Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Dams


Yesterday we cruised between two Dams, in an all-day adventure of incredible beauty. At first the idea of spending all day between two dams may seem a bit strange, but in reality, not at all. We were actually cruising up the Ord River which is one of the most stunning river systems in Australia. The Ord River itself is over 200 miles in length, and is located in the remote Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Our journey was limited to the 55 mile stretch between the town of Kununurra and Lake Argyle. At Kununurra a small Diversion Dam is located which has formed Lake Kununurra, while at the other end, is the massive Ord River Dam which creates Lake Argyle. It was between these two structures that we spent a wonderful time travelling up the Ord River.

Before getting to the river, however, our ship finally tied up at a real pier in the town of Wyndham. Well, I guess calling Wyndham a “town” is a little bit of a misnomer. Wyndham is the oldest and northernmost town in Australia, having been founded in 1886, when gold was discovered in the region. Over time it grew and became an important shipping center, however, as one by one of the economic mainstays of the region died out, Wyndham has become a virtual ghost town with a population of perhaps 400 people. It is full of empty streets and boarded up buildings. For us, it became our gateway to the Ord River via a one hour plus bus ride to the town of Kununurra where we boarded our comfortable 700 HP pontoon boat. The boat easily held the 60 or so of us, and was complete with an onboard toilet, which was good since it now became our home for the day.

We were setting out from the top of the lower of the two Dams, this one called the Diversion Dam. The primary purpose for the creation of this massive system of dams was to supply a constant and reliable flow of irrigation water over 180 sq. mi of farmland. With the completion of the main dam, and the subsequent creation of Lake Argyle, there is now sufficient water to insure that under the worst conditions, irrigation water can be insured for up to six years. Lake Argyle is the largest artificial lake in Australia.

But enough with this dam stuff; what about our day on the river? It was stunning, as advertised. In the early morning hours our boat navigated into small tributaries looking for wildlife, which we found in abundance. Strange and wondrous birds, and even trees full of bats. I think you will enjoy the pictures, which I hope to complete in the next two days. Getting back on the river, the water was calm, which made for incredible pictures with beautiful reflections. Soon, our driver/guide picked up the pace and before long we were speeding up river at a very, very good clip, with occasional stops for wildlife, but mostly just soaking in the view.

Around mid-day we stopped along the bank of the river, and our boat was pushed bow-first hard against the shore at a place that led to a small clearing where some tables and benches were setup so that we could sit for a quick lunch. Our “driver/guide” quickly metamorphed into our wait staff, and in no time at all, he had hauled ashore huge coolers with iced down drinks, followed by plastic containers of food. He put out a table cloth, arranged the food, plates, and silverware and announced that lunch was served. Amazing! Better yet, when we were all finished, he reversed the process, and in the “blink of an eye,” the little area was returned to the way we found it. He even wiped down the tables, and saw that no trash remained.

Our next phase of the adventure was somewhat of a surprise. Up until now, we were cruising up a flat and calm river, however, it did not stay that way. We learned that the river level up ahead was actually higher than the lower part, and the river itself narrowed considerably. So all that water up river was going down river through a narrow opening, which meant the waters became turbulent, and the current against us was strong. Now I understood the need for the 700 HP engines.

By 2pm we finally reached the Ord River Dam, itself, which was a massive structure towering above us. Our buses were there to meet us, and we set off for the trip home to the Silver Discoverer.


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