No one knows exactly how it got its name, but the Spanish sounding word puts one in the mood to enjoy the amenities of the million-acre (4000 square kilometer) former cattle station (ranch).  El Questro is a Mecca to those traveling through the Kimberley.

There is a store, a well-equipped toilet block with hot showers and laundry facilities, an outdoor bar and even a restaurant.  The youngsters who lead tours and take care of the place congregate at the bar in the evening.  We are fortunate to be here at the end of the season.  Our guide’s description of the bar at the height of the season beggars belief.  People stacked up in unruly queues four or five deep like belligerent bees around fragrant flowers.

In the interests of maintaining its historical narrative as a Texas-size ranch, a handful of cows and other critters wander at will.  There is a notice warning about a horse who seems to trouble campers from time to time.  Those who can sleep through the raucous crows and corellas will have trouble dozing through the unmistakable, mournful bray of a donkey.

El Questro was established in its current form in 1991 by Will and Celia Burrell.  There are five rivers flowing through the vast property, hot thermal springs, deep gorges, waterfalls and a wealth of rock art from the Wandjina period.  In addition to the campgrounds, there are luxury accommodations that we are encouraged to try when we are feeling flush.  Each night in one of the six rooms (all meals included) goes for $2,500.  There is a minimum two-night stay.

Four of us sign up for the Chamberlain River cruise while the more ambitious members of the group head out for a gorge scramble.  Two others elect to stay in camp and take it easy. We will dine at the Steak House this evening, so we have a lot to look forward to.

The river trip is exactly what the doctor ordered.  The El Questro guide does his best to convince us that the people who stay in the five-star accommodations are ordinary folks, indulging themselves on that special occasion.  Once we are on the boat, the sales pitch drops away and we listen to the river.

This is crocodile country, and we see a few “freshies” on the way, as well as birds and flying foxes.  At the spot where the boat turns around the guide draws our attention to the water.  Seven-spot Archer fish surround the boat.  They live off airborne insects that they bring down to the water by ejecting a stream of water.  The boat handlers bring pellets of food for them, so they soon begin spraying everything they can spot that is light and shiny– glasses, camera lenses, or, in my case, a bushy white beard.

The swarm of little fish soon attract larger fish and turtles.  It isn’t long before the guide spots a barramundi cruising along the bottom.  Except for the crocodiles, these fish are at the top of the food chain. While we feed the archer fish and indulge our childish delight in being sprayed in the face, the crew breaks open bottles of sparkling wine and fresh-cut fruit.  We sing “Happy Birthday” to a 74 year-old man who looks like he may be a visitor from India.

On the return trip the guide regales us with tales of crocodiles.  There have been a couple of close calls at the Park.  The scariest story is about a couple who were out in a canoe.  A saltwater crocodile followed them and as it approached the man attempted to give it a swat with his paddle.  He missed the beast but overturned the canoe, dumping his wife and himself in the water.  They both swam like crazy for the bank, certain they were going to feel the jaws at any moment.  The thing that saved them was their lunch, which spilled out of the canoe  in a separate bag, right in front of the snout of the crocodile.

At dinner that evening, we tell stories of close calls with animals and strangers.  Kylie tells us a  frightening tale involving a hippo in Africa.  I am reminded that despite our fears of things that eat us– animals such as crocodiles, bears, sharks, and hippos, we are rarely at risk from these creatures.  That may be why we watch horror movies and leap out of airplanes.  We are at the top of the food chain.  Barramundi is on the menu and I am absolutely delighted.

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