Right around the corner from the luxury El Questro Homestead, with one eye on the setting sun and the other on his G&T, Nathan Dyer fades into the ochre hues at the base of Emma Gorge.
The Cockburn Range rises rugged and fortress-like from the sandy valley of the Pentecost River. Its buttressed headlands glow a fiery orange against a sky of metallic blue. Ephemeral channels scar towering walls guarding a plateau of spinifex and concealing the unique Emma Gorge Resort.
As my partner and I rattle along the dusty Gibb River Road, a patch of bitumen appears like a shimmering mirage on the road ahead. We slow and take the turn-off to Emma Gorge Resort.
The mirage grows as we splash across a shallow pandanus-lined creek and roll into the green surrounds of the resort’s boab-guarded reception. Just an hour’s drive (4WD recommended) from Kununurra, Emma Gorge Resort is an oasis in the ruggedly beautiful East Kimberley. Part of the iconic El Questro Wilderness Park, it’s one of many accommodation options, including the famous El Questro Homestead.
Originally one of the Kimberley’s working cattle stations (they still run a few thousand head), the rundown million-acre property was purchased in 1991 by the then 23-year-old English aristocrat Will Burrell, for a princely one dollar an acre.
After 14 years of development by Burrell, Voyages took ownership in 2005 – for around $17 million – retaining the former owner’s eco-friendly focus and adding it to their long list of unique Australian accommodation destinations.
Rebuilt in 2005 after cyclone Ingrid washed the previous infrastructure away, Emma Gorge’s accommodation consists of 60 tented cabins with ensuites.
Our cabin, while not spacious, comfortably fits a queen size and two single beds. The ensuite is functional and the high ceilings are designed to facilitate airflow. We turn on a pedestal fan to assist the ceiling’s efforts. Through the flywire mesh at both ends of the cabin, the towering Cockburn’s provide an impressive backdrop.
Although huddled together in a relatively small area, the surrounding bushland of spear grass, spiral palms and boabs mean the cabins are surprisingly private. We relieve ourselves of luggage and wander along a crushed stone path to the resort’s bar, restaurant and pool, as the clouds of a gathering storm turn the sky a pewter grey. A soft breeze drifts through the expansive verandah bar, which affords colourful glimpses of the surrounding escarpments.
On dusk we move to the open-air restaurant and nestle into a table for two overlooking a dusty, pink Kimberley sunset. The menu – modern Australian with a Kimberley slant – has us stalling the waiter as we struggle to choose. I settle for the Amelia Park Lamb Rack with spiced eggplant, Persian fetta, pine nuts and sultana crumble. My partner goes with the Crispy Confit Duck in an Asian wonton noodle broth with mange tout and fresh coriander. The main courses are just as impeccable, and the wait staff pull back the concertina-style ceiling and our meals are served beneath a chandelier of stars, with the warm evening breeze rustling in the nearby trees, adding to the outback atmosphere.
We roll back to our “tent” via a quick dip in the salt waters of the pool, and fall to sleep with the sound of a nearby creek bubbling over shallow rapids.
With a million acres to explore, El Questro’s activity options are suitably numerous: do a lot, do a little or do nothing at all. Our time is spent swimming in the subtropical waterhole of Emma Gorge, bathing beneath an impenetrable umbrella of palms in the warm waters of Zebedee Springs, and taking gin and tonics by the pool.
Other options include exploring the park’s 4WD trails, cruising the Chamberlain Gorge, taking one of the guided tours and – for the more adventurous – jumping aboard a chopper for a spot of heli-fishing at one of the property’s more remote waterholes.
We’ve timed our visit late in the season and, while keeping the hordes away, the 35-degree October days don’t encourage us to stray far from our G&Ts on the veranda bar. Not a problem, I decide, as I sip my gin and fade into the ochre hues of another Kimberley sunset.
DETAILS // Emma Gorge Resort
Where // Emma Gorge Resort 80km west of Kununurra in WA’s East Kimberley region.
Best time to go // The resort is open each year from April 1-Oct 31(depending on the ferocity of the wet season).
Cost // $248 per cabin per night.
Contacts // (08) 9169 1777, www.voyages.com.au