Just off the great Northern Highway, we let down our tyres for the second time in one day and rumbled down the track beside the dusky Cockburn Ranges. We took the side track to El Questro, shaking Southwards according to the signs. Emerging from the stony Pentecost River crossing on the property, we rounded a bend and came upon the Station Township.
El Questro is a cattle station on a million acres of land. Currently only 2000 cattle run on the property to maintain the conditions of the pastoral lease. Incredible natural beauty, falls, springs and sweeping vistas led a young English Aristocrat to buy it in 1991 and spend millions, turning it into a place where travellers like us can come to enjoy the splendour of the Kimberley.
In the morning we woke at 5:30am – not because we were very keen for an early start but because it was completely light and every other family was having breakfast already. There is absolutely no excuse for random time zones that bear no relation to when the sun rises!
Using our low range gears (Sam – I even know what those are now) we crossed the Pentecost and headed for the track to El Questro Gorge. When we got there, the river crossing to the track was murky and appeared deep. The sign said “High Clearance Vehicles only” So in the spirit of adventure, we chickened out and headed back up the road to Emma Gorge.
The walk was about 1.7km of rock hopping and rainforest walking. Along the way we spotted birds, tiny frogs and an impossibly blue “Turquoise Pool”.
Taking a hidden high road (but well marked on our map!) we happened upon the breathtaking waterfall pool of Emma Gorge. Our reward was a crisp sparkling swim at the falls. The pool was clear and fresh, and even had rock overhangs that you could swim under like you were in a cave. Wonderful!
We took a sunset 4WD together up Saddleback Hill and it was definitely the steepest track we have been on. There were hairpin bends and as soon as the sun had popped over the horizon, we high-tailed it into the car so we wouldn’t have to do the drive back down in the dark!
Our trip to Zebedee Springs the next day was enjoyable – we lazed in the warm water holes (kind of a warm mini Buley Rockhole) and tried to enjoy it in between the coachloads.
We met lots of other families at the swimming hole near the campsite. Many were doing a big trip like ours and we exchanged our share of road and travel information in return for some of theirs. Those just at the end of the Gibb River Road were great resources for those of us just at the beginning. Fellow Jayco owners told us exactly how many days our gas bottle for the fridge would last without power and we realized that ours would run out tomorrow!!!! Yes they do fill gas bottles at El Questro.
A real highlight was the campfire. Due to many and varied circumstances, it was our first (personal) campfire of the trip. BloggiE, Axo1000, Spike and Tom collected wood in the afternoon and we had guitar, didgereedoo and tapping sticks as well as good conversation and marshmallows.
In the end we couldn’t let it go, and like a dog with a bone, we turned up to El Questro Gorge on the last morning determined to cross that river. (Collective wisdom in the campsite had seen even a standard Pajero cross it the day before!) So over we went as a new set of uncertain potential-river-crossers stood watching us nervously. It was the deepest yet – well up my door, and there was a sandy bottom, but we made it. We hiked our way through the rocky gorge – much more tropical than Emma – and swam in the pool. We saw our first snake in the wild – a black whipsnake we think – and some Sooty Grunters (fish) in the water.
BloggiE and axo1000 have done really well on all our walks. They have developed a standard set of questions when the word “gorge” is mentioned now. Provided the ratio of swimming to walking remains high and the walk severity index remains low, complaints can be managed on a case by case basis. Naturally once the cost benefit analysis has been done, there are occasions where the whingeometer has been known to reach extreme and even catastrophic occasionally. Bribery helps.
All in all, we’ve had a marvelous time at El Questro. The wild beauty and the vast scenic mountains were the backdrop to some fantastic family adventures. The river crossings, conversations about road conditions and dusty everything, gave us that cattle station and wilderness feeling. And after making it through El Questro Gorge after all, we were ready to drive back out to tackle the Gibb River Road.