Read our writer's views on this property below
Changes are afoot in the outback with the opening of Home Valley, writes Paul Myers.
In the 17 years since Will and Celia Burrell welcomed their first guests to El Questro Station, the spectacular East Kimberley spread has had upmarket tourism in the region virtually to itself. Until now.
The opening late last season of the final stage of Home Valley Station, 40 kilometres further west on the Gibb River Road, has provided a quality alternative.
Home Valley has three levels of accommodation top-of-the-range self-contained cabins called Grass Castles, middle-market guesthouse rooms and two camping areas. There's also a large communal centre with food and bar.
The 265,000-hectare Home Valley, which was bought by the Indigenous Land Corporation in 1999. opened to tourists in 2005. It is budgeting for 30,000 visitors this dry season, with 50 per cent expected to be self-drive campers.
Home Valley has hired Chris Fenech as its marketing director he worked closely with Will Burrell in developing El Questro's tourism package and has similarities to its well-entrenched and highly regarded rival. However, the station's new general manager, Daniel Lukritz, doesn't regard El Questro as a direct competitor.
"We see ourselves as operating side-by-side. Ours is a different experience and a lot of people will probably stop at both places," he predicts.
Certainly, Home Valley's top accommodation doesn't match El Questro's super-duper homestead, perched high above Chamberlain Gorge, which commands $1500-plus a person a night. At $420 a night including breakfast, Home Valley's eight stand-alone Grass Castles suites, on the edge of Bindoola Creek (a billabong fed by the Pentecost River) nevertheless provide a sample of luxury unavailable between the station and Broome, more than 700 kilometres west.
There are 28 comfortable adjoining guesthouse rooms, with private facilities at $230 a night and eco tents at $190, which are a step up from camping.
The Dusty Bar & Grill, with an adjacent sail-covered swimming pool, is one of the station's attractions. Fans whir overhead in the large open corrugated iron shed that serves as station central. It already does good-quality meals and bar service at reasonable prices but it is about to take another step up with the arrival of executive chef Jamie Dellas.
Horseman John Rodney or JR as he is known manages a stable of 22 horses that are available to ride. Next year he will introduce mini-musters of several days' duration in an area of the station known as New York Valley.
"So far, I've only flown over the valley, but it seems to be ideally suited for the purpose," says JR, who is mindful of the huge success of the Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive between Birdsville and Marree.
Home Valley must build up its cattle herd, currently comprising just a few thousand head. Fortunately, the ILC has ready access to cattle from its two other Kimberley herds on Roebuck Plains near Broome and Myroodah near Derby.
Meanwhile, visitors can participate in fishing excursions, go horse riding or soak up the atmosphere and views of the Cockburn Range.
Lukritz is also enthused about the training scheme operating on Home Valley for young indigenous people wanting to enter the tourism industry. With 14 trainees this year, he says their presence is having a big impact among visitors.
"The training program engages a lot of people and helps change their perception about indigenous people when they see what they're doing here," he says.
Paul Myers travelled courtesy of the Indigenous Land Corporation.
Home Valley Station is 120kilometres west of Kununurra and 580kilometres east of Derby on the Gibb River Road. The nearest airport is Kununurra. Virgin Blue flies there from Perth with fares from Melbourne starting at $619 and $559 from Sydney, one way including tax. Other airlines fly to Darwin and then on to Kununurra with Air North (airnorth.com.au). Car hire available at Kununurra airport.
Home Valley Station is open April 1-October 31. Grass Castle suites $420 a night including breakfast, guesthouse rooms $230 a night, eco tents $190 a night, camping $15 an adult a night (free with fishing or horse riding tours). Phone (08)91614322, see homevalley.com.au.