Burton's Perth to Cape York - Bungle Bungles to El Questro 23-26 June 2011 Day 85-88

Sunday, Jul 29, 2012 at 16:27

Red Dirt Australia


El Questro is my favourite place in the Kimberleys. Others have complained of the expense, and it is a fact that the provided facilities are mediocre as they are throughout the Gibb, however the bang for your buck factor is very high. Despite its well deserved reputation for five star luxury, there is much more to this million acre Wilderness Park than the acclaimed Homestead. Once ensconced in a camp site there are a huge amount of unique 4WD and other experiences to be had without going too far. The Township store is nearby as ifs a supply of fuel. It really is a place to budget no less than 4-5 days to really benefit from the place!

We headed out of the Bungles enjoying every metre of the dirt track, revelling in the creek crossings and enjoying the comfortable ride the heavily modified 200 series gave us. The sky was blue, the days warm, no real bities, no wind – ah paradise! We had just clocked up 19,000 kilometres this trip, the Cruiser has performed magnificently considering the torturous abuse we have subjected it to – the Gunbarrel, the Simpson, the Cape, the Savannah and so on. If only the engine wouldn’t lose power at 3000RPM! And if only some Toyota ‘expert’ could fix the bloody thing! We stopped at Turkey Creek, frustrated at locals parking in front of the bowsers and no where to be found, marvelling once again at how awful roadhouse pies are and questioning why we keep buying the terrible things…Jack says “if it’s not Mrs Macs I don’t want one….chuckle. The Cruiser started losing power after about an hour, the frequency seems to be increasing so we babied her to the Gibb River turnoff. The recent big shop in Kununurra meant we didn’t need to top up. The gossip was true and extensive roadworks were to be found as they complete bitumising the Gibb to El Questro. Another famous 4WD adventure about to end. We were quite surprised at the number of obviously not off-road vans and soft roaders tackling the Gibb, clogging up the road, trundling along at 20-30kph. We pulled in to air down to find that we had lost one of our new Tyredogs. This new unit with repeater, purchased in Brisbane after the last one died is a heap of crap! It has failed to read on start-up no matter what we do and a strong letter of complaint will be written, especially after blowing $600 on it. This trip the dirt bits to El Questro were noticeably rough with significant bone shaking corrugations!

The drive into El Questro is always good fun with some nice crossings and great scenery. Speed needs to be limited to keep the dust down and to account for the inexperienced hire car drivers that are prolific in these parts. As we crossed over the last bumpy and rocky creek crossing and entered the Township area it was bustling with people and vehicles. It looked really busy and we grumpily thought that we would miss out on the private campsite that we craved and probably end up in the Black Cockatoo mass campground. The reception area was overwhelmed – we noticed this every time we visited it. The poor girls couldn’t cope with all of the requests from the shop and the two small outside counters. Eventually we got there, were attended by a polite NZ lass who managed to score us the last private site - No 21 Cormorant, way out in the boondocks – yippee! That suited us fine. It was about 8 clicks out and all on its own facing the rather depleted Pentecost. She also warned us not to swim as a croc had been sighted. We coughed up our $15 for the obligatory Wilderness Pass and $25 per adult per night. We were pleased with this as we later observed that the main campground did not look that pleasant and we were to find that the ensuite toilets and shower rooms did not provide hot water. There seem to be some issue with the gas pilot lights and it would be hot for seconds just to build up expectations before going stone cold. The staff were always very patient and polite and did a tremendous job overcoming the difficulties with the layout and staff shortages.

We scooted out to our new site and were very satisfied. It was a dusty drive with a reasonably difficult, bumpy and fun water crossing to get there. The drive passed the air strip and other private sites was dangerously dusty, vision at times totally obliterated and much care was needed. A bit of time was taken laying out the Oddy, Jack’s tent and Pat and Jeff’s tent to maximise the effectiveness of the available space and the river views. We built a great fire pit using river stones, a job the kids loved. Jeff became known as the wood whisperer – this farmer had the uncanny skill of wandering off into the bush and coming back with huge old solid deadwood that would burn all night in the fire. Whilst out and about we always kept our eyes open for deadfalls, strapping them to the roof with occy straps, so we were never without a great fire, just the thing for the following five cold nights!

Evenings usually consisted of sitting around the fire, glass of wine or Heineken, Pat on the red, Jeff with his Carlton Mid Strength, the kids on their soda water, and all of us nibbling on cheeses and bikkies or bbq chips. We’d chat about our adventures, look in awe at our lounge room view and thank every known deity that there were no bloody bitey insects around. Bed became a ‘can’t see’ timing usually around 7.30pm and up at ‘can see’ around 6.00am. I’d wake up earlier, about 5.30 and stoke the fire with sticks and kindling, enjoying it bursting into flames, warming my toes, enjoying first mug of delicious freshly brewed coffee whilst watching the sun burst red over the river. The morning chorus of raucous corellas, kites and other delightful birds adding to this precious moment. Out with the iPad and I’d savour half an hour of quietness reading my latest novel before the family woke up. My duties then extended to making Amanda a cup of tea in bed and then making toast or crumpets for the kids as they emerged and joined me around the fire. This is what it is all about, and I would gladly exchange ten million-dollar mansions fronting a city river for these rare but exquisite moments of your life. The advantage of the private campsite is the distance from other campers. We hate being woken up by some early riser with no consideration for others, or maybe no awareness that he or she is banging, clattering and generally waking up the neighbourhood. We try and instil in the kids an intense consideration for others no matter where we are, it is a pity that it is not often reciprocated!

We booked a couple of electric boats to do our own cruise down Chamberlain Gorge in two days time, the staff making it clear that any wind could cause the booking to be cancelled – so be it, we’d take our chances. We drove out passed the Township to the entrance track and another wash in the delightful creek crossings before we found the faintly remembered turnoff to Zebedee. We’d raved about this place to Pat and Jeff and they were keen to see and experience it. The drive in is easy, the 1.5k walk-in delightful, surrounded by palms, bloodwoods and other lush vegetation. Parking can be a hassle with access only allowed to the great unwashed prior to 12.00 lunch. After that, depending on whose story you listen to, it is either reserved for the Nicole Kidman’s of the world, APT tour groups or it could be just to allow it time to ‘rehabilitate’. Either way it can get busy in the morning and sometimes it is difficult to find a spot to soak in due to crowding. The higher pools are warmer so many people make a beeline for them and brave the more difficult clamber over rocks and flows. The water seems to be around 26-28 degrees C, a lot cooler than Dalhousie in the Simpson but probably on a par with Mataranka and Katherine. There can be no question in anyone’s mid that this place is a Mini Garden of Eden and really does soothe the bones and the soul. It is a ‘must do’ stop and deserves quite a few hours and maybe a couple of visits.

Back at camp for toasted ham and cheese sandwiches with the last of the not-yet-mouldy bread. Had three wild bulls and a cow survey us from the opposite side of the river before crossing over the rocks to our side – must have smelt the toasties Kate reckoned LOL. Pat, Jack and Kate played Yatzee, whilst I enjoyed a well deserved snooze in the sun Jeff went for a sticky beak along the river bed doing his wood whispering while Amanda cleaned up after lunch and typed her diary – holidays are fun!

After lunch we headed to Saddleback Ridge, a short 3.5km extremely steep single lane four wheel drive track. Jeff really enjoyed himself in the Hilux, this being his first 4WD trip and we constantly communicated by UHF, discussing gears, conditions and oncoming oxygen thieves. The view was OK, somewhat mediocre and probably better at a different time of day.


Next morning we packed up the backpacks with food and drinks and headed out to El Questro Gorge. This has always been one of my all time favourites, excepting this time the carpark was chokkers with damn tourists – haven’t hey got anything better to do! Oops, I’m one too! The advertising blurb says “in comparison with surrounding woodland El Questro Gorge is a dramatic contrast and offers a feeling of seclusion and discovery. The main characteristics are mixed rainforest, clear pools and towering cliff walls”. I agree with all of that, the water is crystal clear and the walls are startling red. It was just as lovely as we remembered, though there didn't seem to be quite as many ferns growing along the walls. The walk starts quite easy but progresses to clambering over boulders and back and forth across the river.Reached the halfway pool which was to be our turnaround point, the rest of the group not wanting to clamber though the cold pool and climb up a large boulder to reach the rest of the trail. Jack, Kate and I braved the sub zero waters (not really ;-), but it was bloody cold!), the rest piking out claiming sanity as their excuse! El Questro Gorge has a really long, fun creek crossing that is quite deep. We did the posing photo crossings and enjoyed every minute!

Dropping by the Station each evening and finding ice cold showers was a little tedious! How hard can it be to design and maintain a serious hot water system for a bunch of paying tourists?

Early next morning Jeff took off on a 2 hour station horse ride that he enjoyed immensely. He thought it was great value. They'd done a couple of river crossings, had wallabies explode from under the horse's feet as they suddenly realised that there were riders on them and walked amongst some lovely scenery. We turned up at around nine having booked Kate in for a kiddies ride, another winner as far as she was concerned. Kate was thrilled to find out that she could ride the horse that she had befriended, called Moonshine. They saddled him up and she got lead around the paddock, sitting up straight and tall with the biggest smile on her face. For the rest of the day everything was Moonshine this and Moonshine that.

We left Pat and Jeff looking around the township and went for another soak in Zebedee Springs. It was very crowded and everyone seemed to have worked out that the higher pools were warmer. Only stayed for an hour before heading back to camp for lunch. Then back to the township to pick up the batteries and electric motor for our 2pm self cruise down Chamberlain Gorge. Then had to drive all the way back past the campsites and down to the Gorge. We attached the motors to our two boats and putted off. They weren't fast but they were at least quiet. The gorge was very picturesque with the sun shining on the red cliff face and the water pretty smooth. Had the place to ourselves most of the way to the end where another small boat joined us, plus two escorted tour boats (listening to them for just the short time they were passing us was enough to reinforce that the self drive option was the best choice for us). Toddled back to the jetty just after four. We were meant to return the motors by 5pm but decided we'd just duck out to Branco's Lookout for a peep as we'd been told that the view was the best at El Questro. Passed a huge old boab called Durack Tree which had been carved in by the Duracks when they were exploring us this way. The track was a long, very rough rocky river crossing then a steep, twisty climb up to a lovely lookout. We got there just as the sun was setting and the view was beautiful. Couldn't stay long as we didn't relish going back in the dark, so took some photos and headed back down. Snapped photos of the boab and raced back to return the motor before they sent out a search party. Had showers (low pressure and variable heat yet again) then drove back to camp in the dark. Another lovely campfire, using the last of the big log we'd collected off the rocky riverbed. Anyone visiting El Questro should definitely place Branco’s Lookout on the agenda and time it for sunset – it is stunning and the four wheel driving will cause the blood pressure to rise as well as test the suspension! Jeff has standard shockies on the Hilux and the ground clearance is questionable, he made it OK but crunched and scraped in a few places! The Cruiser did it easy, no bangs, no scrapes and no damage…if only the engine was working properly….

Mike & Amanda
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