The Big Croc, Normanton

Big Things : The Big Crocodile & Big Barramundi, Normanton QLD

The Big Croc, Normanton

 

Despite being a small town, Normanton has two Big Things – the Big Crocodile and the Big Barramundi.  After a quick midday pub crawl, we sussed out both of the Big Things, and we have to admit that the Big Crocodile was far more interactive.

 

 

Big Croc

Located on the main street of Normanton, the Big Crocodile is an artist’s impression of the biggest salty ever killed.  The legendary crocodile was nicknamed Krys the Savannah King, and was killed in 1957 by Krystina Pawlowski by the nearby Norman River.

 

The croc replica is 8.63m long, and we took advantage of the great photo opportunity by mounting the croc any way we could!

 

The Big Croc, Normanton

 

 

Big Barra

Located a little way out of town, the Big Barramundi is an eye-catcher at the front of a hotel.  It’s 7m tall.

 

The Big Barra, Normanton

 

There is plenty more to see in Normanton.  Go on a pub crawl to the three pubs in town, stroll down main street and see the heritage buildings, or check out the Visitor Information Centre.

 

The Big Croc, Normanton

 

Mataranka

Natural Wonders : Mataranka Springs

Mataranka

 

Before arriving at Mataranka, we stayed the night at the King River Rest Area, about 4km south of the King River bridge. There was plenty of space, clean drop toilets and we weren’t bothered by too many flies or mozzies – SCORE!

 

As we were getting settled in, an old guy in a 1967 Chev Impala rocked up.  Dave had a chat with him and found out that he’s running a two speed auto behind a 327 V8 engine.  He’s owned the car for 25 years and it’s done over a million miles!  They talked about travelling around Australia – yes, the old dude was travelling in his ’67 Chev – about where we’re going and where we’ve been.  He’s travelling in the opposite direction to us so we gave him some tips on where to go.

 

Mataranka

 

Later on, two Belgian ladies settled in next door and asked to borrow our can opener.  We couldn’t help ourselves and wanted to know more about them as well.  They’ve been friends since they were 14 and they go on a holiday together every year – they’ve already travelled much of Europe and central Asia.  We showed each other photos of our travels and our pets back home before they went back to their camp to make their dinner.

 

The next day, we arrived in Mataranka, a small town with a small supermarket and about four service stations.  After checking out the biggest ‘man-made’ termite mound and the We of the Never Never statues, we made for the springs!

 

Bitter Springs

The water was incredibly clear and just the right temperature– especially on such a cool morning.  We were the only people there so we got to have the area to ourselves.  Juz put her goggles on and as soon as she was under the water, she was transported to another world of eerie blue and green.

 

Mataranka

 

Thermal Springs

These springs are next to the Mataranka Homestead.  The water is a few degrees cooler and shallower than at Bitter Springs, and way more popular.  The edges of the pool are lined with concrete and a platform, so you have somewhere to sit as you soak yourself.  We preferred the Bitter Springs because they seemed a little more natural.

 

We continued along the path from the Thermal Springs to the Rainbow Spring – a constantly bubbling pool of perfectly clear water with a blue tinge.  We learnt that these springs feed into the Roper River and spit out 30.5 million litres of water every day from reservoirs up to 100m below ground.  The deeper the source of the water, the hotter it is.

 

 

After a dip in the springs, we had a look around and decided that the Mataranka Homestead would be a pretty cool place to stay at.  Because Mataranka is the place where the 1908 book We of the Never Never is based, they have a replica hut from the movie version, as well as other various reminders of their claim to fame.

 

Barramundi Feeding

The fish feeding happens twice a day at the Territory Manor – 9:30am and 1pm.  When the time is right, everyone heads down past the peacocks and the fattest duck we’ve ever seen, to a lovely pond topped with pink water lilies.  A guy climbs into the pool and stands on a platform as the barramundi surround him.  He demonstrated how to feed them before inviting the audience to come in and have a go.

 

 

 

Juz was the first to volunteer.  She took a piece of fish from the bucket, presented it at the surface of the water and SPLASH!  It was gone…  The barramundi are so fast and it’s so suspenseful waiting for the moment when they strike.   Juz asked if they went to the restaurant after a certain time and the guy was quick to respond with a no – they only use saltwater barra in the restaurant and these freshies were just pets.

 

Dave also had a go and after we had our fun feeding the fish and watching others do so as well, it was time to move on.

 

Mataranka Falls

Before leaving Mataranka, we thought we’d check out the Mataranka Falls walk – an 8km return track along the Roper River.  It would have been an easy walk if the track wasn’t sandy, and we figured that the council might be resurfacing the track.

 

When we finally got to the falls, they were only half a meter high and we could hardly see them – not particularly the greatest reward after a 4km walk in the hot sun.

 

Mataranka

 

Gotcha!

Fishing : Keep River

While we were in Kununurra, we had the pleasure of being invited out on a fishing trip with a local couple – Crystal and Jarrod.  The destination was Keep River, which is about 70km north of Kununurra, across the border into the Northern Territory.  The trip didn’t take long at all, even after a quick visit to the Hoochery, and we had our camp set up by around lunchtime.

 

 

Keep River is a muddy, tidal river inhabited by saltwater crocs.  During the dry when the river is low and the muddy banks are baked in the sun, you can see massive croc tracks in the dry mud.  That’s why you need to be super careful when fishing next to the river.  You don’t want to stand in the water while fishing, avoid repetitive activities near the water and don’t camp or clean your fish next to the river.  There are a few species of fish that live in the Keep River, and the most wanted of all is barra!

 

Barramundi is massive.  When you go fishing for barra, legally, your catch needs to be between 55cm and 80cm. It has a maximum size because most barramundi over 100 cm are sexually mature females and we need them to make more barra.   There are two kinds of barra – the kind that swim in salt water and the kind that swim in fresh water.  Saltwater barra are silver with yellow fins and taste delicious while the freshies are more muddy and don’t taste as great.

 

You don’t need a license for recreational fishing in the NT but you do need to stick to the fishing regulations and size limits for each species. If you catch a barra that’s too big or too little, do the right thing and carefully unhook it and chuck it back in the water.

 

Keep River

 

Bait

We started off with a rig that involved a massive hook and a float, and we used a cast net to catch live bait.  Popeye mullet was available in abundance and when we saw a big school skipping about in the shallows close to the bank, we’d run towards them and throw the net.  The live bait was pierced through the base of the tail so that they could still swim about and attract the barramundi.

 

All you have to do is cast in your line, loosen the reel and wait.

 

 

Wait

Rumour has it that barramundi often feed at night after a gush of high tide.  We camped just off the banks of the river in our 5 million star accommodation, and built a fire close to the rods so we could hear if we caught something.

 

During the day, you may see a ‘logodile’ float by, but during the night, you can shine your torch over the water and see the little red, beady eyes of the crocs.

 

Waiting for a nibble

 

Damn Straight!

When a barra is on the line, you can hear your line pulling (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).  There were a few times during the night when Jarrod rushed over to the rods and pulled out a good sized barra.  If it was close to eating time, he’d fillet it straight away and chuck it in a pan.

 

 

A great way to prepare them is to fillet the fish, coat in a mixture of flour and curry powder and cook in a frypan.  Delicious! The flesh is soft and buttery and a pleasure to eat.

 

Dave’s rod snagged a stingray that looked more like an alien, and on the next day we caught a catfish too – both of these are crap eating so we unhooked them and chucked them back.

 

Crocs in the Keep River

 

 

Seeing as we were with locals, they took us to where the locals go, not where all the tourists go.  The only other people around were other locals so we all had plenty of space to ourselves.  We had heaps of fun barra fishing at the Keep River and we’re so lucky to have had the privilege.  We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Jarrod, Crystal and Gavin for showing us such a great weekend.

 

The Diversion Dam

Town Profile : Kununurra

With a name that means Big Water, Kununurra is located on the Ord River at the eastern end of the Kimberley.  It’s a true outback town with an agricultural background that dates back to 1887.  The Ord River supplies the area with lots of fresh water and farming in the area includes mangoes, melons and sugar cane.

 

Kununurra Markets

 

The Ord Irrigation Scheme started in the 1960s with the construction of the Diversion Dam just outside of Kununurra to supply water to about 9,000 hectares of farmland in the Ivanhoe Plain.  A decade later, the Ord Dam was built and increased the irrigated farmland by 10,000 hectares.  In the 1990s, a hydro-electric station was built to supply power to the surrounding towns and mining operation.  They are currently working on the next stage of the project which has been in the works for the last 30 years.  The Government of Western Australia and the Commonwealth have contributed over $500 million to construct a major irrigation channel that is hoped to improve infrastructure and supply remote aboriginal communities.  There is also newly released agricultural land available for development, which brings to the total area of farmland in the region to over 29,000 hectares, with Lake Argyle being the water supply.

 

Kununurra is the only known location of Zebra Rock, fine grained siliceous argillite with bands or spots of red on white.  The origin of zebra rock has puzzled geologists for the last 40 years but they believe it was formed 600 million years ago.

 

While we were in Kununurra, we took the Troopy in for some mechanical work after our bungle near the Bungle Bungles and the folk at Kimberley Mechanical & Tilt Tray Services did an awesome job at repairing our free-wheeling hub, as well as a bunch of other stuff that was close to falling apart.

 

KMTT - best mechanics in town!

 

POINTS OF INTEREST

Celebrity Tree Park & Lily Creek Lagoon

Celebrity Tree Park opened in 1984 and is a large grassed area with various tree species scattered through the park.  Most trees in the park were planted by a celebrity; Andrew Daddo, Rolf Harris, John Farnham or Princess Anne.

 

The park overlooks Lily Creek Lagoon, and from here you can see the Sleeping Buddha rock formation in the distance.

 

 

Mirima National Park (Hidden Valley)

Only 3km from town, Hidden Valley was declared a National Park in 1982 to protect the natural rock formations that are similar to the Bungle Bungles.  We did all three of the walking trails in the park – two of which were lookouts and one was a bush tucker trail.

 

Hidden Valley National Park

 

Kelly’s Knob

Next to Mirima National Park is another rocky peak called Kelly’s Knob.  Drive up and look out over Kununurra.

 

Diversion Dam

This was the first part of the Ord Irrigation Scheme and was completed in 1962.  The dam regulates the water level of Lake Kununurra to manage seasonal floods and also divert water to irrigate the surrounding farmland.

 

 

Lake Argyle

We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it.  Australia’s biggest man-made lake – so huge that it’s actually classified as an inland sea.  It covers 1000 square kilometres and has 21 times more water than Sydney Harbour.  It is home to a variety of wildlife like wallabies, freshwater crocodiles, and about 240 bird species, which is about a third of Australia’s total known bird species.

 

Lake Argyle exists because of the Ord River Dam, which was completed in the early 1970s as the second installation of the Ord Irrigation Scheme. The dam is a rockfill dam with an impervious core made of clay, stands 98 metres high from the foundations and contains a tunnel that runs from the Intake Tower to the valve anchor.  There is also the Ord Hydro Station, which was built in the 1990s and supplies power to the Argyle village, Kununurra, Wyndham and the nearby diamond mine.

 

We spent the afternoon in Picnic Park, which is on the lower side of the dam.  It was lush, shady and green with a few BBQs to cook lunch (and dinner).  Afterwards, as we slowly made our way back to the main road, we stopped at lookouts, watched boats cruising between the steep, rocky walls and checked out Dead Horse Spring.

 

Lake Argyle

 

FOOD & DRINK

Gulliver’s Tavern

Our first night in Kununurra screamed for a night at the pub.  Of all the pubs in Kununurra, Gulliver’s was recommended the most in terms of food and atmosphere.  When we got there, we could see why.  The bar is decorated with a line of motorbikes (so was the IGA, weirdly enough), and the beer garden is spacious with a big screen to watch sports or music video clips.

 

Dinner was a steak sandwich and a chicken parmigiana, both of which were delicious (even though the parma lacked ham and the schnitzel was put on top of the chips).  The steak sanga was a soft foccacia bun stuffed with smokey bacon, tender steak, egg and bacon, cheese, lettuce and BBQ sauce.  The chicken parma was nice and thick but a little overcooked, and put on top of the chips (much to Juz’s annoyance).  The drinks were cheap and hit the spot nicely.

 

 

The Hoochery Distillery

We were taken to the Hoochery by some locals and got two tasting paddles at $5 each, as well as some spiked cake.  Check out our post on the oldest distillery in WA.

 

The Barra Shak

We received a very strong recommendation to go to the Barra Shak and we weren’t disappointed.  Check out our post on the Barra Shak.

 

 

INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION

The Visitor Centre is located at 75 Coolibah Drive, across the road from the Tuckerbox IGA.  If you’re looking for cheap diesel, check out the Ord River District Co-Op just north of town.

 

Lake Kununurra – Lakeview Drive, 08 9168 1031

Kimberley Croc YHA – 120 Konkerberry Drive, 08 9168 2702 

 

Crossing the border

 

The Barra Shak

Eating Out : The Barra Shak, Kununurra WA

The guy who we bought the Troopy off found out that we were in Kununurra and strongly advised that we go to the Barra Shak for a barra burger.  How could we refuse?  One night after we had done the shopping, we saw the Barra Shak sign in the distance and decided that it was time for dinner.

 

The Barra Shak

 

We walked in and noticed the massive menu board to the left.  We found the barra burger at $14 with the lot, and also found kangaroo spring rolls at $5 for a pair.  We ordered, took our number and waited outside in their al fresco courtyard.

 

It wasn’t long before number 15 was called.  We gathered our bits and sat outside in the balmy air.  The first item to disappear was the barra burger.  It contained two battered fillets of barramundi, a fried egg and bacon with mayonnaise, cucumber, tomato and onion.  We took turns taking bites out of it, and it wasn’t long before it was gone because it was delicious.  You’ll find barramundi on the menu almost everywhere in northern Australia and now we know why.  This was our first taste of barra and within a day, we were fishing in the Keep River and eating them fresh from the water.  Yummo!!!

 

 

Next up were the kanga spring rolls.  They were bursting with exotic flavours like lemongrass and ginger – almost like a curry spring roll.  They tasted great but all the spices didn’t really allow the flavour of the kangaroo to come out.

 

We found the Barra Shak to be great value for money and the food tasted awesome.