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The Kimberley's best-known station stay is a more than 400,000-hectare spread popular with tour groups and day trippers from Kununurra. With five levels of accommodation, ranging from the ultra-luxe Homestead (from $1579 per room per night), to tented cabins at Emma Gorge, family-friendly bungalows at The Station and camping, plus three restaurants, bars, swimming pools, 4WD tours, fishing trips, horse treks, river cruises and helicopter flights, it's more resort than cattle station, but its natural attractions, including the waterfall and swimming hole at Emma Gorge, the palm-fringed Zebedee thermal springs and a network of walking tracks are reason enough to visit. See www.elquestro.com.au.
Just across the Pentecost River from El Questro, Home Valley is owned and operated by the Indigenous Land Corporation and serves as a training academy for locals in both tourism and cattle management. Much of the film Australia was shot here, and activities include horse riding, helicopter flights, fishing, gorge walks, four-wheel-drive tours and an airboat adventure ride on the river. As at El Questro, there's a range of accommodation from luxury "Grass Castle" lodges to eco-tents, motel-style rooms and a campground, all clustered around the station hub, the Dusty Bar & Grill. If you fancy getting away from the crowd, you can roll out a riverside swag. See www.homevalley.com.au.
You need a sense of adventure and a good four-wheel-drive to explore this working cattle station halfway along the Gibb River Road – the tracks are rocky and gnarly, but they lead to spectacular places, including the plunge-worthy Wunnamurra Gorge, numerous rock art galleries and one of the toughest and most remote four-wheel-drive tracks in the Kimberley. The 220km-long Munja Track to Walcott Inlet on the coast doesn't sound far, but will take at least three days each way. There's basic accommodation in the homestead, or you can camp – if you are after an authentic taste of the Kimberley station life, this is the place. See www.mountelizabethstation.com.
Charnley River (formally Beverley Springs Station) is owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. As a guest, you're given a mud map of our-wheel-drive tracks that you can follow to several gorges, each with good-sized plunge pools, some with waterfalls and all jaw-droppingly beautiful and delightfully crowd-free – nothing beats floating in a lily-covered pool without another soul in sight. It's roughly halfway between Bell Gorge and Manning Gorge (Mt Barnett Roadhouse) and has a large shady campground with new shower and toilet facilities. See www.australianwildlife.org.
Want to know what the Kimberley was like before white men moved in with their cattle? Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary covers a staggering 3000 square kilometres of sandstone escarpments, tropical rivers, rocky gorges and savannah grasslands, and is one of the largest feral herbivore-free areas in the country. Also owned by the AWC, Mornington is the base for its research and ecological programs, and all proceeds from the Wilderness Camp are channelled back into wildlife conservation projects. Stay in one of the safari tents of pitch your own in the campground and spend your days birdwatching and canoeing, or join a guided tour. See www.australianwildlife.org.
Flying a little beneath the tourist radar, this focus of this small-scale (by Kimberley standards) station not far from the port of Derby at the western end of the Gibb River Road is on pastoral regeneration and horsemanship, which means that activities are centred around ecological tours, horse-riding lessons and trail rides. Of course, you don't have to join in: you could just chill out beneath a boab in the pocket-sized bush campground (no caravans) or rustic bungalows (shared bathrooms). Chances are you'll be the only ones there. See www.birdwooddowns.com.