The Kimberley region of Western Australia is often described as one of the world’s last unspoilt frontiers. After a two-hour drive into the back of beyond, along the rough and dusty Gibb River Road, there was still no evidence of life. You couldn’t get any more Outback if you tried.
The Gibb River Road is a 660-kilometre, unsealed and unforgiving dirt track, with deep river crossings, and the 4WD option of two routes that pass through the heart of the remote Kimberley region, connecting Broome to Kununurra. It opens during the dry season, generally between May and October.
I was surrounded by beautiful, rugged landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. Signs warned me about animals crossing the road, but so far I hadn’t seen a living thing.
I was on my way to the exclusive El Questro Wilderness Park, located on a section of the Gibb River Road just 95 kilometres west of Kununurra – a small Outback town in a far-flung corner of northwestern Australia’s Kimberley.
In the distance, I spotted a menacing-looking reminder that we were in cattle country: a road train ploughing its way towards us. Each of these vast juggernauts can carry hundreds of cows. We hastily rolled up the windows as the intimidating monster thundered past, making our vehicle wobble and causing everything around us to vanish in a billowing red dust cloud.
Stars In The Sky And Here On Earth
Just over 400,000 hectares, El Questro Wilderness Resort was founded in the early 1990s by Will Burrell, a British merchant banker who, along with wife Celia, purchased the huge spread that extends 80 kilometres into the Kimberley. Burrell fell in love with the region and decided to buy what was a failed cattle station, referring to it as, “probably the worst cattle station in Australia”.
However, Burrell would soon turn it around and create what is now one of Australia’s top holiday destinations. Burrell sold it several years ago and now the 100-year-old hospitality company, Delaware North, owns the property.
El Questro offers guests various types of accommodation, depending on taste and budget. Spend your nights camping under the stars; stay in a small, yet very comfortable bungalow close to the station township; chill out in a tented cabin at the pretty Emma Gorge Resort; or splash out big time and stay at one of Australia’s most exclusive addresses: the recently refurbished El Questro Homestead that caters for only 18 guests—a favourite bolthole for the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue.
I stayed at the Emma Gorge Resort, situated in El Questro’s Cockburn Ranges. On my arrival, I was greeted by a huge flock of noisy corellas – white cockatoos, native to Australia. They filled the tree branches, slowly taking it to pieces by pecking off its leaves.
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Horses Take Us Off The Beaten Track
With a touch of style and comfort, the Emma Gorge tented cabins are a step up from typical camping, yet they are still surrounded by nature and built close to a beautiful river. The resort has a fully licensed bar, restaurant, shop, laundry and large swimming pool.
Chefs prepare fresh, tasty and authentic lunch and dinner menus, featuring modern Australian cuisine, all served in the open-air restaurant that has a retractable roof for stargazing over dinner.
There are plenty of activities to fill long days: helicopter rides through massive canyons with towering red walls and tumbling waterfalls; helicopter or boat fishing for prize giant barramundi; horse rides along remote billabongs surrounded by tubby-looking 1,000-year-old boab trees; boat cruises along the stunning Chamberlain Gorge, where fresh water crocodile inhabit rivers; and walks through deep gorges with large waterholes full of cool water – ideal for a well-deserved dip.
We saddled up for a horse ride through spectacular landscapes with plenty of river crossings, where the water almost reached the horse’s saddle. A horseback tour is a great way to get off the beaten track and explore the otherwise restricted countryside.
A few essentials for an enjoyable day: wear casual, light clothes; have a reasonable measure of fitness; wear good walking shoes; use sunblock, wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to shade you from the strong outback sun; and, most importantly, carry plenty of drinking water.
The most popular season to visit the Kimberley is during the cloudless months of April through to October. Temperatures are in the high 20C to low 30C range with cool evenings.
Get Scarily Close To The Crocs By Chopper
Climbing into the helicopter one bright, fresh morning, a different world started to unfold before me. As the chopper took off, I could finally appreciate the size of El Questro. The vast red landscape stretched for miles before, behind and below me.
My heart was in my mouth as we swooped into massive rust red canyons, taking in close-up views of cascading waterfalls, and then hovering above crocodiles who like to sun-bake their massive bodies on the banks of the Chamberlain River; it’s not uncommon for an adult male freshwater crocodile to grow to over six metres, if not longer.
Feeling hot and in need of a dip away from the gaze of the crocs, who would be only too happy to make a meal out of an innocent swimmer like myself, I headed to the secluded Zebedee thermal springs, a picturesque and relaxing croc-free zone with perfect water temperatures, measuring between 28C and 32C all year round.
Overlooking the Pentecost River, we dined at the popular Steakhouse, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. The restaurant is known for its barramundi fish and steak dishes that never disappoint.
Evening entertainment takes place at the one and only drinking hole: the Swinging Arm Bar and Grill. It’s a great family fun night out, with free entertainment on Saturday nights provided by a house band, and an open mic night and open grill BBQ on Saturday nights. Make sure you go early to secure a seat!
Due to heavy wet seasonal weather El Questro is only open from April to October each year.