I don’t know whether you knew this but I like sharing the fact that Australia is comprised of some of the world’s largest cattle stations. I’m talking about millions of acres of land that span parts of the country so rural that you and I have never heard of them.
The more I’ve travelled in Australia the more I’ve enjoyed leaving the urban areas behind and getting out into the countryside. I’ve connected far more to the red dirt, rugged landscape and remote wilderness in Australia than I ever thought possible.
Some of my most precious memories of Australia have been made thousands of miles from anywhere, far from the ubiquitous tourist meccas of Sydney and Melbourne. Just like the time I swam in the bottom of a gorge dating back millions of years in Karijini National Park, or came face-to-face with the spiritual heart of Australia at Uluru, I found myself enjoying my trip to El Questro Station immensely.
So for that reason, I am sharing with you the best of El Questro. I think it’s important to explore further afield in Australia than the confines of a city, and you can’t get much more of a contrast that the rugged, remote beauty of The Kimberley.
The Kimberley is one of the earliest settled parts in Australia, with the first settlers dated back roughly 41,000 years. The region is so huge it makes up 17% of the country. This is about three times the size of England.
It is one of the most remote and untouched corners in Western Australia, bordered by oceans to the west and north and deserts to the south.
El Questro Station
A cattle station is like a farm to you or I, except the scale of land puts it up there with the size of some small counties in England. Cattle can roam freely on the land. As you drive through the station, signs are present to warn you that cattle may wander across your path at any time. As the distances are so massive, herding of these animals is often done by helicopter.
Close to a town called Wyndham, at the beginning of the Gibb River Road, is a cattle station called El Questro. The station measures 700,000 acres of remote wilderness. Ancient gorges, rugged sandstone ranges, thermal springs and waterfalls are all waiting to be discovered by foot, horseback, helicopter or 4WD.
The origins of the name of the station remain a little bit of an enigma. It is said that it was named El Questro in 1958 by the owner at the time, Torrance McMicking. Since then, the cattle station has changed ownership several times and the latest owners realised the potential for tourism on the site and dreamed of creating a unique Kimberley experience on the land.
Although El Questro still functions as a working cattle station, you can now visit to uncover the secrets this landscape has to offer.
We arrived at El Questro just before midday and drove to Emma Gorge first. Here there was El Questro Lodge, a beautiful place to stay. There are plenty of shady picnic areas around so we made our lunch and ate at one of the benches provided. We refilled our water bottles from a tap that had been plumbed in to the trunk of a giant boab tree, which was fantastic.
The walk to Emma Gorge was accessible from the car parks at El Questro Lodge. It took you along the edge of a river bed – that was dried out at the time of year I was walking there (September), but may not be depending on when you visit! – at the bottom of the gorge, surrounded by tall, skinny palm trees.
The walk was fairly challenging with lots of fun scrambling over rocks. Wear a pair of shoes with good grip so you don’t slip on loose or wet rock.
When we got to the end it was absolutely magical. I honestly felt like I was in a fairy tale grotto. The walk came to an end as the walls of the gorge closed in around us in a semi-circle. Mosses and ferns grew up the sides of the cliffs, dripping and shimmering in the dappled sunlight. A thin waterfall cascaded down from the top and the water fell like raindrops into the green-blue pool below. It was such an ethereal, other-worldly place to relax. We gladly swum in the refreshing water and spent a long time simply floating with our necks craned upwards to take in the full scale of the beautiful waterfall.
El Questro Station Camp
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the luxurious lodge at Emma Gorge, then don’t worry. There are plenty of other accommodation options at El Questro Station campsite where there are lodges, powered and unpowered campsites. We set up our camp – which didn’t take long as we slept in small tents and swags (Australian bedding rolls) – and then wandered over to the bar area of the campsite to check out what was going on.
We timed it perfectly for happy hour at the bar and sat outside contentedly sipping on cold beer, listening to live music and watching the sunset.
It’s best to head out early to Zebedee Springs as it’s such a small yet beautiful spot that you’re going to want it to yourself. Zebedee Springs is a thermal springs set under a canopy of lush green palm trees. Spend time relaxing in the crystal clear water gurgling through a series of mini pools and tear yourself away with some difficulty.
Make sure you plan to visit Zebedee early in your day, not only so you try to avoid the crowds, but because it’s actually closed off to visitors from midday. After 12pm, guests from the exclusive El Questro Lodge are allowed private access to the pools here.
El Questro Gorge
The walk into El Questro Gorge is broken into two halves. The first half is a fun and easy scramble along the riverbed at the bottom of the gorge. It’s quite shaded by the tall trees that grow here and as long as you are of reasonable fitness and ability you should have no problems making your way to the refreshing pool that lies at the end.
At this stage, the gorge begins to narrow in width significantly. A giant boulder has fallen into the gorge and become wedged. The walk continues behind this boulder for those game enough to try and get themselves up and over this massive obstacle. This is not easy, but with determination and team work you and your group can manage it.
Firstly we took off our shoes and shorts and stripped down to our swim wear. We packed all loose items into our backpacks and held them above our heads. The first person in the group waded across the pool, climbed up the small gap at the side of the boulder and waited in position while we passed all the bags to them in a chain. Then one by one we each climbed up the side of the boulder, which is quite difficult as the rock has only a narrow ledge on which to place your feet and becomes more and more slippery from people climbing it.
At the top of the boulder, adrenaline pumping and feeling very satisfied with ourselves, we put on walking shoes back on to continue the rest of the walk through the gorge. From this point onwards the walk becomes more physically demanding. There are literally hundreds of rocks that have tumbled down into the gorge over the years that block your path and you must climb up and over them.
After about a further hour of walking we reached the end of the gorge where the walls narrowed to become impassable. Here, we found a beautiful waterfall cascading into a small, cool plunge pool. After sweating through a hard walk nothing could beat the feeling of cooling off in the water.
Getting To El Questro
It’s a remote spot so be prepared for a lot of driving to get there! But, that’s surely part of the adventure if you’re off the beaten path in these parts of Australia.
Situated in the north west of Western Australia, the nearest towns to El Questro are Kununurra and Wyndham. Kununurra is just 110 kilometres west on mostly sealed roads, 58 kilometres on the Great Northern Highway towards Wyndham, 36 kilometres on the Gibb River Road with the remaining 16 kilometres on a gravel.
You can also access Emma Gorge and El Questro Station from the northern end of the Gibb River Road. This is one of Australia’s greatest outback drives, a 660 kilometre unsealed track, which I highly recommend if you have the time and ability to travel.
Hints And Tips
- You will want a 4wd vehicle with high clearance if you wish to stay in El Questro Station Camp. To access the campsite you have to cross the Pentecost River, which is not something to try in a small 2wd car.
- Expect that you will not have mobile reception in these parts. When travelling in more remote parts of Australia (or even just outside of the cities!) I would recommend you buy a Telstra SIM card. Whilst this is not 100% coverage, Telstra has the most reception of all the networks across the country.
- Be prepared for high temperatures! Drink plenty of water and protect yourself against the sun. The temperatures here can be extreme – over 40 degrees centigrade in the summer months.
Have I inspired you to visit this part of Western Australia? Do you like exploring these lesser known parts of a country? If you’ve already visited El Questro, what was your experience like?
Share this with your friends if you are planning a road trip for your next adventure!
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