Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gibb River Road – Part One – El Questro

We paid a short visit to Wyndham to see the Five Rivers Lookout that we learned about from fellow travellers, before taking a few shots beside the Big Croc. Then a quick drive to see the prison boab tree about 20km out of town before hitting the Gibb River Road and El Questro station.
Some things that surprised me:
The cheap diesel station in Kununurra was $1.75 per litre, in Wyndham it was $1.62.
We were warned that El Questro would be too expensive, by a few people. At $18.00 per night per adult (kids are free), it was about the same as any other campsite. BUT you also have to buy an El Questro Wilderness Park pass (also $18 per adult). So if two adults stay one night, it will cost $72, which is a bit expensive. Subsequent nights were still only $18 per person, and you had plenty of time to look around. One person told us to buy the El Questro pass, stay at Home Valley station just down the road, and then visit the El Questro sites at your leisure. The camping is about the same price, but you have to drive further every day, so I didn’t see the point. El Questro also has drinking water and fuel available (at $1.95 per litre) so we left with full tanks on both counts.
end of rant!
We asked for one of the private campsites along the Pentecost river (at no extra charge), and were rewarded with an excellent spot, with no-one around. At night you could vaguely make out the other campsites lights off in the distance, but we didn’t see another soul in our camp while we were there.
We were able to watch the kangaroos and cockatoos drinking in the river every day, and enjoyed the peaceful tranquillity of water running through the nearby rapids. But there is so much to explore, it was time to look around!
Zebedee Hot Springs
Knowing that the hot springs were very popular, and that they close at midday, we set out early to enjoy them for as long as possible. The water was very refreshing at 28 deg, and crystal clear. It emanates from holes in the fault line that runs along the bottom of a small gorge and finds its way down the hillside through several small pools that someone has done a little dam work to make deeper. Although the water is initially warm, once your body adjusts to the temperature, you feel like it would be nice if a bit warmer, so you find yourself progressing further and further up the hill in search of the warmest pools.
We enjoyed Zebedee so much, we returned even earlier the next morning to indulge again.
El Questro Gorge
There are a few gorges to explore in the park, but El Questro gorge is one of the best known and most visited. On the drive into the gorge we encountered a sign advising that only high clearance four wheel drives were to venture further. Around the corner we discovered the reason for the warning. “Moonshine Creek” is one of the major waterways in El Questro station, and this road crosses the creek in a very unglamorous fashion. The entry point has large weathered erosion holes to navigate, then over the sandy banks and into the deep water (about 500mm). The road underwater is navigated by bouncing from one rock to the next until you reach the opposite sandy bank with its well rutted exit and large mud protrusion in the centre to negotiate. It’s enough to stop most standard vehicles and makes visiting the gorge all the more rare.
We walked along the 2.5km walking track following the creekbed through the forest of palms until we reached the halfway pool. At this point the track continues past a large boulder that you access from within the waterhole itself. It was a tricky climb and signalled the end of the walk for us. Even though we never made the gorge itself, what we saw has become one of the highlights of our El Questro visit. The sheer rock wall on one side, while the other is covered in thick ferns and shrubs. The beautiful swimming hole that we had all to ourselves for about an hour.
As we left the gorge, the sun was getting low in the sky, and the resulting reflections from the rock made the forest walk all the more spectacular. It is difficult to describe how the sandstone rocks change with the afternoon sun. Its like they suddenly become reflective and bounce their red glow over everything below them. Simply stunning!
Amalia Gorge
The brochure states that there are some difficult and dangerous sections on the track to Amalia Gorge, and they are right! At one stage, we had to crawl along a narrow shelf 4 metres above the ground with sheer rock surfaces in both directions. It was the kind of walk where everyone helped everyone and the team spirit was evident within our family. At the end we were rewarded with a big swimming hole and a relaxing place to cool down, but also the feeling that we had conquered a difficult challenge.
Along the way, we also managed to see our first fresh water crocodile, up close and personal, who swam away at the mere thought of us approaching him. Fortunately, on the return journey, he posed nicely for some photographs.
Emma Gorge
Emma Gorge is one of the most visited places on the Gibb River Road, and it is not difficult to see why. We initially thought it would be an easy walk, because even the elderly tourists had told us they had been there. But the walk was no different from any other gorge walk, with some easy bits and some rock climbing at the end. There was even a hill climb towards the end, gaining some elderly tourists a little more respect from yours truly.
We had information about a hot spring that enters the gorge on the right hand side of the waterhole, but it seemed to make little difference to the water temperature. Josie and I attempted to swim across to the base of the waterfall, but turned back because the water seemed to get colder and colder. The benefit was that as we returned, the previously freezing water suddenly felt much warmer.
Chamberlain Gorge
The boat ramp is located at the beginning of Chamberlain Gorge, and the ‘high falutin’ resort is built on the edge of the cliffs nearby, so it looks an ideal spot for catching that elusive barramundi. We arrived just before dusk, with a bottle of wine, and some lures. With both camps happy, I began the task of locating a willing victim in the calm waters. All the while making sure I wasn’t being watched by anything nasty – swimming is not recommended here, due to the presence of salt water crocs…..
Karen was happy, she was enjoying the wine, and taking some excellent photos, while the kids played noisily on the nearby sand dunes.
Unfortunately, I managed to tangle the fishing line, and set about the arduous task of untangling it. In the water close to the boat ramp, I noticed something swimming around close to the surface and followed it for a while, still untangling the fishing line. It swam past the lure, which was waiting patiently to be cast again, and headed for deeper water, when suddenly it lurched, snapped and flashed its big round tail at me! Doh! Untangling the fishing line took on a whole new urgency as I noticed more and more barramundi swimming around in the waters nearby. As new adrenaline surged through me, I cut the line, retrieved the lure and retied it quickly.
Alas, there were no suicidal fish in the water, and they showed little interest in my popper. Despite me casting it in close range to them, I could see them swimming away whenever it hit the water. Never mind, they live another day, and I’ll have to keep trying.
Chamberlain Gorge was as nice a destination for fishing as you could ever dream of.
After four wonderful days, we are leaving El Questro to tackle the infamous Pentecost River crossing and venture further east….and north….

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