At Home Valley Station, an old favourite with new offerings, Craig Tansley uncovers crocs, discovers saddle soreness and wrestles with a bull shark.
From the muddy banks of the slow-moving Pentecost River, a beady pair of unblinking eyes processes every breath I'm taking. "Yep, that'd be a croc, mate, I saw a big saltie [saltwater crocodile] swim past here a couple of minutes back," a fisherman tells me. A second later - as sea eagles and whistling kites circle in the big, blue skies above - my fishing line plays itself out with a screaming whirl; I grab hold and wrestle a baby bull shark to the river bank as an army of merciless red ants help themselves to my tender city feet. Is there no end to the biting critters in this place?
They call the Kimberley Australia's last frontier. As delicate as the landscape can appear - with its towering gorges, intricate red ranges and billabongs - among all this red dust there's a sense of isolation that overwhelms everything else; much of the Kimberley still lies untouched.
We're two hours by 4WD from the nearest town (Kununurra) on a cattle station that's half the size of Belgium - that's 1.4 million hectares. Home Valley Station was once a dilapidated cattle operation in need of a lot of love. While it still serves its historic purpose, these days Home Valley Station is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation and offers a variety of accommodation options and tourism activities, from horse riding and fishing tours to helicopter scenic flights. Bought on behalf of the Balanggarra people of the east Kimberley, it involves indigenous Australians in all aspects of operation.
You'll find Home Valley at the junction of three mighty untapped rivers - the Pentecost, Durack and Salmond - and in the shade of arguably the Kimberley's most impressive ranges, the Cockburns. In the dying embers of each day, the Cockburns light up a fierce burning red with the setting sun - it's as impressive a colour transformation as you'll see at Uluru.
Home Valley Station is the ultimate oasis in the desert. To best escape the harshness of the environment, visitors can stay at Home Valley's most luxurious accommodation. It's Grass Castles villas are built along a tranquil creek on the edge of the property, shaded by gigantic eucalypts. Crafted from steel and timber, they're reminiscent of the homesteads built by early settlers of the area. But visitors have plenty of accommodation options. African-style safari eco-tents are available, as well as comfortable lodge rooms for families or couples, and caravan and camping sites.
All guests are welcome to use Home Valley's Dusty Bar & Grill - a rustic, corrugated-iron shed built underneath huge boab trees and ghost gums. Each evening it offers guests free entertainment with musicians performing on stage, plus meals that make use of local bush tucker. New free nightly star-gazing tours take place every evening after dinner.
There's plenty to do out here in the desert - Home Valley Station offers a busy schedule of activities for guests to sample the best of the region. This is renowned as one of the best spots in the east Kimberley to catch the all-elusive barramundi. Home Valley has a range of fully guided fishing tours, but fishing enthusiasts have the best chance of snaring the big one this year with the addition of a helicopter on-site. Guests can opt for a range of heli-fishing tours, which will take them to previously inaccessible secret fishing locations. Scenic flights over the Cockburn Ranges and along the croc-laden Pentecost River are also available to guests.
Though there are also twitchers' tours, 4WD tours, sunset drinks tours and much more on offer, it's the horse riding many guests come for. Once a year, Home Valley Station offers visitors the chance to retrace the footsteps of early cowboys following the Barclay Stock Route, which links the west Kimberley to the Port of Wyndham, on a six-day Kimberley Heritage Cattle Drive. If you prefer a shorter ride, Home Valley can organise a mini muster at any time for guests of all ages and abilities (standard guided horse rides are also available).
The writer travelled courtesy of Voyages and Tourism Western Australia.
Pre-book a transfer to Home Valley Station from Kununurra for $260 return a person, or $135 one-way (for a minimum of two people). Home Valley Station, open between April 1 and October 31, is offering a package deal that includes two nights' accommodation in a Guesthouse Room, full daily breakfast and a 2½-hour horse ride for $305 a person.
For more details and information on other accommodation packages, the Kimberley Heritage Cattle Drive and other activities. 1300 134 044, hvstation.com.au.