No place like Home
Visitors with a small mob of cattle on Home Valley Station's mini muster. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

The rhythm of my days at Home Valley Station is set as much by the tourists coming and going as by the rise and fall of the Kimberley sun and the velvet night constellations spinning overhead.

Many people travelling the Gibb River Road - a great, dusty west-east transect across this "other country" within our State - stop for just one night at Home Valley Station.

Camper trailers trundle in and out. Families on the big trip, kids happy to find the swimming pool, mum and dad to find a straightforward and affordable menu at the Dusty Bar and Grill. Barramundi, steak, lamb shanks, chicken, pasta.

Families have found Home Valley Station, less than two hours from Kununurra in the East Kimberley, says general manager Chris Fenech.

Then coaches turn up in the afternoon, in time for a sunset viewing across the Pentecost River to the Cockburn Range, its ramparts firing like a blazing crown. Some guests stay in the comfortable Homestead Guesthouse rooms, others camp in supplied tents on the green grass before they, too, dine in the Dusty Bar where singer Alex Revithiadus starts to croon cowboy songs.

And then, in the morning, off they go on their odyssey along the Gibb River Road - either east towards El Questro station, or west past Mt Elizabeth towards Derby.

But not me. For I have come to Home Valley Station not as a stopover but as a destination. And I came for five nights, wondering how the six days would fill themselves.

And the answer is not only that they do, easily, but that I have run out of time. There are things "on the list" that I simply don't get to.

I have hired a four-wheel drive in Kununurra, careful to make sure the insurance covers it for the Gibb River Road and river crossings, and paying extra to reduce the excess payment to the point where my travel insurance will cover it.

The back deck and view over Bindoola Creek from one of Home Valley's Grass Castles. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian
After leaving Perth on the 7.55am Skywest flight which arrives at 12.20pm, I pick up the Pajero, do some shopping and head out to Home Valley Station, 120km from Kununurra.

The Kimberley light is clear and strong but once you've passed mid-afternoon it starts getting rosy. The Cockburn Range sits to the north of the Gibb River Road, and I stop to take photographs.

It is dusk by the time I get to the Pentecost River crossing and bundle a Dutch cyclist's gear in the back to take him across. Though the water level is low and the crossing easy, there's always the chance of a saltwater crocodile.

To me, Home Valley Station has kept the feel of a working cattle station. The big tubular steel gates with a horseshoe drop-lock feel like every serious station gate I've ever opened.

And this first night, after dinner of barramundi and a few songs from the stage, I am off to my Homestead Guesthouse room, which has a good bed, air- conditioning and a big bathroom.

And a real, deep, Kimberley sleep.

The next day, with a packed lunch, I drive down to the Pentecost River Camp, still on Home Valley Station, stopping on the way to photograph flowering trees dripping nectar, to follow a small creekbed, still with water, muse at the lion ant traps in the bulldust and photograph the Cockburn Range across the marshlands. Generally, to happily just potter about in the dust.

At the river, four Aboriginal guys are net fishing for bait. A black-winged stilt filters the mud for morning tea. After lunch under a tree, I head out to Nyarli Lagoon - a beautiful, quiet waterhole 20 minutes from the station, where little corellas flock in a noisy mob over the water and I lie on red rock in the darkening afternoon.

On the way home I am again treated to the Cockburns at sunset. Home Valley Station's lookouts have the best view of the Cockburn Range - looking back at the Five Fingers of the western end.

On Monday, I head west down Gibb River Road to Ellenbrae Station - it used to be owned by a friend and I just wanted to see it again - and try the scones and cream for which Ellenbrae now has a reputation.

It is only 115km away but the outing fills the whole day, stopping here and there, and enjoying a little time by the Durack River, with its wide water and sandy banks.

The next day, I join the station's mini muster, with visitors from the Eastern States, under the guidance of John Rodney Jr - a lifelong and respected horseman and cattle musterer. Home Valley's mini muster gives guests a glimpse of the real Kimberley cattle station lifestyle.

Earlier, I mentioned singer Alex Revithiadus, who is a man of several parts in this story. For he is also riding alongside this morning, and conducts passionate and well-informed stargazing sessions in the evening.

The ride is impressive as there are three people who have never been on horseback before, a couple who are experienced, and some in between - yet J.R. pulls us together as a group, pays great attention to our safety and comfort and we find a small mob of young brahman cattle and walk them a few kilometres.

I have stepped up, room-wise, from the Homestead Guesthouse room, in which I was very happy, to a Grass Castle.

Home Valley has eight of these standalone suites with a deck overlooking Bindoola Creek.

Named for the Mary Durack classic book Kings in Grass Castles (there's a copy in the saddle bag with the room key and other information), this is outback luxury - timber, corrugated tin walls, old photographs, a cowhide rug, rainfall shower, and private.

Suddenly, Wednesday's passed in one long picnic lunch and on Thursday morning I get to see the country from the air.

Home Valley has a new helicopter pad and Lone Eagle Aviation Services offers a 20-minute sightseeing flight, which I take in the early light. Brilliant.

Come Thursday 10am, I am packed and heading back towards Kununurra, stopping for a walk and swim at Emma Gorge.

And it's over.

Part of my plan had been to go to El Questro Wilderness Park for the day, while still staying at Home Valley, to explore and swim in its many gorges. But I ran out of time.

I'd also planned a day to Wyndham, with its Five Rivers Lookout, and then back south through Parry Lagoon, an important bird habitat, and across the old road back towards the end of the Gibb River Road. I didn't get to that either.

I didn't go barramundi fishing (Home Valley has boat and shore fishing tours, and heli-fishing). I only followed one of the station's six walk trails.

In fact, I didn't even dip my toe in any of Home Valley's swimming pools. And I read only eight pages of the book I brought.

I had wondered how I'd fill six days. Next time, I need to make it many more.


FACT FILE

• Stay two nights from $240 per person, twin- share in a Homestead Guesthouse room, until August 31. It includes daily buffet breakfast, daily activity schedule and nightly entertainment. There are also the Grass Castles suites, eco tents and camping. Camping is from $16 per adult per night, $5 per child. From September 1 to October 31, a two-night Kimberley Escape Special in a Guesthouse Room is from $195 per person twin share with daily buffet breakfast, free activities and nightly entertainment. hvstation.com.au and 9161 4322 or 1300 134 044.
• Lone Eagle Aviation Services' sunset flight is $190. Book at Home Valley Station and see loneeagle.com.au.

The West Australian

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