This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2007 Travels August 16(2)


After a rather late lunch and a bit of pottering about, we drove off to go to the jetty from where the Chamberlain Gorge boat trip would depart at 3pm.

El Questro is a working cattle station of some three quarters of a million acres. Back in the early 90’s it was bought, as a very run down and uneconomic cattle operation, by a young couple from Melbourne. They began to develop tourist facilities – initially the Village and ¬†campground and a very up-market house. This was built beside the Chamberlain River, a branch of the Pentecost, and partly cantilevered out over it. The cost to stay there – with all services – was an eye watering amount, and some very prominent people have availed themselves of its privacy and uniqueness.

ElQ was sold to a large scale tourism operator – GPT – in 2005. It had come a long way in just the 16 years since inception to now. Some visitors make the criticism that it is too “commercial”, but my own view is that there is a place in the Kimberley – and similar environments – for a range of visitor offerings.

The drive to the boat jetty took us near the big house, but it was tucked away in its privacy down its No Access track.

The boat was quite large, flat bottomed, with a canopy roof for shade. We only puttered along, with the driver doing a commentary most of the way. We were, as the name indicated, on the Chamberlain River, which joined the Pentecost just downstream from the jetty, past the big house.

Chamberlain Gorge ahead

At one point a group of archer fish came to the boat – obviously used to doing so, and there were some large catfish amongst them too.

The waterhole in the river into the Chamberlain Gorge, is only about 3kms long.

The later afternoon light showed off the Gorge at its best

Close to the Gorge end, where the river clearly was becoming more shallow, the boat pulled into the side and we were able to disembark onto a large rock platform at the cliff base.

End of the waterhole in the Gorge

Here, the ripple rock formations were evidence of the sedimentary nature of the rock and its  origins under lakes or shallow seas.

Sedimentary ripple rock

I really liked that we had been able to get out and do a walk around for about 15 minutes here.

Rock shelf where we could walk around

On the return journey, we were provided with a glass of bubbly and platters of fresh fruits were passed around. Very nice.

The trip took about two and a half hours, It was well worth doing and value for the $40 each that it cost. The commentary was excellent and the scenery wonderful. It was evident that the Gorge continued much further than was navigable. According to the property map, it was possible to access places further up, via the 4WD Explosion Track.

Chamberlain Gorge continued well beyond the end of the waterhole….

Although it was getting late and the light was fading a bit, we drove up to Branco’s Lookout.

This involved crossing the Pentecost – or one of its channels – then quite a steep little climb up a 4WD track to the lookout point. I went with M, so son could travel with John, who thought he might be able to impart some 4WD techniques to the lad.

The views from the top were worth the effort to get up there.

Branco’s Lookout
Continuation to left from previous pic, showing the rugged range country of ElQ

We could, in the distance, see the big house, on a bend in the river.

Using zoom lens, the big house by the river

After we got back to camp, son went off to the Village, to make phone calls.

It was our last night here. Son had to leave tomorrow, to do the drive back to Darwin, then the flight to Melbourne, to be back at work on Monday. I would not have minded staying on here for another couple of days, to see a few more of the sights of the place, and do more walking, but John really wanted the comforts of the van again – proper bed, and his ever-present TV! M decided she would stay here longer, though.

It was our last night’s campfire. Just before tea I discovered, to my horror, that the old basket that had travelled with us since 1997, on the back seat of Truck, usually holding our thermos and lunch making needs, was borer or bug infested. It was absolutely riddled with little holes in the cane. It was some little piles of sawdust that alerted me to it, when I’d moved the basket, so the bugs were obviously active. It had a ceremonial cremation on the campfire.

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2007 Travels August 16


John was up at a reasonable time, so we all got a good start to go and do the walk to Amalia Gorge and Falls.

We had to drive back through the ford to the parking point about 7kms from the Village.

It was a really scenic and interesting walk of 3.4kms return. The printed description warned that it was of moderate difficulty, for fit people who did not get vertigo!

One certainly did need to be sure footed to tackle this track! This was obvious from the outset, when the track followed a rocky creek bed.

Rocky going underfoot

We could see high cliffs and hillsides ahead of us.

The track crossed the creek a few times.

Creek crossing here – wet feet unavoidable

 The creek was flowing. In places it widened into lovely small pools which reflected the gorge walls and surrounds. As was usual up north, there were paperbarks growing along the creek.

Reflections in the clear water

Soon, the valley walls closed in and we were into the Gorge.

There were sections where the Gorge was narrow, the creek was deeper, and we had to make our way over water smoothed rock slabs.

The way ahead – over the rock sheets

In other places we were almost rock climbing, rather than walking. It was rather slow going.

There were a couple of places that were a bit squeezy, and one manoeuvre around an overhang above the creek that was not at all pleasant.

Part way round a squeezy point…..

After quite a lot of this clambering and scrambling, we came to the 32 metre high Amalia Falls, with its large plunge pool below.

Amalia Falls

This end part of the Gorge was well shaded, cool, tranquil.

The plunge pool had vegetation growing around, wherever it could find a spot to put down roots.

Tree roots using cracks in the rock wall

There was only a steady trickle of water coming over the Falls. Like so many of these that we had seen through the Kimberley, in the Wet season, it would be really spectacular. Not that one would be able to walk in here then, to view it. The smoothed rocks that we’d encountered on the way in were testament to large flows in the creek, at times.

M and K went swimming in the plunge pool. It would have been a good 75 metres across, from where the track arrived, to the ledges at the base of the Falls.

They said the water was very cold.

I wandered about, taking photos and finding things of interest growing around the pool, and just sitting resting and enjoying the place. It had been well worth the effort to get here.

The walk back was no easier, but at least we knew what was coming. As is so often the case, this made the return walk seem shorter.

The trickiest part of the walk

I noticed vistas and details not seen on the way in.

Heading back out of the Gorge

The Amalia Gorge walk was listed as 3.7kms, return. In some ways it seemed longer because of the nature of the trail.

Track skirted pool and went through the gap….

However, it had been an excellent walk that we all thoroughly enjoyed. M and K said it was a totally different experience to the Champagne Springs walk they had done yesterday and, they thought, more enjoyable.

On the drive back to camp, called in at the Village and bought cans of cold drinks.

We had already booked ourselves onto a boat trip this afternoon, so it was lunch at camp and go again. After a somewhat leisurely start to the time here, we were now intent on packing experiences into today.

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2007 Travels August 15


Last night, we had all planned to do the Champagne Springs walk this morning, before it got too hot. However, John did not wake up in time – he had a real sleep in – so son and M went off without us.

ElQ locations – from map supplied when we booked in

In the late morning, when John was eventually ready, he and I went up to the Village. We browsed in the souvenir shop there, looked at the work done by an artist in residence they had, and had an ice cream. I bought an Australian fauna colouring book for grand daughter.

Son and M came back from their walk while we were there, saw our Truck and stopped off too. They had enjoyed the Chanpagne Springs walk – bit of a warm up for a harder one tomorrow.

We sat and people watched for a while. It was a really pleasant atmosphere there, in the shady green, so much of a contrast to some other places we had been.

The very pleasant Happy Hour venue at the Village

The two hire motorhomes must have gone out this morning to do some sight seeing, because they came back, through the ford, while we were there. When they pulled up, one had a fair sized rock wedged between his dual back wheels, and was trying to work out what to do about it. Noted by son!

After lunch at camp, John and son drove into Kununurra. Son had to make contact with work, and was also intending to follow up on the two motorhomes. I think John appreciated being a passenger and getting the chance to look around that, as driver, he did not normally get.

Son reported to us that the motorhomes had been hired in Perth, for 21 days and were to be dropped off in Alice Springs. Surprise, guys!

ElQ camp

We had Happy Hour at the Village again, followed by time around the camp fire.

Late afternoon reflections in the river by camp

Son had a toothache and was a bit down because of it.

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2007 Travels August 14


After breakfast, son had a last – unsuccessful – fishing session while John and I did a slow pack up. We then headed off to destination El Questro, with son taking the lead and, after the Pentecost crossing, disappearing into the distance.

Pentecost River and Cockburn Range

Between the Pentecost and the turn off to El Questro, the old and very bald tyre on the driver’s rear side, that had been our spare before the most recent wheel change, went flat. It had done a heroic job and, at least, it died in service. John had not expected it to last nearly as long as it had.

So, we did a wheel change. We were already mobile again by the time son came back, from ahead of us, to see where we had gotten to.

The track into El Questro was in quite good condition. The quite long ford of the Pentecost, just before the entrance gate, was about 40cm deep, at its deepest point.

Pentecost ford at El Questro

ElQ was a very groomed and smooth operation now, and very much on the beaten tourist trail, with day tripper groups being brought by mini bus out from Kununurra.

M had gotten the Kingfisher private site, number 11 – up high, looking down on the river, with good room for all three of our rigs. It was an alright site, but with not much shade. This was a contrast to the site we’d had on our last visit here, which was right down at the river level, in a grove of trees and pandanus. But I thought that, given the popularity of the place, we had been lucky to get one of these sites at all.

Looking into our camp clearing

There was a pit toilet within walking distance, too, which we shared with the next camp site, which we could not see or hear from ours.

The walking track to the toilet

ElQ was not cheap: $15 each for entry to the place, and $15 a head, per night, to camp. However, given the quality of their facilities, the infrastructure they have to maintain, especially the internal tracks, I thought those fees were fair enough. They did provide a variety of activities for guests to do, too.

We set up camp, had lunch, explored around the immediate camp area.

Two aspects of the river beside our camp area

Took our shower gear and drove back to the Village, to have showers. There was a row of little single person ensuite style bathroom units – modern, clean, with hot water! I couldn’t remember the last time I had a warm water shower – long time ago!

Row of little bathroom units at the ElQ Village

Then we found ourselves a table on the groomed lawn area in front of the bar and reception area. This was really pleasant, under shady trees.

Happy Hour was from 5-6pm, when beers cost $3.50 each. We indulged. It was interesting, to sit and watch the other tourists.

I think son was quite taken with ElQ.

While we were at Happy Hour, two big hire motorhomes arrived. By the terms of their contracts, son said, they were not supposed to travel off the bitumen. However, from overhearing them talk – the men very boastfully – they had actually driven the length of the Gibb River Road, from the western end, regardless, and were quite proud of themselves. The water crossings of the Pentecost on the Gibb, and on the way in here, would have been well higher than their underfloor areas. The occupants had South African accents.

Son, who held a senior role with that hire company, was less than impressed. He noted their ID numbers, in order to track where they would be returned to, and he intended to alert the manager there about where the vehicles had been. They would not be getting their quite substantial deposits back, and those vehicles would be gone over very carefully for damage.

You never know who will be watching you!

Late afternoon light on the range by our camp

We had quite a late tea. Time around the campfire again. M told us all about her trip into Emma Gorge, on her way here the other day, and the walk she did there. That is another part of El Questro that is more easily accessed by day trippers from Kununurra. She said it was too busy for her real liking. She had intended to visit Zebedee Springs too, but discovered that access was restricted to mornings only – the afternoons were reserved for tour group access.

Route from Home Valley Station to El Questro (on Zoom image)

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2007 Travels August 13


After a fairly early breakfast, I drove with son to Kununurra. He wanted to go for a drive and we couldn’t explore the local property. He also needed to be able to check his emails for work related stuff.

M left Home Valley at the same time as we did. She was going ahead of us, by a day, to El Questro. She had lots she wanted to do there; John and I had previously stayed there and there were some parts we didn’t particularly want to see again. We were hoping she would be able to bag one of their riverside “private” camp spots for all of us, when we joined her tomorrow.

We stopped at the Pentecost, to take photos at the ford, of the vehicles crossing – which had to go back and forth in order to be photographed. It was a bit old hat to me, but a great new experience for the other two.

Pentecost River crossing, on the Gibb River Road

In Kununurra, I directed us to the caravan park, so I could check on the van, while son caught up on his emails. I got a gas bottle filled. And luxury – I bought a newspaper! Yes, the world was still out there!

We did a quick sightsee around town: the spillway, the old Ivanhoe Crossing, the zebra rock gallery and the Argyle diamond shop. It was a pity the lad didn’t have more time than just the one week off work.

As we set off out of town to go back, there was much black smoke coming from the caravan park direction. The area behind the caravan park, close to the van storage area, was on fire!

We went back, in a hurry.

The park staff said that some of the locals had started a fire in the long grass outside the park, but the van would be safe.

To be on the safer side, I went down there and removed the lock out of the Treg coupling, to make it a bit easier, in case the van did have to be moved.

We left when the Fire Brigade was there and things seemed to be under control.

Home Valley Station bush camping area (Zoom)

When we arrived back at camp, son went off to the ramp to fish some more. John and I did some preliminary packing up.

The evening around the camp fire seemed rather strange without M there.