01/08/2014 - 15:11

Worth the ‘investment’

01/08/2014 - 15:11

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Driving into El Questro Wilderness Resort provided a welcome change of scenery after a week on the dusty Gibb River Road.

Worth the ‘investment’
Mark Beyer is on the road.

Driving into El Questro Wilderness Resort provided a welcome change of scenery after a week on the dusty Gibb River Road.

The first thing I noticed was the large expanse of green grass and the shady trees. The main part of the resort is neat and orderly, and very family friendly – it reminded me of caravan parks at Busselton.

Despite some graffiti on the ‘Welcome’ sign (by an obviously un-happy camper) suggesting the resort is overpriced, we found El Questro to be the kind of place you can spend as little, or as much, money as you like. For most travellers it’s a nice spot to hire a camping site for two or three nights. From the campsite it’s a short walk to the Pentecost River for a swim, or a quick drive to multiple nearby attractions, including gorges, hot springs, swimming holes and lookouts.

If you have your own transport, as most visitors do, you can do all of these things for free. They range from very easy to very challenging.

If you want to upgrade your accommodation, there are several options that are increasingly pricey, from ‘deluxe’ tents and riverside chalets though to the exclusive Homestead – this is the clifftop residence that features in most of the promotional brochures, with daily room rates up to $2,800 for a twin share.

There are plenty of other ways to spend lots of money at El Questro, if you choose – river cruises, horse riding, shopping at the small and very expensive general store, dining at the all-day restaurant, helicopter rides and heli fishing, guided 4WD tours, even a champagne breakfast at Branco’s Lookout or high tea at Emma Gorge.

But you can also have lots of fun at El Questro without paying for any of these things. Our personal favourites were hiking to the top of El Questro Gorge and watching the sunset at Branco’s Lookout. Both were physically challenging, which made the experience all the more satisfying.

El Questro Gorge is narrow and tall, with beautiful palms, lush ferns and crystal-clear pools along most of its length.

Like most of the gorges in the Kimberley, it’s designed for rock wallabies, not humans. Some people stop halfway, deterred by the occasionally precarious climb, which I must admit got my heart rate up at times. The intrepid are rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole at the top.

One very determined family we saw made it to the top with four young children, including the dad carrying the youngest in a pouch. Good on them.

Branco’s Lookout is a very different proposition. To get there, you need to navigate your 4WD across two long and extremely rough river crossings and then ascend a steep road to the summit. In this case, the reward for the hardy is a stunning view across the Pentecost and Chamberlain rivers towards the Cockburn Ranges. It would be impressive at any time, but was particularly attractive at sunset.

I met some travellers at El Questro who missed out because they weren’t prepared for the conditions. For instance, to reach the start of El Questro gorge you need to drive through a fairly deep river; and to enjoy the warm waters at Zebedee Springs you need to arrive early and beat the tour groups. If you can’t organise these things yourself, then you probably need to open your wallet and get somebody else to do the organising for you.

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