We made a quick stop in Kununnurra for some forgotten grocery items and fuel before we headed off and it wasn’t long before we hit the start of the Gibb River Road. Time for a quick family selfie and Facebook post with our brief access to internet and we were off.
The Gibb was all bituman until we got to the El Questro turnoff where I pulled over and let the air out of my tyres in anticipation of the corrugations and water crossings. At the first water crossing there was a car in front of us so we simply watched them and followed their path. By the time we got to the third and final crossing I was glad I’d watched the other family’s video of the drive as this one was much bigger and there were no other cars around. Miss6 opened the sunroof and stood on the centre console to stick her head out the roof and enjoy the view while Master14 filmed our first ‘real’ river crossing.
Safely on the other side and we paused to give each other some high fives and get back into our seats before checking in for our three night stay at El Questro Station. We got the van set up and had some lunch then decided to head off for a drive to check out some of the sites and local driving routes.
When we checked in I’d gotten us a free night as I’d had my photo taken at the El Questro booth at the Melbourne Caravan and Camping Show and had also booked myself in for a two hour early morning horse ride and Miss6 in for a 30 minute kids ride (both kids wanted to do the two hour but you had to be 10 years old so Master14 offered to babysit for me so I could go on that on my own – what a prince).
At the time we’d asked about some of the other gorges and tracks and the ‘very deep water’ enroute to El Questro Gorge – reception told us it’s really only for 4WD. On our afternoon exploration drive we headed to Jackaroos Waterhole (going back over the Pentecost with much more confidence than on the way in) but decided it looked a little too ominous for a swim so we headed out to the ‘very deep water’ on the track to El Questro Gorge. The kids and I took our shoes off and started walking out across the water – with each step further in we’d double check with each other that there were no crocs around here were there??
The water came up to just above my knees but was firm sand underfoot. We headed back to camp to swim at a nearby spot while we contemplated our plans for tomorrow. While swimming we came across a mum with her young son and daughter who was seven years old – within five minutes the girls were playing like the best of friends and by the time we got back to camp we were all having dinner together at the BBQ that night.
Over dinner we realised we had much the same plans for tomorrow which made Miss6 very happy! The next morning we arrived at Zebedee Springs at 8am to find our new friends in the very top pool saving us some room to soak. The kids all did a marvellous job at acting like abnoxious little sods anytime anyone else got the idea to check out the top pool – it worked a treat as they all very quickly turned back and made their way to other pools. Our FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom – not a typo our new friends were British but lived in France) friends went back to camp for lunch after Zebedee while we decided to have a crack at the 4WD track to El Questro Gorge.
With a few nerves and the kids out the sunroof, we got through the very deep water crossing and then had to tackle a lot of sand, rocks and windy road to the carpark but once there, we felt very proud to have our little Rav4 parked in amongst the sea of giant 4WD vehicles and all of their getup.
The walk into the gorge was beautiful – very rocky but shady along the way. We stopped at the halfway point to swim in the pool near the giant rock – this was as far as we were walking as the remainder of the walk was another two hours return and required us to climb up over the rock and through more water on the way. Our FCUK family made their way to the swimming hole while we were there and dad and eldest son did the full walk while the rest of us swam and took our time walking back to the carpark which was now far more empty than when we arrived.
We made it back to camp safely with our FCUK family in convey and had dinner at the camper. A musician was playing again at the bar area and we could hear the music clearly from our camp. We decided we’d go and check it out for a little while and ended up staying for a couple of drinks and until the show was finished – we even got up on the dance floor and joined a whole of staff and guests conga line.
Next morning I was up early and headed off to the stables while the kids slept. With the exception of my massage in Alice Springs, this was my first two hours of ‘me time’ since we’d set off in April. There were only five of us on the trail ride which took us down some steep river banks, across sections of river and roads, along mountain ranges and through some pretty bushland. It was incredibly peaceful with moments of nice conversation with other riders and then moments of blissful silence where I just rode with my horse enjoying the view.
I was on a horse named Shazam – aptly named I thought as he either had no patience and wanted to trot to the front or he was busy farting loudly during the ride. As the ride concluded we came close to passing our camp so I yelled out to the kids who came out waving to me – I was only gone two hours but I’d already started to miss them.
Miss6 met me at the stables all ready and excited for her ride. I think we were both happy that the ride wasn’t one where someone was holding a rope and leading the horse in circles around a yard but a ride where the kids had to be in charge of their own horse as they all went off and rode through the big nearby paddock for half an hour.
After our rides I packed us some lunches and we jumped in the car ready to head to Emma Gorge. I started the car and went to put it into gear but the gear stick wouldn’t budge – I couldn’t get the car into any gear and suddenly thought ‘oh shit what have I done to my car?’. I walked over to the workshop to see if anyone there could help me – I’d figured that if I needed a new clutch, there were worse places to be stranded!
The guys at the workshop were very helpful, turns out all of the water crossings I’d been making the day before had rusted my clutch so I just needed to start it already in gear and bunny hop it until it came unstuck. Slight delay, but we were soon on our way to Emma Gorge for another beautiful walk. This was yet another rocky walk but the gorge at the end was just gorgeous with high walls leading into the gorge covered in rich green plants and water trickling and raining down into the large pool at the bottom of the gorge.
The water itself was a bit on the cool side and the sun wasn’t shining down into the gorge now that it was afternoon. Master14 braved the water and went for a swim while Miss6 and I walked slowly through the cool water only going so deep to enjoy the pool. We made our way to the thermal pond at the small waterfall behind a large rock and sat there in the warm water for a while. By the time we were ready to get out, the idea of going through that cold water again wasn’t appealing at all so we clamboured up over the large rock instead and avoided getting wet.
As we got ready to leave our FCUK friends arrived so we stayed longer and walked back with them via another pool and swim by the boys. At the carpark Miss6 wanted her new friend to come in our car so I drove both girls with me and they both got to stick their heads out of the sunroof over the water crossings. Back at El Questro we all headed to the bar and had a couple of drinks together as we were all heading off the next day in opposite directions.
Though you meet lots of families and fellow campers along the way on a long trip such as this, I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent with our FCUK family and connected well with their Mum – Miss6 and I are certainly putting a mental diary appointment in the memory bank for a trip to France to visit them in the future!