This is our last stop along the Gibb. It has icon status amongst Kimberley landmarks, and therefore El Questro had a lot to live up to. Firstly, a note on the Gibb River Road condition. The first 60 or so kilometers were mildly corrugated, but the middle 400 kilometers were smooth and uncorrugated, making for easy trouble-free driving. Only the last 100 – 150 kilometers or so were rough and corrugated. Apparently the improved condition is because the Gibb is now part of WA Department of Main Roads, rather than being part of the Kimberley shire, hence the road is now a designated transport route and as such, a grader works to regularly finish the roads from each end, and it really shows. Only the side roads to some the gorges we visited were horribly corrugated and rough. The Pentacost too was no trouble, being just under knee-deep, the benefit of a very mild wet season.
At all national parks in WA you pay a $13 vehicle entrance fee (with camping fees on top of this) or like us pay $88 for an annual Parks Pass. El Questro by contrast is a private “Wilderness Park” where again you pay not only camp fees, but also a $20 per adult ‘Wilderness Park’ fee. After visting many National Parks, it is interesting to note the differences in where your money goes. National Parks have good facilities, are clean and typically sport new loos, and in most cases, have free BBQ and covered picnic facilities. Most importantly, on walks that have difficult or unsafe access, Parks and Wildlife have installed ladders, handrails or other aids over the most difficult areas, whereas El Questro has relatively poor facilities and on the more difficult walks no “help” with any of the tricky parts which limits some of the walks to only the most adventurous and agile (K – luckily that included us!).
It is disappointing that El Questro is now owned by an American resort conglomerate (it has in fact, changed hands four times in the last ten years), and you get the feeling that you are being fleeced at every turn. However, it seems to be exceptionally well run and well serviced and the staff were excellent, bordering on obsequious. We of course, slummed it in the campsite, whilst those paying $2000 a night flew over us no doubt with imperious superiority.
After setting up camp, we wandered up to the swimming hole, which was muddy and underwhelming compared to the crystal clear pools we were used to along the Gibb, then it was up to Saddleback Ridge to watch the sunset. A steep second gear low range crawl to share a local summit with about twenty or so other cars, most complete with bickies, cheese and happy hour drinks.
The next morning, with an ambitious two gorge itinerary, we packed lunch, water and snacks and headed to El Questro gorge. This had a water crossing described as ‘deep’. It was about half a metre, and apparently swallows front number plates from those that favour excess pace over caution. We only managed El Questro gorge, a nine kilometre six hour walk that was a real treat. Narrow walls, a crystal clear creek broken up with pretty pools, one of which has a monster boulder blocking progress to the less agile or faint hearted.
Livistona Palms run along the length, providing constant shade and a tropical feel. The gorge ends at a very pretty plunge pool complete with picture a perfect cascading water fall. It was here that we met our first Novocastrians for the whole trip (sorry but Nelson Bay and Singleton just doesn’t count). A family with kids about the same age as Sam and James. As these things usually go they live only two blocks from us in Turnbull St! Although they looked familiar we established we didn’t have any direct contact with each other at home – kids at different schools, soccer – yes but different age groups etc, dad’s both keen mountain bikers and regulars at Glenrock.
The walk back down the gorge was as scenic as the trip up, perhaps even more so as the sun was higher overhead and the gorge was now in dappled sunlight. Kris reckoned that she had never walked anywhere prettier (hard to capture the true beauty in photos) and it was well worth the wade and boulder climb. It was 3pm before we got back to the truck so the second walk was canned much to the kids relief.
As a treat after dinner, we popped in to the local restaurant for dessert. Next morning we visited Zebedee Springs, which, apart from someone nicking my beloved Leatherman whilst I was lounging in the 31 degree springs, was pleasant enough.
After a quick 30km drive, we picnicked on the lawns at the Emma Gorge Resort complex, also part of the El Questro complex. Emma gorge proper is a two kilometre walk to a huge deep pool with a lovely droplet waterfall. The water here was only 20 C, about 5 degrees cooler than every other gorge we’d swum in along the Gibb.
Flanked by Livistona Palms along the gorge walk.
That night was our last, and we joined in with a table at the pub for a trivia night with some campers we met at Emma Gorge also doing ‘The Lap’. It was hosted by the local muso, who was a Novacastrian – which flavoured at least one question. Unfortunately we were pipped at the post after a “who am I” was needed to split the three teams tied in first place! The answer of Bert Newton clearly favoured our Grey Nomad competitors!
And with that the Gibb was finished for us – a big “tick” of our bucket list, and not one flat tyre!