El Questro – Sun 14th to Fri 19th Jun
El Questro, ELQ by its cattle brand, is the last station on the Gibb River Road. The camping at the main campsite is unallocated so it was up and away at the crack of dawn as we wanted to try for a spot along the edge of the river. It is possible to guarantee a river view by booking one of their bushcamps, dotted further along the river, but these have almost no facilities, just 4 toilets dotted amongst the sites. Even more seriously in the eyes of the girls, the bush camps have no showers and are not near the swimming hole….
Between Home Valley and El Questro is one of the highlights of driving this road, crossing the Pentecost with the iconic ranges looming in the background. It is one of those crossings where you don’t walk it first, the crocs would be very welcoming. Good to report the 110 and the Mission made the crossing (and a few returns for photos) with no problems at all, it’s a riverstone bottom so bumpy but plenty of grip. Also good to meet another 110 and a Perentie heading across in the other direction
The early start was well worth it, we slotted into a lovely little spot facing the river, with a fire pit, at the bottom end of the site. It is odd that whilst the powered sites cost more they have a worse location, being at the top of the site in rows and no fires allowed.
The place is well set up as a tourist resort, with plenty of guided excursions to lighten your wallet should you so desire, down to an old fashioned horse carriage around the campsite.
However there are also plenty of things to see for which all is required is the wilderness access pass. At $20 a head (kids free) this is steep for a short visit, there is a day pass for $12, but over the week for which it is valid is much better value. Not being charged camp fees for the kids was also a bonus, making this one of the cheapest private sites we found in the Kimberley.
This is just across the river, and 10 minutes, from the campsite; a short, steep climb takes you to a lookout with 360 degree views across the station.
This is about a 45 minute drive from the campsite and crosses the Chamberlain River river on the way. The crossing was dry but formed from large riverstones, making for a very bumpy crawl in low 2nd gear. The gorge itself is named for certain illicit fishing techniques employed in years past. It is not possible to get into the gorge without booking onto a tour, but the view from across the river is pretty good in any case, as is the view from the road on the way back out.
This is perhaps the best of the lookouts, and is the one the sunset tour comes to. Frankly the idea of descending the hill in the dark on the back of a 16 seat, open top, tour 4WD is scary; it was a pretty steep road up with a sharp hairpin in the middle. However from the top the view is spectacular, sweeping along the bend of the Pentecost river beneath and its two arms stretched either side.
Also visible is the homestead, yours for a cool couple of thousand a night. Apparently Nicole Kidman stayed there when shooting Australia, and took a chopper daily to Home Valley where the actual filming took place. It’s a beautiful place on a headland over the waterhole, reluctantly we turned them down…..
This is not one for the softroaders. I’d had a look at it the day before but being both on my own and with everyone unaware I was doing it had pulled the pin halfway. Returning the next day in convoy we made it all the way to the billabong. Unless you like fishing, and keeping an eye out for the salties, it is more about the drive than anything else. Satisfying to report the 110 made light work of it.
About 10km back towards the Gibb River Road, these are just a short distance from the road. Water rises from the ground at about 32c and flows down through a series of pools, before losing itself in a small wetland. The pools are perfect for sitting in and letting the aches dissolve, surrounded by palm trees, the water crystal clear. They are open from 7am to midday; after that they are closed, although some of the tours do end there in the afternoon. About 9am seemed to be the sweet spot, after the morning rush dies down but before the late risers.
El Questro Gorge
This is very different to the gorges we had seen elsewhere. To get to it is an interestingly deep river crossing, coming up almost to the sills of the 110, and hats off to the campervan which chanced its arm getting across.
The gorge can be divided into 2 parts, indeed at the middle is Halfway Pool. It starts through a flat creek bed, gradually narrowing and becoming rockier as the gorge walls close in and get taller. Turning a corner to the right you are into the gorge proper, with sheer walls towering overhead and a crystal clear stream running though pools in which small fish dart around, and the occasional snake.
Presently you reach Halfway Pool, marked at the far side by a large boulder. To go further you have to climb over the boulder, but being so clear the water is deceptive; what looks shallow rapidly goes over waist deep, so Bonnie was swimming. It is quite a scramble to get up and over the boulder, but once surmounted the walking is relatively simple for a while until you reach a mass of jumbled large boulders.
We turned around at this point, although it is possible to go all the way to the top where there is a decent swimming hole.
Kununurra – 20th Jun
El Questro covers land both to the north and south of the Gibb River Road. The main station, along with all the activities above, are in the south section. In the north section, heading east to Kununurra is Emma Gorge. There is an upmarket resort here if that’s what you like, there is also a carpark and access to the gorge.
I’d like to describe what the gorge is like, but in all honesty we only went slightly over halfway – a combination of the girls not having proper shoes, and Hils wanting to get to the Saturday market.
The Gibb River Road by this point had switched to bitumen, making for a simple drive into town. It’s a pretty dull drive, the highlight being crossing over the top of the dam.
Our destination was Kimberleyland, a slightly oddly named park but going by the wikicamps comments, about the only one that wasn’t located next to a pub or some other disturbance. A good job we arrived early; with the school holidays starting and the nomad flood in full force there weren’t many free spots. Time to start booking ahead. The park enjoys a great location on the edge of the lake, perfect for watching the sunset, and the millions of bats which fly overhead.
Although a small town Kununurra had everything we needed – food, fuel, camping items. It was interesting to read the restrictions at the bottle shop; you can have up to 2 slabs or 6 bottles of wine per day per shop, we were aware some local communities had problems with alcohol but there must be some heroic drinkers to hit those limits….