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Road Trip Day 11 and 12: Ellenbrae Homestead and El Questro

...or "Brown Dip, Green Dip, Yellow Dip...blech."

sunny 30 °C
View Sydney and the Outback on stevecrow's travel map.

Day 11.

After treating myself to an abysmally cold shower and bidding farewell to Alan and Leanne, I headed off on my next leg of the Gibb. All I really had on the schedule today was the drive to Ellenbrae Homestead, so I stopped at the Mt. Barnett roadhouse on the way out and called home. Turns out that this Telstra 'phone-away' card that I bought off the ranger in Silent Grove for $10 doesn't deduct anything from the balance as long as I'm dialing up my own long distance plan from back home. So basically this card lets me call home for free any time I want. Good discovery.

8:30am, and I'm off. I had only about 180Km to cover but I heard the road onward gets pretty ugly. And yes, it was true: there is about a 30Km stretch leading east of the roadhouse that is by far the worst stretch of rock-fields I've come across the whole trip. I started watching out for snipers. But after that rough patch, the road went back to being pretty much silky-smooth - fairly corrugated at the worst, but those stretches weren't all that bad (let me show you my Tanami merit badge), and not very predominant. And the scenery? Holy shit, it rocks (yes, that is what my descriptions have come down to).

Soundtrack: Peace, isolation, harmony. I'm charging stuff pretty much all the time now, but that is OK. This land needs no music, it sings on it's own (that was really cheesy, even for me).

No matter how hard I try to go slow (kind of pissing off folks that overtake me in their hurry to whip through this beautiful place...(?)...god forbid they slow down to enjoy it) I still end up getting to the turn off to Ellenbrae Homestead by noon. So...I'm kind of early. Do I stop here, or push on to Home Valley another 100Km or so up the road? I decide to stick to the plan and pull off here.

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Ellenbrae Homestead is...exactly that, a homestead that has graciously laid out the welcome mat for visitors. The homestead itself is a little oasis amongst the dry Kimberley terrain, lush with green lawns, trees, gardens, and lots of all kind of birds. The schtick here is to stop for scones and tea at the very least, but I went ahead and paid for a campsite anyway. Sure enough, when I pulled into their humble little campground up the road from the homestead (which features a really unique ablution block built out of rocks with a single toilet and a shower and bathtub whose hot water is supplied via a wood-stove heater that one of the folks from the homestead lights up at certain times of the day...all built around a massive boab tree), I found I was the only one here. I picked out the best spot I could and settled in for lunch and an unexpected but welcome slice of total solitude.

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That's when I found the bread had gone moldy. Ok, so I think my supplies are probably on the downward spiral now, to be expected. I scarfed down some soup and then headed back to the homestead for a nice cup of coffee and a scone with cream and jam, which I thoroughly enjoyed out on their veranda by all the bird feeders. It was really nice and quaint - not my usual haunt, but after the long solitary road trip it was really welcomed.

Back to *my* campground. Yup, still alone. Cool, I can do *anything* I want. So I read. I pull out the guitar and play loudly, and sing, because - well - I can. I kind of realize now that this is probably what I robbed myself of (thankfully if you will recall) by not stopping at the side of the road on the Tanami.

It takes an hour before the boredom and restlessness sets in. A whole goddamned hour. It probably comes to me sooner than normal because, as it turns out, this place has quite a few mosquitos and since there is no one else around to munch on, they have all come over to my site for a bite. I doused myself in Bushman's Insect Repellent (supposed to be the best here in Oz) but even if they aren't biting me (which I think they aren't), they sure are a big distraction to what would otherwise be a perfect afternoon. So then I spent the next several hours just wandering around the campsite, sitting down and reading a bit (until the mozzies found me again) and then getting up and going to the toilet. Even if I didn't have to go, I did it anyway to have something to do. There was a single back-and-forth trail of my sandal prints on the ground from my site to the ablution block. A dust stairway to heaven. The dirt expressway to flushing meadows. Take-away: I suck by myself sometimes. I'm doing it wrong.

Dinner time (well not quite but close enough) rolls around, and a few other people have rolled in. Not many though, and of course we're all really spread out so it is still very much just me. I enjoy a quick shower - since they came a lit the stove I may as well take advantage - re-douse myself in Bushman's, cook my dinner - yes, the same shitty meal as the night before - and now I'm sitting in the early evening dark, being dive-bombed by all kind of insects that want to have a love affair with the iPad screen. I think the mosquitos have all gone to bed, or died or something, or swarmed the sites closer to the creek, so I don't mind the various I-don't-know-whats crawling all around me.

I'm running low on LPG. I have no bread (recall: sandwiches are my staple-diet). I'm into my last bottle of wine. I'm almost finished all the books I brought. The AA batteries in my mini-mag light that doubles as a lantern just died. And the pan won't really come clean anymore unless I buy it dinner and take it to a movie first. Oh well, at least I have my peace and quiet all alone.

I still have to waste another two hours before I'll start to get tired.

I'm doing it wrong.

Day 12.

Despite everything I said about the night before, I kind of didn't want to leave. I did my damnest to drag my ass as casually as I could, slowly eating breakfast and reading a while. After everyone else had left (except some truck that was having real troubles with something mechanical and well beyond my scope of knowledge) I strolled over to the shower. I had waited to see if they would come light the heater, but even though I had given up on them at this point there was still fairly warm water left in the tank from the previous evening. And these are trivial details you probably don't care about but it gives you a feeling for how slow the morning went.

Another quick stop at the homestead for another coffee and scone (these things cannot be good for you they are so good) and a take-away sandwich since I no longer have bread, and I was off again, around 9:30am.

Soundtrack: Running To The Edge Of The World / Marilyn Manson...this just seems to...work.

My first really big river crossing - the Durack. It turned out to not be that deep or wide, so I slowly punched through it in low 4WD and added another checkmark to my accomplishments.

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The Really Bad Road returned; I crawled along horrid rock fields like a clueless tourist (but note I have not had to change a tyre yet: I am determined to make the length of the road without having to do it). But I was eventually rewarded with some unforgettable views of the Pentecost River Valley. This is what I came to Australia for.

A quick stop at Home Valley Station, just to check it out. Definitely nice and established, but the campground didn't look all that hot (actually, it looked really hot and open) and it was pretty busy, so I think I had made the right decision to stay at Ellenbrae.

I wound a bit south, anxiously knowing I had only a few kilometers left to the Pentecost crossing...the Pentecost mountains on the other side of the river looming ever closer.

Soundtrack: Kinetic / Omega Lithium...ok, now this is kind of amazing, and I'm telling you this story. When I first realized that I was, in fact, coming to Australia a little over a year ago and would be taking a self-drive tour of the Kimberley and the Outback, I googled for some images. The first ones I came up with were the Pentecost Mountains and river crossing; and this was the song that I was listening to when I was doing this, so I have always associated this song with my future Australian excursion. And this is the song the iPod randomly chose as I pulled up to the river crossing. True story.

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My Greatest Challenge (number 3)...didn't turn out to be much of a challenge. Not that I'm complaining; I suppose the alternative of getting stuck or bogged in a rental vehicle in a river full of man-eating salt-water crocodiles is a bit more stressful than merely pushing through it with no significant problems. Just a bit. I crossed the river, sighed, and headed on my way. Checkmark.

Several stops to take pictures of the mountains later I had made it to the turn-off to El Questro, a rather large (if you call a million acres 'large') cattle-ranch-cum-tourist-destination. I followed the access road in and grabbed a campsite (along with a 7-day wilderness pass that I unfortunately will not use, but it was required).

El Questro is huge. It is actually a large wilderness park that I will be unable to take advantage of, as I'm using it rather as a (kind of expensive) one-night stop. But...it has a bar and a restaurant. This is worth the price of admission since I am both more-or-less out of food, and more-or-less out of wine.

I booked a reservation at the restaurant for dinner (required) and sat around my campsite for a few hours - which is really a nice campground next to the Pentecost. Not very private, but my brief excursion into semi-bush camping has left me totally cool with being around people. I took a long shower, shaved, and dressed in nice clothes (well, the nicest and cleanest I had) and had a civilized dinner.

And now an excerpt I like to call "Steve: Food Critic".

I wandered into the restaurant ("The Steakhouse". Original.) and took my seat on the candle-lantern lit patio. Very romantic. The restaurant is BYO, which means no booze is served there but you can bring your own. I had water.

I ordered a starter of Turkish Bread with "Today's Selection of Dips". $14. The bread came (which is basically like a thinly-sliced ciabatta) with a little dish with three (3) square compartments, each filled with a dip. From right to left (because it's Turkish bread): a "yellow" dip, a "green" dip, and a "brown, maybe reddish can't tell in this light" dip. Ok, so let's give this a try - because if I don't know what it is, I can't not like it without trying it. So, from right to left (because this is Turkish bread) I start by trying a small sample of the "yellow" dip. Hmmm...kind of flavorless, so far. Try the "green" dip...mmm, pretty good, familiar tasting, cream-cheese base for sure, but not sure what the flavour is...Try the "brown-maybe-red" dip. Bloody salty...to the point of almost burning, and fragrant as well, not in a good way. Ok, back to the "yellow" dip and try more. Ok, maybe not flavourless...but not good either. Tastes...suspicious. More "green" dip. Good, I like it, but what is it? Try the "brown, maybe red dip" again. Nope, didn't get better, I'm leaving this one alone. Back to the "green" dip. Jesus, what is that? I seem to remember it...from I think pasta. Yes, pasta, that's it. I finally settle on the idea that the taste is allspice. I could be wrong, but at this point the bread is gone. And no, I never ask what the dips were. I prefer not to know.

The main course - a strip loin (rare) with broccolini, garlic mashed, and red wine reduction comes. $38. And sorry Alberta, I'm officially convinced that Australian beef is substantially better than Canadian beef. I admit it now. And the red wine reduction absolutely stomped serious butt. I don't even finish. Probably due to the Turkish bread and "green" (I-don't-know-what) dip.

Look for my 'foody' column in the Maple Ridge News. With their standards, I'm sure they'd publish it - somewhere between the column about church and the column about how to replace your radiator hose.

After dinner I stepped up the the bar to peruse their selection of take-away wine. The one thing I recall seeing: Rosemount Sangiovese, $32 (actual retail value in most places, including Canada: $15.99). I pay it.

Tomorrow I have a mere 33Km left of the fabulous Gibb River Road (not including the 16Km back up the access road). After that, I race towards Darwin to drop off Cass (a bit of sadness at the thought) and fly back to Sydney. This amazing journey is starting to come to an end. Part of me is not ready to go home, I've missed so much, barely scratched the surface of this enigmatic country. Even now, as I sit around a communal campfire...but by myself (probably creeping people out as usual), I somehow feel kind of 'attached' to Australia now. Like it's calling to me. Maybe because I still have some money left. I don't know.

But I have to start heading home now. It's time.

Soundtrack: My Spirit / Lacuna Coil...two phrases stick out: "...the gates of Hell are waiting, let them wait a little more"; and the chorus: "...where will I go? My spirit is free; I'm coming home."

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Posted by stevecrow 21:06 Archived in Australia Tagged gibb_river_road durack_river pentecost_river ellenbrae_homestead el_questro

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Are you feeling little soul-pangs yet? Sure sounds like!

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