The Gibb is one of those journeys that’s on most 4WD bucket lists. At only 660km it’s a lot shorter than Cape York, but it has a reputation of being pretty dreadful. People tend to do it only once, for example. Or twice, with 20 years in between so they’ve forgotten the bad bits.
Leaving Kununurra and heading West, there’s about 40 minutes of highway before the turnoff. The red dirt stretches into the distance, pierced by a black line that eventually leads you to a slight lift in the land, as if someone’s pushed up a paving stone.
As you get closer you see the escarpment is hundreds of metres tall, and striated with countless red hues. The sign points to the left. Gibb River Road. And we’re off.
It’s bitumen for the first 50k’s or so, running parallel with the escarpment on the right which is actually the beginning of the Cockburn Mountain Range.
The road snakes its way through the dust, boulders the size of houses appear out of nowhere and enormous Boab trees stand like ancient sentinels on either side. These trees are actually amazing, and the Kimberley is the only place in Australia that you find them. Some of them are thousands of years old, and there are a few around here that were actually used as prisons in days gone by.
50k’s down, literally metres before the gravel starts is the turn off to El Questro, a cattle station that marks the very end of a long journey, or in our case, the beginning of one.
1 million acres of wilderness, for 1 million dollars. That’s what the 23 year old Will Burrell paid for a run-down cattle station in the East Kimberley in 1991. Heir to the Penguin publishing fortune, the Eton educated Will, and Melbourne borne Celia, bought the station and decided to turn it into a luxury retreat for the well to do.
Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue are regulars, apparently, although I would imagine they’re in the $3,000 a night Homestead, as opposed to an unpowered site by the Station for $40.
Nevertheless, it’s the same breathtaking scenery you get to view, the same hot springs you swim in, and the same gorges you hike down no matter how much you’ve paid. And the Station is where the bar is, so I reckon it’s a better deal all round.
We stayed for about four days, and had a brilliant time.
Zebedee Hot Springs
Zebedee Hot Springs the first day. You park the car, and there’s a five-minute walk through a tropical forest set into the foot of a cliff. The trees are called Livinstonia Palms, and can only be found in two places on earth – here, and the Bungle Bungles.
The water wells up from below and trickles down the rocks creating a series of little pools, perfectly designed for one or two people to sit in comfortably. A couple of larger pools down the bottom provide a bit more space for moving around.
Skye decides to take her floaty swim vest off for the first time, and makes a damn fine start at swimming without it. Katie meanwhile, scrambles up and down the rocks and climbs all over the place, loving every minute.
A wee bit more active the next day, we decided to do the Emma Gorge walk which was supposed to be one of the highlights of the area. And it didn’t disappoint. It was just over an hour each way, and not as difficult as we were expecting.
I think having clambered over all those massive rocks to get to Jim Jim Falls, everything now gets compared to that – so unless we’re having to manhandle Skye up and over boulders, then it’s not that bad!
The cliffs surrounding the pool at the end are so high, they prevent the sun from heating the water up. So the hallowed silence you might have enjoyed in such a place, is broken by shrieks from overheated hikers as they brave the cold.
Katie and I jumped in, for about 20 seconds. We got Skye ready and she made it as far as her ankles before turning around. Which I was quite happy about. I’d had enough by then.
The walk back seemed shorter, partly because we knew the route, and also, I think, because we knew it lead to the lovely Emma Gorge Resort. A five-star resort that’s part of El Questro, and because we’re guests at the Station we’re allowed to use the lovely pool. What a way to end a 2.5hour hike in the Kimberleys 🙂
By now we needed a day off hiking, and Katie really fancied horse riding so that was the plan for the morning.
It might have been because we bought her a cowboy hat, which she loved, and she felt like horse riding was the thing to do. Whatever it was, when I saw her all ready to go with her jeans, cotton top, and cowboy hat on, I could hardly believe it. She looked so grown up.
She’s really come into herself in this trip. Just taken to it like a duck to water and it’s been a real joy watching her confidence grow as we’ve travelled around. She can’t go five minutes without making a new friend these days, and the horse riding was no different.
She jumped off after 40 minutes with three new pals. We met the parents picking her up at the end, and a couple of hours later we were all tuned into UHF channel 13, taking on El Questro’s most difficult 4WD tracks.
Pigeon Hole Lookout was first. 20 minutes or so, with a steep rocky ascent the only tricky bit. The view at the top however, was totally unexpected, and breathtaking. Almost as if someone had painted it as a backdrop to a movie. Baz Lurman actually shot ‘Australia’ in the Kimberelys, so maybe it really was a backdrop for a movie.
Branco’s Lookout next. A much more difficult track, with an eight minute, extremely rocky river crossing that I never would have attempted on my own.
It took us out on the edge of the cliff that we were looking at from Pigeon Hole. Not quite as stunning this one, however we’re talking degrees of amazing here, so, still beautiful.
Finally, we were off to Moonshine Creek for a swim. But the car had to go for a swim first. This was definitely the deepest river crossing we’ve done so far. About 100 metres of almost over the bonnet water. Phwooo… Now, go for it! Yee ha! What a rush it was getting through 🙂
And then we all got to swim in a creek, that we had completely to ourselves.
We finished off the drive at the bar, having a few drinks with our new pals and then round the camp fire outside our tent later on. The kids going to bed far too late for their own good, and ours! What a brilliant day, and a brilliant start to the Gibb overall. Thank you El Questro, time to go…