13 November, 2019 By: Fleur Bainger
Western Australia's vast outback stations offer a unique travel experience and the chance to spend time on a working property in some of the State's most stunning and remote locations.
For city dwellers it can be difficult to appreciate the scale of WA's sprawling station and farming properties. The total size of some are equivalent to small countries.
Hidden within those boundaries are some incredible natural wonders, authentic outback experiences, true-blue country folk, peace and tranquility. If you're keen to get a look inside, many WA stations are now opening their doors to share those experiences.
Here are six incredible station stays in WA to set your GPS for.
1. Home Valley Station and El Questro
Close enough to stay on one property and day trip to the other, these two Kimberley cattle stations each have oodles of rugged red outback at their fingertips, dotted with ancient rocky gorges and waterholes.
Each station has a friendly, communal vibe that extends to occasional live music at sundown in each of their station bars.
Home Valley Station is the younger of the two and is owned by the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and partly staffed by Aboriginal people. It covers nearly 250,000 hectares and hosts an Indigenous training facility. Cattle are run separately to the tourism operations and guests may or may not get to see an annual muster.
El Questro, meanwhile, harbours a more dramatic landscape within its nearly 300,000 hectares and also keeps its cattle apart from visitor facilities.
- What to do: Fishing, walking trails, sunset tours, helicopter adventures, gorges, billabongs, bird watching and four-wheel drive trips. El Questro also has thermal springs and horse riding.
- When to go: April to October.
- Accommodation: Home Valley has hotel-style suites, guesthouse rooms, raised eco tents and camping. El Questro offers full-board homestead accommodation, cliff-side villas, bungalows, raised eco tents and camping.
- Getting there: Home Valley Station is 120km west of Kununurra along the Gibb River Road.
2. Wooleen Station
Restoring the Murchison's fragile ecology is at the heart of the pastoral Wooleen Station. Sheep and cattle have been destocked so that today's custodians can nurture the land that's been grazed since 1886.
The rehabilitation journey is readily shared with anyone staying on the 150,000-hectare property. It has been open to tourism since 1993 as a way of reducing the reliance on livestock. Guests come away inspired and informed on the delicate conservation methods being employed.
Staying in the circa 1918 homestead, which is listed by the Australian National Trust, grants an insight into the daily lives of the couple who run the property, David and Frances Pollock.
In 2019, Wooleen Lake bed has water in it - a rare event, with adequate water only coming once every four years. May rains made the wetland a hotbed for migratory birds, frogs, turtles, fish and crustaceans, while spring wildflowers covered the land this season.
- What to do: Land regeneration education, wildflower walks, canoeing, wildlife watching, four-wheel drive adventures, mountain bike trails, walk trails, sunset tours, stargazing.
- When to go: April to October.
- Accommodation: Full-board homestead accommodation, self-contained guesthouses, nature camping with fire pits.
- Getting there: Drive nearly 300km north-east of Geraldton.
3. Quobba Station
The contrasts within the working pastoral Quobba Station are as dramatic as the eroded rock platforms that fisher folk perch on, hoping to hook game fish for the night's dinner.
Inland, the landscape is parched, rough and ready, while on Quobba's coast, the southern tip of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef Marine Park glistens beneath the waterline.
The property was established in 1898, with the Meecham family taking care of it for the past 40 years. Its 10,000 damara sheep roam over 35,000 hectares and farming continues around visitors, who can observe it if they're staying on the homestead grounds.
Those who want to recreate actor Chris Hemsworth's holiday earlier this year might lash out on a safari tent complete with wooden floor and real bed. These fancy abodes line a speck of Quobba's 80km of rugged coastline at Red Bluff and lend themselves to a more aquatic getaway.
- What to do: Surf, fish, swim, snorkel, relax, whale watch, go four-wheel driving, see the blowholes.
- When to go: Good to visit all year round.
- Accommodation: Station cottages, shearer's quarters, bush camping with powered and unpowered sites, and, on the property's coastal stretch, unpowered fishing shacks, seascape bungalows, safari-tent style chalets and camping. BYO water and fuel.
- Getting there: One-hour drive north of Carnarvon.
4. Mount Elizabeth Station
The working Mount Elizabeth Station is surrounded by two epic gorges, creeks harbouring freshwater crocodiles and grounds dotted with wallabies.
The outback gem came to life in 1945 and is one of the Kimberley's longest-running cattle stations. It now stretched across more than 200,000 hectares, allowing visitors space to recharge and explore.
Tackle a challenging four-wheel drive journey in low range to Wunnamurra Gorge and be rewarded with seasonal waterfalls and ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings. Otherwise, take the easier 10km road to Warla swimming hole, where green water contrasts with the region's characteristic sun-baked red rock and pale, sandy edges.
Throw in a line then return to chill out in the homestead garden and meet other travellers around the campfire.
- What to do: Splash in gorges, gaze at waterfalls, observe wildlife, go on four-wheel drive adventures, admire Aboriginal rock art, watch the operating cattle business.
- When to go: May to September, subject to weather and access.
- Accommodation: Basic dinner, bed and breakfast homestead accommodation (some ensuite, some shared facilities, all air conditioned), camping. Packed lunches available.
- Getting there: You'll need a four-wheel drive. Find the station 30km off the Gibb River Road, with the turn off 340km east of Derby and 365km west of Kununurra.
5. Cheela Plains Station
Cheela Plains Station is so big, you rarely see any evidence of the 3500 head of cattle that graze the 188,000-hectare property. While it's very much a working station, keeping livestock numbers low to allow the rangelands to regenerate is a major focus at Cheela.
One of the more unexpected inhabitants is Robin Pensini, a Texan woman who came to Cheela in search of work experience a few decades ago. She met her now-husband Evan, and despite her initial impressions, fell as much in love with the Pilbara as she did with him. "He had long hair, sleeveless shirt and bellbottom pants and I thought oh my gosh, who is this person?" she remembers.
Make sure you scale the hill by the station accommodation at sundown for endless views, and drive to The Wall, where you'll find vertical slabs of rock that are jagged like a Game of Thrones altar.
- What to do: Four-wheel driving adventures, gorge walking, river swimming, bird watching, sunset lookouts, stargazing.
- When to go: April to October.
- Accommodation: Basic, air conditioned rooms with shared amenities, a 15-site station campground and nature campsites. Home-style dinners available.
- Getting there: Cheela Plains is 90km north-west of Paraburdoo and about a 550km drive north-east of Carnarvon.
Image credit: Dan Avali, Fleur Bainger
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