Escape to the Kimberley
This winter El Questro Homestead opened for its 25th season, continuing a legacy established by an adventurous young English aristocrat, Will Burrell, who in 1991 bought the million-acre cattle station for a dollar an acre and began transforming it into a true destination, complete with suites, tents and bungalows.
Private deck of a luxury suite at El Questro Homestead
There have been more recent changes to this landmark - the property is now in American hands, and the drive from Kununurra (once something of an adventure itself) has been whittled down to 90 minutes now the Gibb River Road section is sealed, but the Homestead remains just as impressive as it was in Burrell's day - a personalised outpost where 18 guests can dine by candlelight beside a deep gorge filled with crocodiles. For a wider perspective on the region, guide Mick Clark takes small parties on a 250-kilometre four-wheel-drive adventure called the Big Day Out. Winter, he says, is the perfect time to venture forth: "The average max temperature in July is 31 degrees, which is dry enough to explore and hot enough to swim, but then it cools down nicely come the evening."
The nine-hour adventure begins with a stop at Five Rivers Lookout, where guests get the lay of the land before continuing to Marlgu Billabong to look for basking crocs and stately jabiru. For those who fancy a swim, there are safer waters (and a Tarzan swing) at a waterhole called The Grotto. Clark detours onto an old stock route called Karunjie Track. "It's a pretty rough track that's only used by the locals, so guests are in country that many people don't get to see. It's also their chance to learn how a cattle station actually works." Histories of cattle drovers are shared at Wyndham, and there's a stop at the Prison Tree, an old boab that was used as a lockup in the 19th century. Clark crosses vast tidal mudflats - a baked and desolate crust - and the mighty Pentecost River.
The tour stops for lunch in the shade of a tree. It's pre-prepared by the Homestead chef, and served up with Champagne and views to the Cockburn Ranges, formed 1.8 billion years ago. "A lot of guests are from cities and they're naturally struck by the beauty of The Kimberley," says Clark. "But they're also inspired by its harshness, by its size and a sense of it being timeless. It's a landscape that reminds them about their place in the world." Rooms from $1,969