El Questro Wilderness Park – an outback gem
WET CLOTHED AND A little breathless, I plant a bare foot on a large, smooth boulder, simultaneously eyeing out a destination for my next step – in case the present rock happens to be slippery or loose, which they often are.
It’s not your usual style of bushwalking, but I do love to rock hop.
The quiet concentration required as you make your way between rocks of different shape, size and stability is almost meditative – and there’s kilometres of it out here, hidden beyond the dry savannah woodlands, red rock escarpments, curvaceous boab trees and spiky Spinifex grass that make up most of El Questro Wilderness Park, located in the remote north-east Kimberley, WA.
These concealed gorges – oases of ancient geological formations, towering palms and freshwater swimming holes – were, for me, the real drawcard of El Questro.
El Questro Wilderness Park
The privately-owned property, around 80 per cent of which is still used as a working cattle station, is located off the famous 4WD-only Gibb River Road, and with the asking price for accommodation at the opulent homestead around $2000 a night, it is often associated with a lavish outback experience.
However, camping is also available for a reasonable $18 per night in pleasant grounds on the banks of the Pentecost River.
Full facilities (showers, toilets, laundry) are included, and there is even a bar, restaurant and small store, meaning that you will need to head to one of the several lookouts in a 4WD or on foot to remind yourself that you really are in the middle of nowhere out here.
And then there are those gorges.
This may sound over the top, but I honestly believe that if you never experience one of these spectacular spots, or somewhere like them, your life will be the lesser for it.
My favourite was the park’s namesake, El Questro Gorge – partly because it was one of the most challenging to complete, and partly because the reward at the end was, I think, the best of all.
The El Questro Gorge track is around seven kilometres, return, of mostly rock hopping and boulder negotiation – allow about two hours one-way, excluding rests, swimming and photo opportunities.
About 1.3km along the way you reach what visitors dub ‘half-way pool’ and, due to the increased difficulty of the track past this point, it is where the walk ends for many visitors. Half-way pool is itself spectacular, but there is more to come if you’re up for it.
Depending on how you decide to continue, half-way pool is where you may wish to divest yourself of boots and (most) clothing.
These can then be carried above your head as you wade through crystal-clear chest-deep water, before climbing out by wedging yourself between a large boulder and the gorge wall in order to continue on.
There are a couple of other similarly tricky bits along the way – but nothing that a reasonably fit and experienced person shouldn’t be able to negotiate, and have lots of fun doing so.
This is ankle-roll territory, so tread carefully. Boots aren’t necessarily required for this type of terrain, however, depending on your preferences, a good pair of sandals or sandshoes that you’re happy to get wet should suffice.
Another two kays and you reach the gorge end – a dimly lit and narrow, yet very deep (at least three metre) pool, fed by a waterfall that was still gushing generously when I visited in early June.
El Questro Gorges
El Questro Gorge is just one daytrip of many throughout El Questro Wilderness Park – so you will want to book your stay for at least a week if you are to experience all that is on offer.
While all of the gorge tracks tout similar qualities – moderate to challenging hikes of varying distances culminating with breathtaking freshwater holes – all are also unique.
Emma Gorge pool is vast, with a hidden thermal spring and rumours of concealed aboriginal rock art just a short climb/scramble away, for those willing to search for it. I only found out about its existence after my visit – surely a valid reason to return?
Amalia Gorge, like El Questro, has an impressive half-way swimming spot, with a fun rock ledge for those brave enough to take the leap (always check depths before jumping), and a couple of moderately difficult sections to negotiate.
The Champagne Springs track begins along the banks of the Pentecost and increases in difficulty before reaching yet more pools and small thermal springs, while the challenging circuit track at Moonshine Gorge will fill yet another day.
If you want to rest your weary rock-hopping feet, Zebidee Springs are accessible by a short stroll along a sandy track through dense livistonia palms.
Open from 7am until midday (to cater for private tours in the afternoon), the hot springs are located in tiered pools at the base of a sheer cliff, providing an epic, beautiful view, as you lay your weary head and plan the following day’s adventure in this outback paradise.