We had a slow, relaxing start for our first day of exploring El Questro Wilderness Park, which is one million acres of gorge country offerring fishing, thermal pools, cruises, horseback riding, hiking and helicopter flights (sort of resort/outback station). We are in a large, private bush camp on the Pentecost River about 5 k’s from the main camping area. Our site features a very large, lovely boab tree. A sign warns us against swimming here! We drove to El Questro Gorge as it was recommended as a good shady afternoon walk and not too long or too hard. Took 3 or 4 river crossings to get there. This is definately a 4 WD ONLY place. Things to do seem to involve difficult gorge walks or rough 4 WD tracks to lookouts. The gorge walk was only 2.6 k return but it took an hour each way as there was lots of scrambling over rocks and boulders and multiple creek crossings on stepping stones. It was a deep, narrow and lush gorge. We were glad we had our boots and poles but others were doing it in sandals and thongs. I had a nice swim in the pool at the end and Dick even soaked in the pool and got partly wet.
An early start so we could get to Zebedee Springs early – they open at 7am and close to the public at 12PM. We were there just before 8:30, which worked out well as lots were leaving then. This is a series of rocky thermal pools in an area dense with Livistona Palms (only found here and in the Bungles). It was a lovely natural oasis and we found our own private little pool at the top section. As we were enjoying a lovely soak, our Swiss neighbors from the Bungles appeared so we had a good catch up with them sitting in our own pool in the middle of a beautiful area of palms, nice rocks and sheer red cliffs. We spent nearly two hours sitting in the warm thermal pools, before heading to the main station township for a nice lunch. For afternoon excitement we drove the 4 WD track to Branco’s lookout. The track started with a long & extremely rocky river crossing (took 8 minutes as I videoed it) followed by narrow, steep and rocky tracks to the lookout. Extensive views of the property and the Pentecost River awaited us, and at about 100 meters up we could still see a 3 meter croc in the river below. We finished the afternoon having drinks with our Swiss friends who were impressed with our private camp and large boab.
For our third day at El Questro we spent the morning on chores and did the Moonshine Gorge walk in the afternoon. Luckily the weather had cooled down to 29 degrees C and we had a slight breeze. The walk was 5 k’s, reasonably difficult as we walked on rocks or boulders 80% of the time and it took us 3 hours. The gorge was lush and beautiful with lots of palms, places to swim, multiple river crossings and more lovely red cliffs. There was a beautiful pool at the end so I had a swim and Dick had a sit in the water. We were both tired after the walk. The walking here and the 4 wheel driving share a lot – scrambling over rocks, always needing to watch where you put your feet or your wheels, which means both are quite difficult and take lots of concentration.
Emma Gorge is a separate part of El Questro and we did the 3.2k return walk to Emma Gorge after leaving our lovely private camp at El Questro. The walk was challenging with lots of rock scrambling and large boulders to navigate, but the pool and waterfall at the end were worth it. Dick had his first swim of the trip in Emma Gorge and for me the swim marked seven days of swimming in a row. We had a long chat with a couple from the central coast at the gorge so it ended up being a long walk. Then we treated ourselves to lunch (again) before heading down the Gibb River Road. El Questro marks the start or end of the Gibb River Road. We are spending the night at a free roadside camp with amazing views, lovely sunset on the ranges and Telstra/internet coverage (so I could talk to Amy and Helen and do emails) – what more could we want!
We had no preconceptions of, or knowledge about, this part of the world and were pleasantly surprised by our time in Kununurra, Lake Argyle and Wyndham. In Kununurra we stayed in Kimberleyland CP(Caravan Park) since two lots of friends had stayed there. Caught up with errands (laundry and groceries) and also with eating out (a couple of lunches, a dinner and a special, extra nice meal at The Pumphouse restaurant). Did some sightseeing (Sandalwood factory and The Hoochery-a rum distillery) but the highlight was the half day Triple J Tour on the Ord River (also known as Lake Kununurra in this section of river). We cruised 55k’s down to the dam wall at Lake Argyle and then 55 k’s back in a high powered, open deck catamaran. The scenery was really good, went up some creeks, saw quite a few freshwater crocodiles and lots of bird life and some short-earred rock wallabies. Learned a lot about the history of the area, the dam construction, the irrigation system and the range of crops that have been tried in the irrigated area over the years and finished up viewing the sunset on the lake.
The next day we drove to Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest man-made lake which was created in 1971. There we did a ‘Best of Lake Argyle’ half day cruise and that was another great trip which gave us some sense of the size of the lake (70k in length and 45k across) which is currently about the size of 21 Sydney harbors and has hundreds of islands in it. Our guide was excellant and we saw lots of the animals living on some of those islands including short eared rock wallabies, walleroos, cattle, crocodiles and a myriad of bird life. We stopped on Remote Island to get our own piece of zebra rock and some had a swim in the lake accompanied by a large freshwater croc. There are 25,000 crocs in the lake. All enjoyed a magic sunset on the red rocks overlooking the lake. This guide also relayed the history of the region and the lake/dams/ construction/irrigation system/ agriculture. For dinner I had fish from Lake Argyle-Silver Cobbler (formerly known as Catfish) in the beer garden of the CP.
We enjoyed our time in that CP as they had an infinity pool which I swam in twice and we met a few people to visit with while we were there, including our neighbors who were semi-permanent residents there. She was a hairdresser and when I saw her sign I booked Dick in for a haircut. After I saw that she did a good job on him, I got her to cut mine as well. Her husband spent time with us telling us about good places to camp in WA and SA so I took lots of notes. We also visited the Durack Museum which was the original homestead moved and rebuilt after the land was flooded by the formation of Lake Argyle. All in all we learned a lot about this interesting part of Australia.
Then we drove to Wyndham via the old road so we tackled ‘The Ivanhoe Crossing’, a concrete causeway covered by a steady flow of water from the Ord River which is precisely regulated by the dam system and takes excess water from the dams to the ocean. It is several hundred meters long and has lots of water rushing over the full length so appears challenging to drive, but Dick drove through confidently and without incident. We continued along the gravel road to Parry’s Creek Farm CP and the next day we visited Parry’s Lagoon Nature Reserve which has a boardwalk and a shaded bird hide to view the myriad of birds and some crocodiles in the lily pad covered lagoon. I was pleased to see a rainbow bea-eater, because of its pretty colors, plus tons of other water birds. Lots of boabs in this area. We checked out Wyndham and the Five Rivers Lookout but as the area where the rivers join Cambridge Gulf is so large, its hard to see it all clearly. The highlight of the day for me was a swim in The Grotto, which is a natural amphitheatre and pool accessed by 140 man-made steps down to the grotto. Its been 36 degrees for the last few days so the swim was welcome. I drove to El Questro so had my turn at 4 wheel driving including 3 quite large water crossings. On Day 60 of our adventure we are finally on the Gibb River Road!