Planet View: S15°58.134′ E127°56.371′
Street View: S15°58.134′ E127°56.371′
El Questro Station is one of the many cattle stations of the Kimberley that has morphed into more of a tourist destination than fully-fledged cattle station. To retain their pastoral lease the current managers of El Questro are still required by the government to produce a certain amount of beef each year. It’s probably the most famous of the destinations along the Gibb River Road, with fantastic gorges, hot springs, barramundi fishing and the picturesque Cockburn Range. A quick 100 kilometers or so from Kununurra, we stayed at El Questro for three nights to absorb all that it has to offer.
The station headquarters, El Questro Township, is the base for all tours, flights, permits and camping on the station’s massive property. We checked in after visiting El Questro’s Emma Gorge on the way from Kununurra. The Township at El Questro has everything: petrol pumps, a bar, a steakhouse, helicopter tours, wildlife tours, $1000 per night accommodation at the famous Homestead as well as camping for the regular traveler. Then there are the fabled riverside campsites, a collection of 24 private campsites along the Pentecost River that are available to early comers for the same price as regular camping at the Township. We were lucky enough to arrive at headquarters in time to grab one of the last two private campsites for the first two nights of our stay. Our site, named Jabiru, really was a pretty unique spot: all we could hear from our secluded site along the Pentecost River was the ‘wopping’ of Barramundi feeding and the trickle of the river cascading down the rocky banks, our only visitors cows and the occasional inquisitive wallaby. We both had quite a bit of fun pulling in Barramundi during the afternoon, they’d hit any kind of fresh meat it seemed, and pound for pound would have to be one of the strongest fish out there. Don’t laugh at the size of the baby pictured above, he’s small but is one of many more larger ones to come! Also a bit of fun to throw the pot in the river overnight and be welcomed with some fresh cherabin (kind of a mix between a yabbie and a prawn) for a breakfast snack.
There are quite of number of gorges and waterfalls to explore on El Questro Station, even in three days we didn’t touch on all of them. We completed the quick hike into Emma Gorge on our way into the township on the first afternoon, as well as taking the 4WD track to Pigeon Hole and Chamberlain Gorge. It was recommended to arrive at Zebedee Hot Springs early in the day to avoid the crowds, so on our second day we took a warm dip at around 7:00AM in a little private pool amongst the lush rainforest surrounding the springs. The remainder of our second day was spent exploring the majesty of El Questro Gorge. We both agreed that it’s one of the best hikes we’ve undertaken during the trip, the roughly seven kilometer track winding its way up the lush gorge’s waterfalls, rock pools, rainforest and endless Livistonia Palms. The halfway point of the walk is marked by a huge boulder blocking the gorge, the swimming hole formed by the boulder is the turnaround point for most walkers because it takes quite a bit of clambering up rocks to progress through the gorge. I transported our packs and shoes across the waterhole and we continued for a further two kilometers through the shady gorge to Mac Micking Pool, a majestic plunge pool at the base of a secluded waterfall. We had it all to ourselves for the hour or so we spent swimming and eating lunch, an awesome place, so much fun! We spent our third day on the station hiking the 10 kilometer out-and-back to Champagne Springs, a quite exposed and thus hot hike up Champagne Valley to thermal springs that received their name due to the way they bubble warm water from deep below the surface. The springs themselves were ridden with algae so didn’t lend themselves to swimming but there was a beautiful swimming hole and waterfall called Gem Pool just above the springs where we spent an hour cooling off and grabbing a bite. A little off the beaten track, we didn’t see another soul during our four hours hiking the Champagne Springs trail!
During our last night on the station we gave up our secluded campsite and stayed at the grassy sites next to the Township so we could enjoy the live music and whip-cracking display scheduled for the evening. The campsites at the Township, while a little crowded, were very comfortable: grassy sites next to a swimming hole in the Pentecost with access to excellent amenities. Our campsite in the Township was even host to a few of the station’s cows during the afternoon on our final night! A few people to whom we’ve talked about El Questro were of the opinion that the station is too commercial; it is commercial, agreed, but it’s done in such a way that the natural beauty of the area isn’t disturbed and the thought put into the planning of the tourist sections is clearly evident. If one is willing to spend some time and energy hiking to the more secluded portions of the station they are definitely devoid of crowds and any hint of civilization. El Questro was well worth the stop. We were left with a bit of a sour taste in out mouths after being kept up until after 3:00AM on our last night by a group of fellas on break from their mining jobs, but otherwise we had a ball!
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