One of the many amazing things about the Kimberley region is its wildness. With very few roads, it is difficult to reach, and this wilderness aspect is a strong part of its appeal. And yet there are parts of the region that have been touched by human endeavour and our travels today allowed us to see firsthand how a wilderness can be changed by the hands of men.
With the National Geographic Orion tied up at the pier in the historic port of Wyndham, some of us chose to take a scenic flight over the unusual sandstone “beehive” formations that make the Bungle Bungles such a unique destination. The sandstones have been carved by wind and water over millions of years, resulting in a maze of rounded humps rising out of the desert. Also visible on the flight was the Argyle Diamond Mine, one of the most productive in the world. From the air you can see its vast, open-cast operation and it’s easy to see why the mine is a significant contributor to the economy of Western Australia. A little further along, the flight passed over Lake Argyle, the country’s largest manmade lake. Like the open pit of the mine, this huge lake stands in the desert as a clear example of how engineering can totally change a landscape.
The lake was formed by damming the Ord River and this precious water now used to irrigate farmland that would otherwise be too arid for crop production. But the dam has also brought some environmental enhancements to the region. Like a stable wetland where there used to be only temporary flourishes during the wet season. The flow from the dam is regulated so that the upper Ord River is now flowing all year round. Part of it fills the valley and is known as Lake Kununurra. It was along this stretch of water that our other group ventured today. The trip up river in a fast, local boat took us into the heart of a permanent wetland that provides a rich habitat for a vast array of wildlife. We zipped along in shaded comfort, stopping regularly to photograph the many aquatic species that thrive here. Animals such as freshwater crocodiles, turtles, egrets, darters and other water birds are all well-established due to the stable wet environment provided by the dam. It seems that even where the Kimberley has been modified, it can’t help but impress. And it only gets wilder from here!