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Friday, 9 June 2017

El Questro station - arriving and camp life

14  - 17 /05/2017
El Questro Station (Western Australia)
Distance Travelled:
110 km

Nights spent in front of a blazing campfire

With our tyres were deflated, but spirits high, we set off down the 16 km ‘driveway’ to El Questro station. I’m happy to say that all went smoothly and the drive was an absolute delight. Along the way, however, Nat reminded me that there was a little patch of water to cross before we arrived at the station itself.

“A little patch?” I queried, vexedly.

“Yeah, just 40 or 50 centimetres”, she replied with a cheeky smile.

To be truthful, we had both been checking on the state of the water level over the past few weeks. Every person that we struck up a conversation with, who had been here recently, was probed for whatever information they could provide about what we should expect on our trip into El Questro. Over the weeks leading up to this part of our noble quest, we had seen a consistent picture of water levels falling and river crossings drying up. As we crept closer and closer to El Questro, we finally started hearing that the river into the station was down to about the 45 centimetre mark – which made us feel increasingly confident that our little grey beast would make it largely unscathed.

Down through winding countryside we meandered. Massive escarpments of almost neon orange rock towered along the skyline for much of the journey. These glorious vistas served also to take our minds (somewhat at least) off the bumpity bumpity road. Actually, the road graders had been out in force leading up to our time at El Questro – so large patches of the road were actually quite pleasant to drive on. Yet, it was certainly easy to tell where the graders had been, and where they hadn’t quite reached yet!

Road to El Questro - Man, we were lucky the graders had just been through! 

There were also a few minor rivers to cross and muddy patch or two to navigate. But all in all, the driveway was in fine form and we sailed along without any great drama.

And then… it came time for the final river crossing. No more than 100 meters lay the final leg of the driveway, before entering the station itself. But, laying between us and salvation was a larger river crossing than I had tackled yet. Surely it wouldn’t be insurmountable, and indeed once it was done I’m sure I’d look back on the experience with found and jovial memories… but, at present, we were on the wrong side of the water course and the jovial memories were yet to be written.

Accordingly, we pulled off to a little space that was available on the right-hand side of the road, where we sat for a few minutes waiting to see if another car would turn up, which we could watch take the plunge first (look before you leap, or so the saying goes). However, as no passing trade appeared imminent, impatience got the better of us and we figured that if worst were to happen – we wouldn’t be stuck for long… there’s no other way in or out of the station except for across the river. Meaning, someone would have to pull us out eventually – or everyone would be stuffed!

So, onwards dear venturers, onwards. Without too much hesitation, the car was urged forward to dip it’s somewhat reluctant toes in the water. After a long hot drive on long hot roads, I figured that it must have felt good for the car to cool of its rubber tootsies in the cool clear headwaters of the Pentacost River (Oh man, it has finally happened – I’m beginning to anthropomorphise our car… bugger, it was bound to happen sooner or later).

Finally we reached the other side. High and dry once more, and feeling a little chuffed with ourselves, we pulled into the wide, open car park of El Questro station. It took a while to book in, but in the end we were able to chat to a very informative lady behind the reception desk, who gave us the low down on all things related to El Questro. Interesting as the information was (in particular her assurances that there were probably no ‘salties’ [AKA estuarine crocs] likely to float by our campsite and that it was safe to swim – leaving just enough doubt in the kids’ minds to create a hint of danger), we were off.

We decided to escape the rat race of camper vans, caravans and tents that were crammed into the station campground even this early in the season, and opted for one of the private unpowered sites that lay a few kilometres down the road from the main campsite. Heading down a dusty track, we found the turn off to our campsite (a.k.a. Quail) and tootled down an even dustier and sandier track to our slice of paradise alongside the Pentacost river.

The site was massive, and indeed – as promised – wonderfully secluded amongst ancient boab trees, pandanus plants and an impenetrable wall of head-high grasses. No sooner had we arrived, we set to work locating the place we thought would make the perfect spot, on our massive albeit hilly plot, to set up camp for the next few days. After a little ‘toing and froing’, we all agreed on a shady position under a large, sprawling tree. Clearing away the leaf little (as well as the bugs that lived a merry, hoppity hoppity life therein), we found the ground was sandy and soft – just perfect!

Setting up our tent

So, with tent erected, we set about our next major task of collecting a stunningly impressive pile of wood for the campfire. Daniel was on stick duty, Ben gathered bigger branches and I dragged back and broke up a couple of fallen small trees. In the end, we had quite the impressive pile of burnable wood – which was summarily stacked neatly, according to size and in easy reach for when the sun went down.

Oh my, would you look at those neat stacks of wood!

Over the next few days, the stack ebbed and flowed like the tide. It was invariably low tide in the morning, but quickly swelled by the time evening rolled around. Brilliant – there’s nothing like the promise of warmth, toasted marshmallows, and the soft glow of a campfire to spark young lads into action.

There were, of course, other chores to do over our time at out riverside campsite. Water was needed to be fetched from the river and dishes had to be washed. For some reason, the kids didn’t mind helping out as much with such menial chores – perhaps living by a river sparked something a little primal in their psyche, which seemed to make the mundane take on a new appeal.

Even bath time became a time of fun and delight. Once the tent was up and firewood collected, the boys striped off and jumped in the river, starkers! They spent the next couple of hours making a damn big enough to sit in and finally found some porous rocks to give themselves a scrub. In the end, we all took full advantage of their make-shift bath and frolicked in the privacy of our Eden-esque garden by the river.


And so, this was our latest home away from home. If we really were destined to leave behind the comforts of our trailer, we certainly could do worse than this! Over the next few days we trekked through breathtaking gorges, swam in the chilly waters of the Pentacost river, explored many nooks and crannies of El Questro and even took a trip or two back to the station for an occasional hot shower and a cool drink at the bar (I mean, where else was I going to charge up my laptop to keep typing this discursive soliloquy).

El Questro Station Bar

But, there, I think is where I’ll pause this tale for now. The exposition of how we explored so many gorges and waterholes would blow this post out far too long (“too late”, I hear someone calling from the cheap seats). So, I’ll sign off now, with smoke in my hair and starlight shining down on the keyboard from billions of lightyears away. The river is churning and drumming away behind me and it feels so near and so ever-present that, as I lie there at night in the tent, I could almost imagine being picked up and swept away in the current. But, as the tent is warm, and my sleeping bag is cosy, the white noise of the babbling water soon becomes more reminiscent of rain on a corrugated iron roof. Just the thing to send a weary soul into a deep slumber at the end of a hard day of hiking and wood gathering…

…However, saying that though, I have woken up a few times and mistakenly thought how much of a bummer it was that it was raining today. Oh, and with all that running water, it’s hard to shake the feeling of a full bladder - especially in the wee early hours of the morning when the temperature dropped and a chill comes over the air. Still, with all this wilderness surrounding us, the bathroom is never too far away – especially in the dead of night.

Bye ‘d bye,


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