Located along the Gibb River Road, El Questro station is a one million acre tourist magnet. Each year, its visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world. It's developed quite the name for itself. The thing is though, is it really worth the visit?
Where is El Questro and how do I get there?
You'll find El Questro in the Kimberley; the northern most part of Western Australia, not far off the Gibb River Road and roughly 100km from Kununurra and Wyndham. You can get there by 4WD, plane or helicopter. Most people end (or start) their Gibb River Road adventure at El Questro station.
If you've got your own 4WD, you can drive in off the Gibb River Road (which is bitumen from Kununurra side all the way to the turn off). El Questro is 16km off the Gibb River road, along a gravel driveway that can be relatively badly corrugated.
Alternatively, hop on a tour, plane or helicopter to get there.
What's the attractions?
The whole of the Kimberley is truly a magic place. It's almost impossible to accurately describe it using words, so I'll make up for it with photos. The natural beauty, tranquillity and atmosphere are like nothing else you've ever experienced. Stunning gorges, waterfalls, animal and plant life and a natural beauty that will take your breath away. I can say though, that Lonely Planet (the world's largest travel publication) rated the Kimberley the second best region to visit in the world in 2014. That puts it into perspective for you!
Besides the natural beauty, there's Barramundi fishing, horse trekking, helicopter tours, hiking trails, fantastic swimming holes, hot springs, stunning camping and some great 4WDing.
About the station
El Questro is massive. One million acres probably doesn't mean a whole lot to most people, so lets put it into perspective. The land is roughly 60km by 80km, or 5 times the size of Singapore. It has several gorges, a hot spring, 4 major river systems, a huge variety of fish, birds and other animals, some of the best freshwater fishing in the world and more natural beauty than you can poke a stick at.
Originally the property was used for cattle, and even today there are a number of cattle roaming the station. However, today, and for several years now, the focus has moved to tourism. A large majority of the property has never even been explored!
What can I do there?
There's 5 fantastic gorges to explore on El Questro. We did four of them, and left Amalia off the list as we ran out of time and it had very little water (or so we were told). Each vary greatly, with Emma Gorge and El Questro Gorge being our top two.
Most of the walks are not overly challenging, with exception of the last half of the El Questro Gorge. You get to a giant rock, which you have to climb over in order to keep going. The rest of the trip is up and down smaller rocks, along logs and is pretty hard work. It was however, probably our favourite walk.
Each gorge walk will take you at least a couple of hours, and we limited ourselves to one per day.
There's something to be said about sitting down in crystal clear water at a balmy 28 - 32 degrees. Zebedee Springs is pretty unique, and is an absolute must on the to-do list. Get there early; its seriously popular and quite small. It shuts at 12PM every day, and if there's too many people inside they will turn vehicles around.
El Questro offers a massive range of tours. Whether you want to go on a boat cruise, in a helicopter, fish for Barramundi, jump on a 4WD tour or just see the whole property, you can find a range of options.
The helicopter is used regularly for fishing tours, access to private gorges, scenic flights and sunset tours.
There's historical tours, horse riding, sunset tours, bird watching and plenty of self drive options if you have your own 4WD.
We did the Chamberlain gorge boat tour, which at $60 each was well and truly worth it.
Asides from the above, there's fantastic camping, a great restaurant and bar, brilliant lookouts to watch the sun disappear each day and more land to relax and explore than you can poke a stick at!
There's a variety of accommodation options at El Questro. For most people, camping is the preferred option. There's private bush camps as well as 'caravan park' style camping. From there, you can stay in Family rooms, the resort at Emma Gorge and lastly, the Homestead.
El Questro's Homestead is very well known; it's one of only a handful of 6 star accommodation choices in Australia, with a price tag to match. Unless you are happy with spending a few thousand dollars each night, you are going to be camping or staying in the family rooms! Yep, you did read that correctly!
Private riverside camping
If you are able to do without mains power, this is my recommended way of staying at El Questro. There's 30 private campsites located along the Pentecost River, which are spaced at least 100 metres apart. Some have access to the water where you can swim (or at least get wet), but some don’t.
El Questro is a busy place, and being able to have your own slice of land along the river with no one to both you is the best thing we ever did. Generators are permitted as you please, as are camp fires.
However, you need to drive into the town area to have showers, and the toilets are shared with other campers.
We stayed at number 5 (Quail) which I'd highly recommend; easy access to the water for swimming, enough room and heaps of shade. Number 4 (Wren) also looked like a fantastic spot. I'd find reviews of the site you want before booking though; they vary considerably!
Many of the sites are fine for camper trailers and several vehicles, but there are a few smaller ones; it pays to check!
Black Cockatoo general camp ground (caravan park like)
The Black Cockatoo camping consists of 4 areas along the Pentecost River, but are set up almost the same as a caravan park. You've got nice grassed areas, but there's lots of people, and you are jammed in. If you can get close to the river and away from others, this is a fantastic option, but we were very glad to have our own private camp site further away.
You can get powered sites in the Black Cockatoo area, if you need it.
The last camping option is to use the tents that are permanently set up by El Questro. These have beds off the floor, lighting and a fan, and save you the need of bringing your own camping gear and setting it up.
When should I visit?
Being in the Kimberley, El Questro is subject to some very interesting weather patterns. They have two distinct seasons; the wet and the dry. You can't visit in the wet season, and a large majority of the staff even leave for this period. Typically the dry season is May to October, and the wet season November to April. However, this varies substantially from year to year, so make sure you check before heading there!
May to August is the most popular time to visit. El Questro often opens earlier if the weather permits (April) and stays open for later. However, after August it starts to warm up and the water levels drop dramatically. The earlier in the year the better; you have better weather and more water in the gorges.
Whats the restaurant like?
We had dinner at the restaurant one evening with a few people we’d met along the way, and loved it. The food was not actually a whole lot more expensive than a higher end restaurant in Perth, and we loved it. The atmosphere was nice, it had a great view and most of the staff were very pleasant.
4WD tracks at El Questro
There are a number of 4WD tracks at El Questro; Saddleback ridge, Pidgeon lookout, Brancos lookout, Explosion gorge etc. None of them are overly technical, but many of the lookouts are steep and relatively narrow. Low range, let your tyres down to 25 PSI and take it easy and you won't have an issue. I will write separate posts on these 4WD tracks, and link them here later.
Mind the water crossings, and you will be just fine. In May 2015, the only deeper crossing was the one going to El Questro gorge; around 700mm deep, with a sandy bottom. I would imagine after a big wet season this would be the only crossing you’d need to be careful of; Brancos crossing, moonlight creek and the Pentacost all have solid (albeit rocky) bottoms. I would not go through the deeper crossings without a snorkel, and 4WD engaged, with your tyres down.
Take the advice given by the rangers with a grain of salt; we were told not to head across Branco's crossing as the water level was high and they wouldn't want to have to recover us. As you do, we headed out for a look, and found the water barely flowing across; literally less than 10cm! It's rocky as, but take it slow with your tyres down and you won't have an issue.
How can I guarantee I have a good time there?
We had an absolute blast at El Questro, and feel a bit sad reading negative reviews about El Questro. Fortunately for you though, we’ve put a list of things down that will guarantee you have an incredible time at El Questro.
Flicking through the reviews for camping at El Questro, and the feedback is very mixed. Some people absolutely love it, and others wouldn’t ever go back, even just for the day. After spending 5 nights there (and loving every minute of it), we have come up with a number of ways for you to guarantee you enjoy your stay at El Questro.
Before we do though, lets get a couple of things straight. El Questro is in the business of making money. They are not a charity, nor a family run station with a few camp sites out the back, and this is extremely obvious the moment you drive into their township. This is a business, and one that runs extremely successfully. This can either deter you, or you accept it for what it is, and enjoy the amazing place and what it has to offer.
Secondly, it is busy. Not the sort of busy that you find at Windjana gorge campground, or Bell Gorge, or anywhere else along the Gibb river road. It is much busier than that, right from the opening days of the dry season. The main camping area is pretty well like a caravan park, which is right next to the reception, toilets, store, restaurant and bar.
From seeing maximum 30 vehicles in one spot over our trip on the Gibb river road to driving into a tiny area and seeing well over 100 was a bit of a shock. There are 4WD tour cars caravans and campers everywhere, with more staff than you can poke a stick at.
I don’t believe they even have a limitation on campers; there's so much room its not funny!
So what can you do to ensure you have a great time at El Questro?
Stay at least one night
El Questro has so much to offer. There are water holes, at least 5 gorges to explore, a number of 4WD tracks, hot springs, a fantastic restaurant, guided and self guided tours and the list goes on. There’s no way possible you could explore even a tiny chunk of that in one day, including travel.
You need to stay at least one night, with two being the absolute minimum I’d recommend. 3 or 4 is much more comfortable for you to enjoy your stay. El Questro was truly a highlight on our journey along the Gibb River road, and so it should be for everyone.
Expect it to cost a bit
I said earlier, El Questro is a business. It’s been said they are a well oiled money making machine, and I have to agree. However, I’ve got no problem with that; they have done a brilliant job setting up their station, and I have no issues with paying a bit more to enjoy such an incredible place.
You are charged a wilderness pass, which is $20 per person, which lasts 7 days. If you are only there for the one night, you pay $12 (as you do if you only come in for the day). This wilderness pass gives you access to all of the gorges, water holes etc (including Emma Gorge). You might think this is a rip off, but in actuality a lot of the privately owned sites charge such a fee (Mornington, Mt Barnett, DPAW national park fees etc).
From there, the camping fees are actually not too bad at all, compared to the rest of the Gibb River road. Tours are not overly pricey either, nor are the restaurant prices.
We spent a total of $470 over 5 nights. Certainly not the cheapest stay along the Gibb River Road, but it did include a brilliant boat tour for both of us, a few drinks and a lovely meal at the restaurant. In my mind, it's completely reasonable; camping alone came to $26 per night per person, including the wilderness pass.
For the location and what we got with it, I'm not going to complain one bit.
Get a good camp site
I always say this; where you camp makes or breaks your stay. Stay somewhere private with incredible views and you will love it. Camp next to 500 other people all squished in like sardines and you will not have good memories of your destination. With El Questro, this rings very true; make sure you get a good camp site, and book it before you come.
El Questro has a range of different camping areas. Some are private bush camps right along the pentacost river, and others are amongst 200 other people on a grassy section (exactly like caravan parks).
I said before, El Questro is busy, and to be honest it’s a bit of a shock to go from having no one around you throughout the whole of the Gibb River road to camping next to 200 other people.
I would suggest as a minimum (if you want to stay near the showers and toilets), get a site that is backed into a corner, or up against the river. The less people around you, the better your stay will be.
The ultimate solution for many people is to get a private bush camp.
If you arrive out of the blue at El Questro and expect to get a nice campsite (especially around peak season), you may be dismally disappointed. If you end up with the rest of the campers, you aren’t going to be very impressed.
Get up early
Our number one tip for anything on the Gibb River road is to do it early. Whether you are walking to a gorge, going to Zebedee springs or bush walking, do it early. Anything that is remotely interesting on El Questro will be packed by 8 – 9 AM, and if you are doing any of the longer walks its already getting too warm to head off.
Zebedee springs was a prime example of this; we were at the (padlocked) gate by 6:42AM, and one of the rangers came and unlocked the gate at just before 7. We drove in, and spent the first hour and a half enjoying our own private pool right at the top. Only one other couple was there when we arrived, and they were happy with the lower section to themselves. By 8:30, there were hordes and hordes of people coming.
They walk in, jump in anywhere they will fit, and leave you feeling a bit let down. The gorges that are popular will fill up quickly too. There’s nothing nicer than getting to a gorge and being the first people there. You get a fair bit of time to relax and enjoy, before the hordes come down.
More importantly, you beat the heat. We did a few of the gorges, starting at about 9 – 10 AM, and you’ve left it too late. It’s a hot walk in, and by the time you are coming back out you are absolutely knackered.
I have no problem with being around people, but when it gets as busy as it can do at El Questro, it loses a lot of its appeal. No way would I go back to Zebedee springs after 8 in the morning.
Shower when its not busy
El Questro receives a lot of complaints about showers not being hot, and the showers/toilets not being enough for the number of campers. I’d have to agree with the last statement; even in May, it was pretty obvious the showers were being strained.
There are 6 toilet/showers in little huts, next to the reception (unisex). Then, there are 4 more showers and a few toilets in the male/female toilet blocks, as well as a number of eco toilets spread around the station.
It’s pretty obvious that the showers are going to cop a hammering with the number of people that use them, so plan your showers accordingly. Fair enough, they could do with more showers; when you have to line up at 4AM just to get a warm shower (which people do in peak season), there is obviously an issue. Hopefully they will address it. In the mean time, shower when people aren’t going to.
We found the middle of the day to be perfect; when you come back from a gorge or tour, keep your toiletry gear in the car and have your shower before heading back to camp. It's not the end of the world if you have to re-arrange your shower schedule.
Explore the station
You wont see much just sitting around the township. If you have a 4WD, you have so many places you can go and visit. If you don’t have one, you still have plenty of places you can go and visit. The station is amazing, and truly captures a large portion of what we all love about the Kimberley.
Don’t expect too much
If you expect too much, and your expectations aren't met, you aren't going to enjoy El Questro. It is different to the rest of the stops along the Gibb River Road. Just arrive with some anticipation and you will have a brilliant time. It is a truly magic place, and one that you will love, but the less you have formed in your mind, the more you will appreciate and enjoy it.
Can I take a Caravan?
If you have a well built off road caravan, you won't have an issue getting it into the station. There are some corrugations, and two river crossings (solid bottoms) but we saw plenty of caravans at El Questro. If you are planning to take it on the rest of the Gibb, the drive in and out of El Questro will be an easy one.
Can I get there with a 2WD vehicle?
Technically, yes. Would I do it? Probably not! The corrugations and rocky crossings are probably not going to be too much of an issue if you take it slow. What may be a serious issue though is the river crossings; if you suck water into your engine you are going to be in for some major engine repairs. We did see a couple of 2WD vans enter El Questro, and it looked a bit touch and go. I most certainly wouldn't take anything with limited clearance, and with an air intake less than 600mm from the ground!
The Kimberley is not just El Questro!
El Questro has a very slick marketing campaign, which attracts visitors from all over the world. Fair enough too; it deserves all the publicity it gets. I'm not exaggerating here either; you will meet people from all over the place who have come to enjoy the Kimberley in WA. The thing is though, El Questro is often marketed as the Kimberley, and the Kimberley as El Questro.
This couldn't be further from the truth; the Kimberley occupies 16.6% of Western Australia, and is roughly 600km x 700km (about 88 times the size of El Questro!).
For foreign visitors especially, its almost impossible to imagine the sizes of stations and areas up north. They are ginormous. So, by all means, enjoy what El Questro has to offer, but remember there's plenty of other places in the Kimberley that deserve a look too!
Be crocodile aware
Yes, there are crocodiles in the Kimberley, and most certainly some at El Questro. The fresh water variety are usually timid and do not pose a threat to humans unless you physically annoy them. The salt water crocodiles on the other hand are another kettle of fish. These are nasty reptiles that wouldn't hesitate to have a go at you. El Questro is well signed, with only the major river systems being a potential for seeing a Salt Water crocodile.
Obey the signs, use your common sense and you won't have an issue.
Can you get fuel there?
El Questro sells both unleaded and diesel fuel. However, I'd recommend you do not buy it here unless you absolutely have to. It's only 116km to Kununurra, and the price they charge for fuel is pretty harsh!
If you are having mechanical or electrical drama's, El Questro has a workshop. They can take a look, diagnose and potentially repair your issues. Alternatively, head into Kununurra; there's a number of places that work on vehicles there.
I'll use the word 'nearby' loosely; this is the Kimberley we are talking about, and nothing is really a few minutes away! The whole of the Gibb River road is stunning, and well worth the visit. The major attractions along the Gibb River Road are Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Bell Gorge, Mornington Station, Manning Gorge, Mt Elizabeth and Mitchell Falls. There's plenty of other lesser known spots that are fantastic too, if you have the time.
Lake Argyle and Kununurra are spectacular places to, as is Broome, Cape Leveque and the Bungle Bungles. There's so much to explore in the Kimberley; whether you are going for a couple of days or a couple of months, you will never run out of things to see and do.
Should I visit El Questro?
Absolutely. If you could only visit one place along the Gibb River Road, this would be it. We did all of the 'main' attractions along the Gibb River Road, and El Questro was one of our favourites. As long as you go in with the right idea of what to expect, you'll have an amazing time.
What did you think of El Questro?
Maybe you think I'm totally mad; did you enjoy your stay at El Questro? Was it worth the visit? Let me know in the comments below!