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An article by our North-West correspondent @alex.vp.photography (give her a follow on Instagram!)

What is it?

A slice of heaven found in the heart of the Kimberley. El Questro covers a sprawling 700,000 acres at the eastern end of the Gibb River Road and is best known for its incredible gorges, hikes to tranquil waterfalls and swimming pools, thermal hot springs nestled amongst towering palms, and breathtaking lookouts over the timeless Kimberley landscape. After a decade of foreign ownership, it’s back in Australian hands after being recently purchased by the G’day Group (Discovery Parks Australia). 

Where is it?

Located about 60-90 minutes drive west of Kununurra, El Questro is located along the Gibb River Road and it’s the perfect place to start (or finish) your trip along the Gibb. This section of the road from Kununurra to the turnoff to El Questro is sealed, but roads within the Wilderness Park are unsealed, and also have a few creek/river crossings. El Questro is best accessed by 4WD. Within the Wilderness Park you’ll find the incredible Durack and Cockburn ranges, providing the perfect backdrop for a Kimberley adventure.

What to do?

Explore, hike, swim, fish and camp. There are a range of incredible waterfalls, gorges, 4WD tracks and lookouts for you to explore (either at your own pace or join a tour run by El Questro). Even though the list of things to see and do is endless, we’ve rounded up some of the best: 

Gorges:

Emma Gorge

One of the best known gorges and waterfalls at El Questro, it’s a must-see spot. Emma Gorge is located on the opposite side of the Gibb River Road from the main Station, and about 2 kms off the Gibb down a gravel driveway. Once there, follow the rocky creek and pandanus lined trail for about 45 minutes to the top of the horse-shoe shaped gorge. Just over halfway you’ll find a beautiful turquoise pool which is perfect for a quick dip to/from the falls. The water’s cold at the base of the 65 metre droplet waterfall, but it’s worth braving the icy water to float away while watching the droplets cascade slowly down towards you. While the waterfall’s one of the coldest along the Gibb River Road, there’s a hidden hot spring along the gorge wall that’s well worth searching for (our tip: head there after your icy swim!).

 

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Zebedee Springs 

Zebedee hot springs is a series of thermal pools located beneath towering, prehistoric Livistona palms. It’s the perfect place to spend a few relaxing hours soaking away and the water is typically 28-32 degrees all year round. Only a short walk from the car park (1.5 kms return) Zebedee Springs is open 7am-12pm and closes in the afternoon for tour groups.

 

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El Questro Gorge 

The El Questro Gorge hike is one of the more challenging walks in the Kimberley. The first section of this walk is relatively easy and takes 1.5-2 hours return. You can either stop here at the swimming hole, have a swim in the crystal clear water and turn back, or clamber past the boulder and continue on. To do so, you’ll need to wade through the waist-deep water of the halfway pool and climb up and over the large boulders. The trail gets tougher and rockier from this point forward as is recommended only for the “fit and adventurous” but you’re rewarded with a swim at the end, which is another small, clear pool and waterfall.

There’s a deep water crossing before you get to the start of the carpark to start your walk, if you don’t think your vehicle can make it, you can park just before the water crossing and walk around the crossing and the remainder of the way.

 

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Amalia Gorge 

This waterfall is best seen shortly after the park opens at the end of the wet season, as it dries up and stops flowing by late May/ early June (though this depends on how much rain has fallen during the wet season!). The walk to the waterfall and plunge pool (3.4 km return) takes over an hour and takes you past a number of small cascading waterfalls and crystal clear pools, including a beautiful half way pool. The trail does involve a bit of clambering over loose rocks in a dry river bed for the first part of the walk, as well as a challenging narrow section of the trail past a small ledge, but the scenery is spectacular.  

 

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Moonshine Gorge 

A loop walk (the one way circuit is 5 km) involves a couple of river crossings with a quiet, picturesque swimming hole near the end. Set out for a hike alongside imposing cliffs and beneath the towering Livistona palms, however the second half of the track can be quite exposed depending on the time of the day you’re doing the walk (pack a hat and sunscreen). If you’re short of time, you can always walk the 500m from the car park to the idyllic swimming hole without doing the entire circuit. There’s a deep water crossing to get to the gorge, and unlike El Questro gorge, it’s not recommended to park before the crossing to walk the remainder 4km of the track.

 

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Lookouts: 

There are a number of great 4WD tracks and lookouts at El Questro, including:

Branco’s lookout 

This incredible lookout, which is the highest vantage point at El Questro, can be accessed by the Explosion Gorge 4WD track. Our tip is to get there towards the end of the day to watch the golden hour light on the landscape as the sun sets behind you. It’s a bit of a trek there and back (approximately 40 minutes to the Station township), including a long, rocky, river crossing, so don’t leave your return trip for too late after sunset and if you’re not confident with your 4WD skills, you can join a guided tour run by the Station.

 

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Pigeon Hole lookout

Another fantastic lookout to watch the sunset is this great spot which overlooks the Pentecost River as it carves its way through the surrounding ranges. Pigeon Hole lookout is about a 30 minute drive to the Station township and the perfect place to end the day – pack a picnic or a few drinks and soak up the fantastic view!

 

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Saddleback Ridge

Also offering great 360 degree views over El Questro and a fab 4WD track is Saddleback Ridge. The track (7 km return) to the lookout viewing platform is a shared one, so you can either walk it or drive. If you’re walking carry plenty of water as the track has little shade (it’s about a two hour return trip). The track is steep, and it’s recommended for experienced drivers as it has little space for passing or two way traffic as well as some narrow bends.

 

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Tours:

A great way to explore the Station is with a guided tour and there’s a range of tours to suit all ages and interests (and budgets!). These include a Chamberlain Gorge river cruise, horse riding, bird watching and even helicopter tours out to remote parts of El Questro, including the beautiful Amaroo and Miri Miri Falls as well as the Lost City, an incredible cave system and rock formations.

 

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Where to stay:  

You’ll find a range of accommodation options at El Questro to suit all types – from luxury, cliff top villas to glamping, camping and unpowered campsites. 

The Homestead

Along the banks of the Chamberlain River, you’ll find the El Questro Homestead, with its luxurious accommodation offering cliff side retreats, exclusive suites and views for days (but also at a premium price!).

 

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Emma Gorge Resort

Here the powered safari-style tented cabins are only a short walk away from Emma Gorge, and close to facilities including a licensed restaurant and bar, pool, and laundry facilities.

 

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The Station:

You’ll find a range of accommodation from air conditioned river view rooms to both powered and unpowered campsites, including private sites along the Pentecost River. These private sites are a short drive from the Station and it’s recommended that you pre-book these (no pre-booking needed at the Station’s main campground for their unpowered sites). Swimming is only permitted at campsites 1-5 (you’ll be advised if conditions change and swimming is not permitted at those campsites). Also the main Station you can also find the Swinging Arm Bar, a great spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a couple of drinks!

 

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Other accommodation options nearby include the towns of Kununurra and Wyndham, Parry Creek Farm tourist resort and caravan park, as well as Home Valley Station where you can pop across the Pentecost River for a day trip.

What not to do: 

Come unprepared. El Questro has a Station store for basic needs but it’s recommended you stock up at Kununurra beforehand. Carry plenty of water for hikes, and be sun smart – some of the walks are exposed and don’t offer much shade so don’t forget to pack your hats and sunscreen! 

Take any risks when it comes to swimming (or jumping and diving).

Litter! Take all your rubbish with you and keep the pristine environment that way. 

Anything Else: 

Drive to conditions. You’ll need a high clearance 4WD to access everything in the park, but if you only have 2WD you should still be able to access Emma Gorge. El Questro has Diesel & Unleaded Fuel available as well as tyre sales and repairs.

Book ahead:
It can get busy at El Questro during peak season and it’s worthwhile, and advised, to book ahead whenever you can. In addition to your accommodation/camping fees, you’ll need to purchase a visitor’s permit which helps the park maintain tracks and trails, and environmental projects. Prices are added automatically when booking online, but day or week passes are available: 

7 day pass: $22 per adult and $11 per child aged 5-15 years.
Day passes: $12 per adult and $5 per child.
(no charge for children aged 4 and under)

El Questro has (limited) mobile coverage with Optus and Telstra. 

The Kimberley is home to both estuarine (saltwater) and freshwater crocodiles (also known as ‘freshies’). Some rivers at El Questro, like the Pentecost River, may be home to saltwater crocodiles and this is well signed. The gorges listed above (Emma/Amalia/El Questro/Zebedee) are safe to swim, though you might spot the occasional freshie, which are typically harmless unless provoked. Always check if you’re unsure.

Know your seasons:
Wet season: typically November to April, expect hot, humid days, monsoonal rain and occasional cyclones.

Dry Season: typically between May and October, days are warm and nights are cool. Compared to the cold and wet winter weather here in Perth, it’s the perfect time to head north for a second summer! Peak tourist season in the Kimberley is around June-August.

Inaccessible during the wet season, El Questro is typically open every year between April and October. Gorges, tracks and walks may have different opening and closing dates so it’s best to check with the Station if travelling there in these months.