Kimberley trip, July 2011 – Part 3 (Mitchell Plateau – Home Valley – El Questro – Kununurra)

Map below is from Outback Spirit Tours website. Here is the tour we took.
Map of Kimberley region

Photo albums start here.

Go to Part 2 of trip. Go to Part 4 of trip.

13 July. After breakfast, we headed south again over the bumpy road, stopping for morning tea at King Edward River and arriving at Drysdale River Station in time for lunch. Our driver Ian’s efforts to remind the staff that we were coming and wanted our meals ready when we got there paid off: we were greeted with their famous Kimberley Burgers, a monster of an Australian “burger with the lot”: a massive slab of mince topped with tomato, lettuce, caramelised onion, beetroot, pineapple, cheese, bacon and egg.

We rejoined the Gibb River Road and headed east. We made a short detour into EllenBrae Station for a comfort stop and a chance to buy cold drinks if we liked. This stop was strange and wonderful, especially the boab with a full set of plumbing including bath and shower. The pit toilet there was probably the most disgusting we have ever encountered. Words fail to describe it. We hope the campers had access to a better facility than the day visitors have.

We crossed the Durack River in mid-afternoon. Later, towards sunset, we had views of the Cockburn Ranges from a lookout overlooking Home Valley Station. This provided a great sunset experience. Various people appeared to be camping at the lookout, which did provide a fabulous view.

In addition, for those of us with Telstra NextG phones and devices, we could make calls and download email and news from the lookout. That was our first connection in about four days, and it was obviously a well-known and popular stop.

Home Valley Station, our overnight stop, is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation on behalf of the Balanggarra people of East Kimberley. It is a training centre for young indigenous students as well as catering for tourists. The station provided very comfortable and surprisingly modern rooms. Still running off a generator, but I doubt most people knew that.

Dinner at Dusty Bar and Grill, which offered (among other beverages) Matso’s brews. We both had the kangaroo entree, followed by a barramundi main course. Yum!

14 July. We had a leisurely buffet breakfast at 07:00. Five of our group had opted for a fishing tour and had departed rather early for a fish camp on the Pentecost River. The rest of us piled into two Land Rovers at 09:00 for a station tour. First off was a drive West past the lookout. We stopped so our driver John could collect some boab nuts. The flesh does indeed taste like polystyrene, just like Ian had said.

Off to the Bindalla Falls lookout area. This involved a relatively short walk over raw red rock to have a great view of cliffs down to the river. This was a very accessible chasm.

Next we headed across the station to the fish camp. This was well organised for campers. Our team there had a young aboriginal guide. The had managed to catch a variety of fish, including a stingray. They even had a small shark get away. The deeply sunburnt five seemed very pleased with themselves.

Back at Home Valley Station for assorted sandwiches for lunch. Next was a show of horsemanship by station pastoral manager, an old cowboy JR. I did not believe a 90 minutes demonstration of horse training could be interesting. By the time he was half way through, we were wanting to learn way more about how he trains horses. This was followed by a practical demonstration of the results. Very impressive.

We left around 15:00, crossed the Pentecost River, and arrived at Emma Gorge Resort (part of El Questro Station) around 16:00. Checkin was a bit delayed, as EQ needs to close reception when they get a busload in. No keys, as the tented cabins do not have locks. Our tent was at such a considerable distance that the EQ staff had our bags delivered before we arrived on foot.

Eric rushed off with the laundry and was first at the washing machines. As there were no dryers, he took the damp clothes back to the tent, where they dried well overnight, scattered through the bathroom.

We’ve stayed at Emma Gorge twice before, the second time in one of these new cabins. The food in the restaurant did not disappoint, being a buffet dinner (the only way to deal with several busloads of tourists), and their beer and wine list is good too.

15 July. Up before 05:45. Lots of birds chirping. This was after some wallabies lumbered through the brush. Buffet breakfast at 06:30, before setting off in the bus at 07:15 for our sightseeing in El Questro Wilderness Park. First stop was the El Questro township and homestead, which has facilities and a tourist shop. Sightseeing helicopter flights leave from there too.

We got to see the fancy El Questro homestead guesthouse from a distance, thanks to the floods knocking down most of the former vegetation screening. Cruise on the Chamberlain River, through 3km of embankments. We could not travel as far as previously, due to fallen rocks from the previous flood blocking part of the gorge. The archer fish in the water were very accurate at spitting water at our fingers and dangling objects such as cameras.

We returned to the El Questro township for a comfort break, then off to Zebedee Thermal Springs for a swim. The walk from the parking area is short, perhaps ten minutes. It is a very popular spot, so we had to climb a distance to find space in some of the thermal pools not already thoroughly filled with other people. Very enjoyable.

Lunch at Emma Gorge restaurant, then a chance to relax by the pool or visit Emma Gorge waterfall (terrain is difficult underfoot). Eric went on the walk; I didn’t. The waterfall and pool are a very pretty site. He was back in time to wash up well before the dinner buffet.

16 July. Breakfast at 06:30. Short distance on last of Gibb River Road, before reaching the bitumen. The Telstra phone system started working as we approached Wyndham at 08:00, so we all started downloading messages and data.

We visited a location we did not know, the 5 Rivers Lookout over Cambridge Gulf. That gave phenomenal views, and is a must see stop. Morning tea.

We got into Kununurra at 10:30 for the only shopping stop we would get on the trip. We didn’t need anything but one member of the party needed replacement boots, which she managed to find.

We left Kununurra at 11:25 and headed for the historic Argyle Station homestead, which was moved while the dam was being built. We intended to drive to the Lake Argyle dam wall for lunch. There is a pretty spot there. At 11:55 the front left tyre of the bus delaminated around the outside edge. No warning at all, and this was on good bitumen. Lots of damage to the plastic mudguard. One running light disappeared without a trace. After a quick inspection, Ian limped the bus a little further to the shade of a boab on flat land.

We all helped set up an early lunch while Ian tackled the massive tyre. Eventually three of the men helped him get it off the axle and put the spare on. Despite this delay, we had time for a look at the Argyle Station house, which is now a museum, stop at a lookout for views over Lake Argyle and the Ord River downstream, and still get to our Ord River cruise on time. Ian then drove the bus back to Kununurra and would attempt to find another tyre to use as a spare.

The dam is interesting, being a flexible clay core, with massive protective stonework on each side. If you looked at the footprint from above, it would be pretty much a 300 metre square, about 100 metres high. We saw a crocodile in the distance near the water outlets of the hydroelectric plant that powers the Argyle diamond mine (and also Kununurra and Wyndham, though the mine takes the majority of the power from the turbines).

Three hour cruise on the Ord River with Triple J tours, to Lake Kununurra, 60 km away. Expert commentary about Ord River and surrounds. The boat is flat bottomed, takes quite a few passengers, and is faster than we expected. We saw a few freshwater crocodiles, but they were pretty small.

Stopped for afternoon tea at a great little bush camp the TripleJ folks have along the river. Cleanest long drop loos I have ever encountered. They keep the camp in great shape.

The overflow creek was running fast, with water several metres high flowing out of the dam overflow. Lots of current there still, enough to raise the water level a half metre earlier in the season. Lots of great scenery. Out into the wider Diversion dam lake area right on cue for a typically rapid tropical sunset. The skipper also mentioned the pump house was now a restaurant. The boat dropped some passengers off at a caravan park, pulling in to the ground. The rest of us were met by our respective buses. We were staying at the Kununurra Country Club, where we have stayed before. Rather nice rooms.

At dinner we heard our driver’s tale about the spare tyre. He had phoned the company, who said there was indeed a spare kept in Kununurra for just this sort of situation, and they gave him the contact information for the person in whose custody the tyre had been kept. This person had apparently gone off for the weekend and was uncontactable (either by turning off his phone or simply by going fishing where the phone doesn’t work). His premises, not surprisingly, were behind a high, securely locked security fence. Other people said that he goes walkabout a lot, and no one knew when he would be back.

17 July. On our drive through town we stopped at Kellys Knob lookout for ten minutes of photography and a view of almost the entire town. Then a tour of Packsaddle Plains, part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. Lots of explanations of sandalwood, a 14 year investment involving not just Dragon Flower trees but a second different host tree for the parasitic sandalwood. We saw sunflowers, maize, sorghum, mangos, even some bananas. In the distance was a jabiru and a bustard. We drove by the airport, and the Diversion Dam. Visited Zebra Rock Gallery. We really enjoy this place. When we came through last year we bought some nice primordial rock carvings for our art niche. Luckily this time we refrained from big buys, and only got two slim vases, which fit in well with the others. Zebra Rock Gallery mailed them to us.