THE land of the Kimberley has to impress the most hardened city slicker, with a trip to the stations outside Kununurra involving a long list of must-see natural beauties.
El Questro Wilderness Park has reinvented tourism in the area, with its now famous luxurious homestead accommodation at Emma’s Gorge and camping facilities and bungalows at the station township.
The facilities offer the perfect in ecotourism, with the ability for guests to ‘rough it’ as much or as little as they like.
From gourmet cuisine at the homestead to good, hearty meals at the township’s steakhouse – with friendly, attentive service at both – guests are kept replenished, but of course the real attraction is the beautiful countryside.
Tour guide Chris Matthews tells us while El Questro has a pastoral lease, the land was tough-going for cattle farming businesses.
“This little pocket of the Kimberley has been commonly known as ‘starvation corner’ for the past 100 years,” he says as he navigates our four-wheel drive down another gravel road.
“The Cockburn Range eliminates a large portion of the land available for grazing.”
The shift towards tourism has made the station iconic in the area and judging by how busy the township was on our visit, El Questro has got the balance just right.
We spend the morning climbing 3km along Emma’s Gorge, walking through pockets of lush vegetation and shade as the red cliffs of the gorge closed in around us.
The climb, although not especially steep, is difficult over loose rocks and boulders, with the path lightly marked and winding back and forth each side of a creek.
The walk is rewarded at the top of gorge as we arrive at a waterfall with a swimming hole of cold, fresh water, which after half an hour we are reluctant to leave.
Emma’s Gorge is one of a series of hiking trails at El Questro, which range from an easy walk along a cleared path to more difficult with rocks to clamber over and limited shade.
Trail fact sheets are available at tour desks which help you identify sights of interest along the way.
After descending from the Emma’s Gorge Pool, we head to Zebedee Springs, for which no-one could ever be prepared.
Set among lush palms and dense foliage, the warm spring runs into a series of pools deep enough for bathing.
As we soak, we speculate as to whether the water could have mysterious healing properties; whether it does or not, it is the perfect balm to ease muscles tired from hiking, horse riding and travelling long distances over rough roads.
The Zebedee Springs, named after the leaseholder’s favourite television show character, are open to the public only between 7am and noon each day to limit the pressure on the environment.
The writer was a guest of El Questro and Mellen Events.