El Questro in rugged Kimberley country provides one of the country’s greatest outback adventures, whether you’re camping, glamping or staying in style, says Brian Johnston.
The Kimberley region of northwest Australia is one of the continent’s last great frontiers, with a permanent population of just 20,000 and a sense of remote adventure, coupled with spectacular scenery of rugged hills, plunging gorges and rust-coloured rock that is quintessentially Australian. Yet parts of it can be explored by ordinary travellers without the need for specialist gear or outback survival skills, nowhere more so than on vast El Questro station just west of Kununurra.
A Wilderness Park Permit ($10) is all you need to explore 200 kilometres of walking tracks and 4WD tracks on your own itinerary. Take short hikes to El Questro and Amalia gorges, then reward yourself with a plunge into Zebedee Springs surrounded by lush rainforest in a rocky red landscape. In the afternoon, take an off-road drive to Chamberlain Gorge where it narrows between towering orange cliffs. Camp ($20 per adult, children under 12 free) at the Black Cockatoo camping site, which has bathroom and laundry facilities, a general store and a restaurant ($30).
Hike through savannah and rainforest to discover the sandstone cliffs of Emma Gorge, which alternate between red and mysterious blue. Turquoise waters gurgle, delicate ferns flourish, and birds flap among pandanus. Later you can take the short drive to El Questro’s main station and explore its sights. Stay at Emma Gorge Resort ($289 twin share) in a deluxe safari tent with en-suite facilities, and dine (around $50) on the resort’s veranda under the boab trees as you enjoy a Kimberley sunset. In the morning, you’ll be awakened by the strange hooting of birds.
The Kimberley is stunning from the air; don’t miss a scenic flight ($335) over Lake Argyle to the rust-red humps of the Bungle Bungles, where eroded sandstone forms a breathtaking landscape 20 million years in the making. Stay at The Homestead ($1,969 twin share) overlooking Chamberlain Gorge, where gourmet accommodation and guided tours around the valley are included, such as a private cruise on the gorge’s tranquil waters. Other indulgences (various prices) might include horse riding, a barramundi fishing tour by helicopter, or an historic tour of the property and its bush culture.
Australia’s North West Tourism has details on accommodation, traveller information and maps of the Kimberley and adjacent Pilbara region.