Tuesday, 12 September 2017

El Questro Station Bungalows: The best kept secret in the Kimberley.

El Questro sign
The Kimberley in Western Australia is one of the last true wilderness areas of the world. I wanted to go there forever. David was not so keen! Being a wilderness, the Kimberley is a little short on reasonably priced, mid-range to luxury accommodation - the kind we usually stay at.

There are generally three types of travellers in the Kimberley. Those who pay a small fortune (think upwards of $2000 per night) to stay at an all inclusive resort, those who join a tour (all the tours involve camping) or those who have kitted themselves out with monstrous four-wheel drives. This last group sometimes camps and sometimes travels with an equally monstrous caravan. They have a rudimentary knowledge of how to fix things if they break down. They know how to pitch a tent, unhitch a caravan and cook on a campfire. They can ford rivers and 'lock diffs' (Does anyone know what that actually means?). None of these things are in our skill sets - and - David doesn't camp, full stop, end of story. He refuses even to contemplate the idea.


Cue El Questro Station! El Questro Station is the poor (for 'poor' read 'affordable') relation to El Questro Homestead. El Questro Station campground is where the four-wheel drivers stay at the beginning, or end, of the famous Gibb River Road. There are literally hundreds of them there on any given day.

However the Station also has bungalows - beautifully located motel-style rooms with ensuites and private balconies overlooking the river bank. At around $400 per night, they aren't cheap and there are only a few of them, so you have to book before you are born, but  they are without a doubt the best kept secret in the Kimberley and make the perfect base for exploring the sights of El Questro Wilderness Park.

El Questro Station
 El Questro Station


El Questro Station - 


Where is it?


El Questro Station is an hour and a half from Kununurra by road. Kununurra, a town of less than 6,000 people, is in the middle of nowhere - but you can fly there from Darwin and Broome. I have a soft spot for outback towns and Kununurra is one of the best. Take my advice and spend a few days exploring the towns and its surrounds before you head off to El Questro.

How do you get to there?

  • Hire a high clearance 4 wheel-drive. You cannot reach El Questro Station in a standard 2 wheel-drive car - unless you are lucky, or foolish, or both.
Leave Kununurra heading toward Wyndham. Take the Great Northern Highway and then the Gibb River Road turn-off. Don't panic, the Gibb River Road is sealed until just before the El Questro turn-off.  
After about 35 km you will see the turn-off to El Questro. There is a large sign. You can't miss it. The Station is another 16 km along a corrugated dirt road with a couple of small river crossings. Leave yourself plenty of time because it is slow going.
Just before you reach El Questro Station you will come to the Pentecost River. If you ignored my advice to hire a 4WD, you are allowed to panic here! I panicked and we had a 4WD. The river is wide with a rocky bottom but it wasn't more than a half a metre deep when we crossed. 
Engage the 4WD (don't bother about locking the diffs because I still don't know what that means) and enter the water slowly and steadily. Pray - if you think that might help. For what it is worth we crossed the Pentecost six times during our stay and didn't get stuck once. I would like to say that it got easier and less frightening with practice - but it didn't.

Pentecost River crossing
Us about to cross the Pentecost River. You can see the car bonnet in the bottom of the photo. 

  • Or, you can always book a road transfer. El Questro has twice daily road transfers from Kununurra. That way you get all the fun of the river crossings and none of the stress.
  • Fly in. Small planes and helicopters fly in regularly from Kununurra.

What are the bungalows like?
  • The bungalows are basic motel type rooms. Don't expect the kind of luxury you would get at the Homestead. They are a reasonable size, have a comfortable bed, clean linen and towels and their own bathrooms. They are serviced daily. 
El Questro Station Bungalow
Our bungalow - not luxury but nicer than it appears in this photo.
  • The riverside bungalows (E/F, G/H, I/J & K/L) are much nicer than the non-riverside ones. With private decks overlooking the water they are a great place to relax after a hard day's sightseeing. They are also far enough from the sometimes noisy bar area.
El Questro Station Bungalow deck
Our private deck overlooking the river.

Where can you eat?


The bungalows have no cooking facilites - not even a microwave - so you have to eat out. This means either the restaurant or the bar. We opted for the restaurant. It was more expensive than the bar but the atmosphere was lovely and the food was great.

El Questro Station restaurant
The restaurant.


Do you need a car when you get there?

No. If you have a serious 4WD there are tracks to explore. We didn't. We had a Mitsubishi Outlander which looked like a baby next to all the other vehicles. It got us to the station but was too small to handle the tracks once we were there. It wasn't a problem though. Many of the things we wanted to see were on the road back towards Kununurra and there were tours for those things we couldn't reach on our own.

The road to El Questro Station
An ordinary two-wheel drive would struggle at El Questro.

What is there to do? 


The station is within easy reach of several stunning gorges. We didn't visit all the gorges, notably missing El Questro Gorge and Explosion Hole. This is a list of those we visited and one we missed.
Amalia Gorge
Amalia Gorge

  • Emma Gorge  is about halfway between the station and Kununurra. If you are coming from Kununurra it is worth calling in on the way. From the station it is an hour's drive.The hike from the car park takes about an hour. For a review of Emma Gorge read my blog post - Emma Gorge: There is something you need to know.
Emma Gorge
Emma Gorge

Zebedee Springs
Zebedee Springs

Chamberlain Gorge
Chamberlain Gorge

  • Partly because of its great name and partly because it was recommended to us by several people, we were very keen to see Explosion Hole. Small groups are taken to the hole in station vehicles and then join a boat tour - but it was not to be. Both the tour vehicle and the back-up vehicle had broken down on the day of our tour and we had no alternative but to join the much more sedate Chamberlain Gorge tour instead.  For the full, sad story read my post - Zebedee Springs and Chamberlain Gorge: Disappointment in the Kimberley.

On our last day at the station, we lashed out on a helicopter flightseeing tour. David nearly had heart failure when he saw the chopper had no doors. I have a much better head for heights than him but the safety briefing was enough to make anyone nervous. The pilot confiscated my hat (there was no way it was going to stay on), warned me to keep a firm hold of my camera with the strap secured around my wrist, and said something about the possibility of losing limbs if any part of our arms strayed outside the cabin. 'Don't lean out to take a photo', seemed to be quite important. The pilot was young, pleasant and cheery, delivering his warnings in a 'what could possibly go wrong kind of way'.

Helicopter at El Questro Station
The pilot filling the tank before our flight. Notice the absence of doors.


I admit I was nervous about the chance my seat belt might come undone mid-flight. As it turned out it was the centrifugal force which kept us firmly in our seats, rather than the belt. Even when the helicopter banked and I was on the side staring stright down into the abyss I doubt I would have fallen out. I wasn't about to test it though. There was no way my fingers were going anywhere near that seat belt buckle.

El Questro from above
The view from above.

David spent the whole flight terrified. I loved it. He swore never to do anything like it again.



Note: This is not a sponsored post. David and I paid the full cost of our stay at El Questro Station.

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32 comments:

  1. The area looks stunning. You really have to be the outdoors type to do it affordably. I'm not up much for camping so I would have to do it your way.

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    1. You and David would make a good pair. Although to be fair I might think I could camp but I probably wouldn't last long under canvas.

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  2. I so wanted to explore the remote parts of Australia more, but I just didn't have time. More and more are indicating that I might have to go back one day :)

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    1. It isn't easy visiting the more remote areas but so worth the effort.

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  3. This looks like the most amazing spot and as I am not a happy camper or a millionaire, the perfect way to make a visit happen. #farawayfiles

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    1. You have to book early. We booked about a year in advance.

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  4. I worked in a cafe in Kununurra for 3 months (20 years ago) and remember El Questro having a reputation as an amazing place to visit - that we obviously couldn't afford at the time! We still loved the area though, there was more than enough to see on our days off #farawayfiles

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    1. I loved Kununurra - to visit- not sure how I would go living there!

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  5. This is high on my list of places to go!

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    1. I hope you get there one day, I loved it.

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  6. Looks like such a fun adventure to get to this hidden gem! I definitely wouldn't be foolish enough to drive a standard car to get there! Stumbled & Pinned #wkendtravelinspiration
    (www.caliglobetrotter.com)

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    1. I have heard that some people make it through in two wheel drives but I wouldn't recommend it and it probably depends a bit on the time of year and how much water is in the rivers.

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  7. Looks extraordinary. This one is extremely high on my list.

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    1. I hope you get there. It is a great destination.

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  8. I am not sure if I would be like David on that helicopter flight. I have never done one. I am assuming the fear will dissipate once you see the scenery. Question, how you were able to book the accommodation. You said you have to book before being born. Sounds similar to the stuff we have here in the National Parks (and other parks). #wkendtravelinspiration

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    1. David booked about a year in advance. Perhaps I exaggerated a little - lol!

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  9. I spend a quiet time in Australia, but mostly on East Coast or in central parts, but West Australia is still missing on my "Done list". Kimberley is really one of the main reason why I would go there... Your pictures are awesome and I am putting this on my bucket list. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Many people miss the Kimberley when they come to Australia. It is a shame because it is a stunning place. It requires a fair bit of planning though. Next time you are in Oz I hope you get to Western Australia.

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  10. Hi Lyn,

    Wow, no doors on the chopper.

    I've have been terrified on the ride too. But my wife Kelli probably would not have batted an eyelash, as she did skydiving once, jumping out of a plane thousands of feet up in the atmosphere.

    This looks like one of the world's last wilderness-style, true, pristine, wild places. I enjoy visiting such spots for at least a week or 2 before I need my creature comforts.....because I have to get away from the creatures in these outback spots, that cause quite a bit of discomfort, really.

    How about that mud pit too? Need 4 wheelers or nothing in this region, and even 4 wheel drive numbers do not guarantee you're cruising around thru the entire region because even these beast cars either break down or reach truly inaccessible areas.

    Ryan

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    1. You are right about breaking down. The dirt roads David and I travelled on had enough other people around that we would not have been in danger but there are some roads in the remote parts of Western Australia that you could be in serious trouble if you broke down. A friend of mine did the Canning Stock Route (think middle of the desert) a few years ago in a convoy with another vehicle. They rented a satellite phone just in case. Fortunately they didn't need it.

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  11. This looks like an amazing experience! I'm not sure I'll ever make it there so I'm happy to go along with you in your post. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Keep watching then. I have a few more Kimberley posts to go.

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  12. Hi Lyn. This looks like quite the adventure! I can certainly relate to your comments about crossing the Pentecost River, as we had a smilier experience in the DR, and I was indeed praying that we would make it across! I love helicopter rides, but have never been in one without doors!

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    1. You should try a helicopter without doors. It was a real blast. We went up in an R44 which is extremely common for sightseeing and a pilot once told me that the doors are very easy to remove for people who want the full 'wind in you hair' experience.

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  13. Wow, visiting Kimberley seems like the kind of adventure that my husband would love to have. I, on the other hand, am way more cautious. I would most likely be part of the second group if I were to visit this place. I can't afford $2,000/night, but I don't like to be "on-my-own" if something goes wrong either. You and your husband seem to make a good team when it comes to taking risks. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. We didn't take much of a risk. One day we might even go back and do the $2000 a night thing - but only for a couple of days - lol!

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  14. What a great spot to get in touch with nature. I love the deck and would want to be riverside as well to enjoy the views. Helicopter sightseeing tours our one of our favorites! Thank you for introducing us to this fabulous place.

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    1. If you like helicopter tours you should think about doing one in Sydney one day. Hovering over Sydney Harbour is one of the truly memorable experiences I have ever had.

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  15. I loved your descriptions and I felt like I was there in the helicopter. I've no doubt I would be firmly in David's camp lol. We'd be the ones with the 4WD and caravan in tow!

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    1. 'Doing' the Gibb River Road in a 4WD, with or without a caravan, is something of a right of passage in Australia for retirees and Baby Boomers. Staying at El Questro Station is as close as I will probably ever come but it did give me a taste of what it would be like.

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  16. So inspiring Lyn - I'd love to explore this part of Australia but dont really like the thought of roughing it so the El Questro station would be a great option if the budget couldnt stretch to the Homestead. I've done a helicopter ride in NZ and was terrified too! Worth it though. Thanks for sharing on#FarawayFiles

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    1. I always think I would be okay roughing it but when it comes to the crunch I'm not very good at it.

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