We countdown the ultimate Australian destinations where you can really unwind and indulge – #2 El Questro Homestead, The Kimberly, NT
EL QUESTRO HOMESTEAD
The Kimberley, WA
TOP CAPACITY: A maximum of just 12 guests can stay here at any one time (there are just six rooms).
WHAT TO EXPECT
A single-storey timber homestead clings to the side of the private, picturesque Chamberlain Gorge in the Kimberley, just near the start of the Gibb River Road, 110km from Kununurra. Like any great resort, El Questro has a pool fringed by sun loungers, a sociable and stylish communal area of the type you’d expect in an African safari lodge (with the bonus of an open bar!) and an attentive host (in this case Lori Litwack, El Questro’s general manager) who customises her service to your personal whims, appearing unasked with packed lunches to take on a guided hike, or furnishing anglers with fishing rods). But it’s the stunning, wild and unlike-anywhere-else-in-the-world landscape that really sets this lodge apart. It’s surrounded by a million acres of the most awe-inspiring outback Aussie landscape imaginable, from red sandstone gorges to stands of bottle-bellied boabs, hidden hot springs, secret waterfalls (accessible only by helicopter) and surprise pandanas forests. Despite the luxury of egg-shaped tubs, Egyptian cotton sheets and crisp airconditioning in your room, you’re always in the thick of nature – guests gather on a cliff edge with cocktails in hand to watch the nightly crocodile feeding.
Most affordable room: The Homestead room is priced from $1890 per night (minimum two-night stay). It’s still furnished nicely, has a king bed, stylish lounge furniture and a minibar (included in the tariff), so it is as beautiful and comfortable as any of the other rooms – on the inside. It’s just cheaper because the windows look out over landscaped gardens instead of offering knockout views of the gorge.
Best room in the house: The Chamberlain Suite is priced from $2590 per night (minimum two-night stay). It’s the most amazing room by far thanks to a wrap-around verandah that juts out over the gorge, floor-to-ceiling windows, outdoor lounge area, customised minibar, and a private outdoor double bath.
El Questro Homestead tariffs include accommodation, all meals and drinks (including alcohol) and guided tours within El Questro Valley. Free experiences include bird-spotting hikes (expect Gouldian finches and brolgas), barramundi fishing, a trip out to Zebedee Thermal Springs, nature and history tours and a guided boat tour along Chamberlain Gorge. I got a kick out of spotting archer fish, which spit water at you when you wave your hand above the water, but because this is croc country, it’s not such a good idea to make a habit of this. Self-drive boats are tied up at various docks on the property’s waterholes for guest use.
If you don’t mind forking out a bit extra for special experiences, there are also private 4WD tours, such as a half-day trip to Explosion Gorge and Branco’s Lookout ($100pp), where you can enjoy romantic sunset drinks looking down at the peacefully winding Pentecost River. A full-day 4WD tour ($275pp) skirts around the Cockburn Ranges via an old droving track. For hardcore fishermen, there’s a saltwater heli-fishing tour for $955pp.
There’s a little billabong at the base of the cliff that the Homestead sits upon. You can make your way down there, unhitch a tinny and take it out for a spin. Because the Homestead is high above you, because the engine is very small, and because the air is often still down here, it feels completely tranquil, and you feel wonderfully alone. Until you spot the beady eyes in the floating log alongside you – fun!
I’ve mentioned them above, but the tariff-included activities available to El Questro guests are really special. Guided tours and walks allow you to get out amongst it all while someone else carries your snacks.
At $640 per person, it’s not a cheap experience, but if you’ve come all this way it’s seriously worth the splurge to take a helicopter trip for two out across the Kimberley to Miri Miri Waterfall, a secret waterfall that was only discovered last year during a helicopter droving operation (El Questro is a working cattle station). It’s as inhospitable a landscape as you could ever wish to alight in, until you get to this impressive 60m waterfall and a remote, romantic swimming hole. Sensational.
You can only stay here between April 1 and October 30 each year, as the Wet Season closes El Questro down. You wouldn’t want to stay here during the rains anyway, but limited availability means the lodge books out fast.
It’s in the Outback, so unsurprisingly connectivity is an issue. There’s no mobile service, no wireless and no TVs in rooms. There is a library with a television and a single computer, which guests can share time on if they need to. It may sound a bit crass considering the location and the fact guests are generally so stuffed from the day’s activities that they go to bed early, but when I’m on holidays I quite like snuggling up in bed and watching movies until I fall asleep. Even in the Outback. Sad, but true.
Despite your best hiking efforts, you’re unlikely to lose weight here. Chef Alan Groom serves up a substantial spread throughout the day. The husband of GM Lori, Alan works single-handedly in the kitchen, which is quite impressive considering he cooks all the meals, prepares the picnics and makes bread, pastries and ice-cream from scratch. Breakfast starts with local fresh tropical fruit from the Ord River Valley (such as giant red pawpaw and fresh pink grapefruit juice), toasted homemade sourdough and decent lattes (or whichever coffee you prefer). A second course may include bacon, kippers or blood sausage (vegetarian options also available!). There’s a two-course lunch at the homestead or a picnic lunch to take out with you. Canapes accompany pre-dinner drinks. Three-course dinners are followed by cheese platters. It’s difficult for food-lovers to pace themselves in an environment like this.
El Questro Homestead
1300 863 248; elquestro.com.au
Words by Elisabeth Knowles