Lake Argyle’ which uncovers the incredible history of the Durack Family who started farming cattle there in the late 1800’s and the development of the Ord River Scheme over the past 60 years which Lake Argyle is a part of.

Last year I drove back up to Lake Argyle from Melbourne (with our Dalmatian ‘Buddy’) to do some more filming so I could update the Discovering Lake Argyle film with new footage and information for the 2019 edition.

So I’ll share with you why I love Lake Argyle so much and why I think it’s worthy of a spot on the top 21 list, especially as a place to visit and stay for families.

But first . . . a brief history of Lake Argyle

Lake Argyle is actually a man made lake, or reservoir, in the East Kimberley at the north eastern corner of Western Australia. The WA / NT border actually touches the eastern side of the lake.

The lake is huge, REALLY huge . . . it's 60 kilometres from top to bottom and around 20 times the size of Sydney Harbour.

It's actually classified as an inland sea which has claimed a few boats during bad weather.

It’s the largest man made body of fresh water in Australia.

The amazing thing is that all that water is being held back by a rock and clay dam wall less than 350 metres wide.

Construction of the Ord Dam to create Lake Argyle took about 3 years from the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s and the water in the lake is used to feed the Ord River Irrigation system about 50 kilometres downstream surrounding Kununurra.

During the wet season every year the lake level rises as water flows into it from a catchment area of over 46,000 square kilometres or around two thirds the size of Tasmania!

Throughout the dry season, water is steadily released through the hydro power station which is built into the Ord Dam as well as over the spillway further north.

This controlled water release keeps the 50+ kilometre section of the Ord River below the dam at a constant level, accurate to about 1 centimetre.

The farms surrounding Kununurra have a constant year round water supply that’s reliable and relatively cheap. Add to that the abundant sunshine the Kimberley enjoys and it’s easy to see why the region is so good at growing a wide range of tropical crops.

But putting the ‘business’ side of Lake Argyle aside, what makes it such a great destination for families?

Where to stay

Back in the late 1960’s when work commenced on building the Ord Dam, a temporary construction camp was built just up the hill from the site of the dam wall.

This camp consisted of pre-fabricated buildings and a caravan park area and was only ever intended to be there for the several years it took to build the dam.

Well that was the idea anyway!

Fast forward to today and that camp has evolved into the Lake Argyle Resort and Caravan Park, thanks largely to the efforts of Charlie Sharpe and his family who have been there since the early 1970s.

Big Lappers Guide Book ED01

Charlies Dad was actually one of the construction workers who helped build the Ord Dam.

Driving into the Lake Argyle Village you wouldn’t know that it was once a construction camp but if you look carefully the clues are there.

Most of the pre-fabricated buildings are now gone and been replaced with an infinity pool, grassy areas and modern accomodation units but the building that was the original workers mess still remains and is actually the main building for the resort, The Lake Argyle Inn.

There are hundreds of very developed and highly manicured resort style caravan parks around Australia with all of the modern conveniences, but the Lake Argyle Resort and Caravan Park is not one of them.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have everything you need . . .

It certainly has all of the facilities that travellers want like clean ensuite style bathrooms, laundry, camp kitchen, grassy sites and so on, but what I love about the place is that it still has a ‘rough around the edges’ appeal - developed enough, but not overdone.

It has a soul!

You feel it as soon as you arrive.

The staff are all smiling and happy and having a joke with the guests. They live in one of the best places in Australia and they know it, why wouldn’t they be happy?!

It’s warm and sunny most days of the year.

There’s acres of green grass to set up your tent, camper trailer or caravan, and trees everywhere so plenty of shade.

And the views across the lake and the distant ranges from the infinity pool are just spectacular, especially at sunset.

Most nights during the dry season they have live music with a bar serving cold drinks and the kitchen working overtime making fish and chips and several other favourite dishes.

While you could easily spend a week or two kicking back at the resort and soaking up the sun, think of the resort as your base camp for all of the other adventures you can have in the area, many of which won’t cost you a cent.

Things to do at Lake Argyle

Free Activities

  • There’s several bushwalking tracks starting from the resort itself. One of them will take you around the cove to the ‘Bluff’ which is an excellent lookout over the lake and the resort.
  • There’s another nearby lookout you can drive to in your 4WD which is also an epic spot to watch the sun set while enjoying a cold drink.
  • Walk down the hill beside the resort and you’ll find a pontoon on the lake you can swim from.
  • If you have your own boat or canoe there’s a boat ramp you can launch from so you can get out and explore the lake.
  • You can also put your boat or canoes into the Ord River below the dam wall and explore downstream.
  • There are plenty of fish to be caught in the lake, Ord river and the nearby spillway creek - I caught a 90 cm barramundi on my first cast into the spillway on our Big Lap trip!
  • If you’d prefer to hang around the resort then the infinity pool is a great spot to cool off.

Paid Activities

  • Lake Cruises - Cruises run year round and there are lunch and sunset cruises most days with larger cruise packages that bundle together other activities. Having a swim in the middle of the lake while sipping a cold drink and watching the sun set over the ranges is a pretty magical experience you won’t forget.
  • Ord River Cruises - You can jump on a fast boat and take a cruise between the Ord Dam and Kununurra 50+ km downstream and see one of the most pristine and spectacular waterways in Australia.
  • Helicopter Flights - With a helicopter permanently located on site during the dry season, you can jump on board and get a birds eye view of Lake Argyle, the Ord River and the surrounding Carr Boyd Ranges - It’s especially good near sunset during the ‘magic hour’ as the landscape lights up that deep orange that the Kimberley is know for.
  • Seaplane Flights - Spend a few hours touring the region in a seaplane including Kununurra and the surrounding farms, the Ord River, the Bungle Bungles and of course Lake Argyle itself. During your flight you’ll land on Lake Argyle and having morning tea on a small remote island.
  • Gourmet Camp Oven Experience - One of the newer experiences added to the list in recent years, at a nearby lookout overlooking the lake you'll enjoy some cold drinks while watching the sun set over the lake while your hosts Josh and Tamsyn cook up a gourmet feast of local fare including barramundi, roasted pork belly and a chocolate brownie for desert.
  • Beyond Argyle - Join guide Josh on an informative local tour which includes Aboriginal cave paintings, bush tucker, flora and fauna and a visit to Roys Retreat for morning tea to meet the incredible Barbara Walker who runs the Kimberley’s only ’soft-release’ wildlife reserve.
  • Argyle Homestead Museum - The Durack family’s original homestead that would have been submerged under Lake Argyle in the 1970’s was dismantled and rebuilt brick by brick just down the road from the Lake Argyle Resort. It’s now a fascinating museum dedicated to the memory of those tough pioneers that opened up this country.

Watch The Video

This video will give you a good overview of the Lake Argyle Resort and Caravan Park as well as some of the experiences you can have when you get there.

Getting There

Lake Argyle Village & Caravan Park is a 25 minute drive off the Victoria Highway (Highway 1) just east of Kununurra on the eastern side of the Kimberley. It’s a sealed road all the way there so no worries getting there with your caravan or 2WD vehicle.

It’s open all year round including during the wet season.

Find out more

To find out more about accomodation, camping, tours & cruises contact the Lake Argyle Resort & Caravan Park

Website: www.lakeargyle.com
Phone: 08 9168 7777

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