Home Valley Station, Gibb River Road, WA: No place like Home

We arrive at Home Valley Station at the end of a long, hot, dusty day on the Gibb River Road.  After a disastrous final hour on the road during which we've blown a tyre and been side-swiped by a kangaroo, Mum and Dad are fractious and our young daughters are trying to keep the peace.

I stand at the edge of Home Valley's Dusty Bar and Grill looking like a bedraggled boab tree festooned with luggage and small children.  I'm close to the end of my tether and eyeing the beer-swilling crowd watching the State of Origin rugby league on the big screen with murderous envy, when, incongruously, James Bond arrives to put out the fire.

"You look like you could do with a cold one," says operations manager Matt, who bears an uncanny resemblance to present 007, Daniel Craig, and who acts with Bond-like swiftness to assuage my pain.

Up until this point on our seven-day traverse of the Gibb River Road, I've been doing my best impression of a bushman who requires no creature comforts and loves nothing more than swagging out under the Kimberley stars.  It's all been an elaborate façade, of course, designed to inspire the troops (my unfortunate family) to accept a mostly camping-based trip.  

But when Matt utters the words "you've arrived a day earlier than we expected but we've managed to find you a luxurious Grass Castle", I genuinely nearly blub.

Ten minutes later, I am showered, sipping an icy drink and propped up on a king-sized bed looking out through floor-to-ceiling windows at Bindaloo Creek.  In the bathroom, my daughters and partner are chirping happily as they wash the red dust from their hair and outside, in the surrounding sun-speckled eucalypts, an azure kingfisher is flitting from branch to branch.

Our arrival at Home Valley comes near the end of our drive down the 670-kilometre Gibb River Road and as Matt correctly noted, a day earlier than anticipated after the family falls out of love with camping.  We might be a mollycoddled lot but six nights under canvas have been adventure enough and for our final 48 hours we are only too happy to swan about, like outback maharajas and marahinis, from resort pool to air-conditioned room and back again.

It's not that the luxuries of Home Valley Station are in any way excessive but for its isolated setting in the midst of the sweeping Cockburn Ranges, they are remarkable and welcome.  There are two pools, a requisite bar and large shed-like dining area with reasonable if unspectacular fare and live country music most nights.

For a property that is Aboriginal owned and managed by Voyages Indigenous Tourism, there is a surprising dearth of cultural activities on offer during our stay.  But a four-wheel-drive tour does give us some idea of the size and scale of the 1.4-million hectare cattle station and allows us to pat some of its cream-coloured Brahman cows.  We also stop by the station's campsite beside the broad Pentecost River and watch open-mouthed as fishermen wade knee-deep into its muddy banks, just metres from where large saltwater crocs hang out.

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Early the following morning I'm awkwardly levered onto a handsome stallion to go for a three-hour ride around the property.  Clopping along on horseback as the sun rises over the plains, I suffer delusions of being Hugh Jackman in his swaggering role in the movie Australia, which was filmed at Home Valley.  But I'm kept in line by Tasmanian horsewoman Sarah and entertained by stockman Jason Newman's tales of his life, and many broken bones, as a rodeo champ.

Back at the ranch, my five- and seven-year-old girls play somewhat un-masterful chess with child-sized pieces on an outdoor board and my partner hides under a towel on a pool recliner, worried I might disturb her peace with a suggestion of an excursion.  I can't beat her so I join her and we all end up happy to have had an extra day of resort-style relaxation in one of Australia's last remote frontiers.  

Tomorrow, we will complete our epic journey along the Gibb River Road in Kununurra, two hours' drive east, but tonight we gather on the deck of our Grass Castle, to absorb one last Kimberley sunset, behind Bindaloo Creek, over canapés and sparkling wine.

My mood could not be more different from when I arrived and it's taken only 24 hours, James Bond and a few Home Valley comforts to transform me from a most un-jolly swagman to a laid-back outback bon viveur.     

Home Valley Station has a range of accommodation including luxurious Grass Castles ($320 a night including two breakfasts), eco-tents ($150 a night including two breakfasts), guesthouse rooms ($235) and camping.  Home Valley has a bar, restaurant and activities including horse-riding and sulky rides; see hvstation.com.au; australiasnorthwest.com

The writer was a guest of Tourism WA and Home Valley Station.

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