Where else can you see grazing water buffalo over cocktails or sample food as wild as the landscape? Toss aside the bow-ties, guide books and sommeliers and head to Australian Northern Territories for true bush luxury.
Sitting under a fan-cooled, Balinese-styled pavilion, ice cold Bombay and tonic in hand and with dinner roasting on a near-by stone camp fire, life’s about as idyllic as you can hope for, considering the rugged landscape. And then nature takes the show one step further, with a Noah’s Ark like procession of wildlife passing just metres in front of the lodge, just as the peach plume sun plunges in its daily decent.
Now Bamurru Plains, arguably the Territory’s most luxurious game lodge, can’t take credit for the conga line of wild boar, water buffalo and Brumbys (wild horses), but it’s the camp’s marriage with its stunning surroundings that make wildlife spotting here, miles from anything, a certainty rather than a novelty.
Located just off the ‘Top End’ coast of the Northern Territories, and perched on the cusp of the Mary River flood plains, Bamurru Plains offers the ultimate in wild bush luxury and is the perfect place to escape to when the traffic jams, supermarket queues and deadlines become a bit much.
Situated on what Territorians would refer to as a “lifestyle block”, the 31,000-hectare Swim Creek Station supplies live export buffalo and cattle to Asia, and plays home to all manner of wild life, indigenous and permanent resident. In typical NT fashion, it’s a good 15-minute drive from front gate to front door; although many of the station’s well-to-do guests choose to arrive via helicopter or light plane, directly to the property’s landing strip, others choose to take the overland route, a dust blown highway from Darwin that cuts across the brutalized landscape and on which everyone is a visitor, venturing into wilderness epitomized.
After bumping over rutted roads reshaped after the annual floods, past herds of sun-worshiping Brahmin cattle and the odd inquisitive water buffalo, we arrive at our rather unique accommodation.
Forget tents or prefabs more nostalgic of an inner-city primary school – the lodge’s luxurious cabins are perched above the verge of the flood plain, close enough to the main lodge to call for help when your minibar run low, but far enough not to interfere with your environmental voyeurism.
In fact, the design of the lodge is all about nature, bringing guests to the very cusp of the Territory’s famed wildlife. Don’t fret, there are proper beds, air conditioning, fans and a lavish bathroom including a shower of cobble stones that bares an outdoors feel without the unwelcome visitors, but the most important aspect is the cabin’s unique stealth technology. Using an innovative fabric weave, guests can enjoy the cool, privacy of their cabin while still viewing the animals for which the station is home.
It’s sunrise and coffee and wattle seed muffins are delivered by John, one of the knowledgeable team that city slickers tend to cling to when venturing beyond the infinity pool and fan-driven comforts of the lodge. Many guests take their morning cup of Joe in the “viewing gallery”, the little sun room off the main bedroom in each cabin; tiny, shy wallabies lope around the stilt foundation of the cabin and a short distance away, a female water buffalo splashes through the waters of the flood plain, her young trailing behind her, never more than a few meters from her protection. For the patient, silence will be rewarded with an up close and personal wildlife encounter the likes few travellers experience.
Another unique aspect is climbing aboard an air boat reminiscent of 1970s classic Gator. Bamurru is the only place in the Territories where the common tourist can climb aboard for the ride of a lifetime and the air boats, which are incorporated into the lodge’s packages, take guests to the furthest reaches of the expansive floodplains.
With a roar that echoes even under the air protectors, the massive Chrystal engine gathers momentum and propels the Teflon-coated hull across the flooded landscape. Clouds of black, squawking magpie geese climb sluggishly from their hidden nests amongst the reeds and gossip from the branches of drowned trees. The air boat glides effortlessly across the emerald green flood plain; half the year this is actually grazing land but when the floods wash trillions of liters of waters down towards the coast, it creates a very special ecosystem, loved by a myriad of unique wildlife.
In the shade of an ancient paperbark forest, guests bob on the mirror-like waters of John’s favourite picnic spot. The water shimmers like charcoal silk and is home to some of the station’s largest crocodiles so it’s hands inside the boat. According to John, these ferocious predators lurk in the shadows cast by the partially submerged trees, waiting, not necessarily for tourists, but for fat Barramundi to swim by.
Would-be explorers feast on sun dried tomato quiche, and thick sandwiches of cheese and roasted capsicum. In fact food plays a pivotal role at Bamurru, with multi-course dinners every night, breakfasts as diverse as your imagination, and lunch settings straight out of National Geographic. Menus can be rather adventurous; ever thought you’d lunch on terracotta pot pies filled with camel and water buffalo? How about local scallops and crayfish, out on the lodge’s sprawling desk as the day’s warmth ebbs. Perhaps you’ll earn your meal with a particularly stubborn, but ultimately delicious beggar’s chicken? Whatever is on the menu you can be sure it’s adventurous and never a l cliché.
Aboriginal bush tucker is one of the many topics discussed during the regular outings on both the air boats and the rugged little Toyota cutaway 4×4 troopies which tumble and grumble through the bush like mechanical water buffalos. During these encounters guests
learn how to smoke Barramundi in native paper bark; avoid the bush berries that spell certain death; and to savor the zest lime flavor of bulbous trees ant. It’s real boy scout stuff and guests absolutely love it.
The two days at Bamurru drift past far too quickly and it’s morning as guests climb aboard a dusty Land Cruiser for the road back to Darwin. I leave like so many of Bamurru’s guests, with a better understanding of this stunningly beautiful land and the harsh realities of Top End life, and with a definite preference for cocktail hours serenaded by a Noah’s procession.
Qantas offers flights from Asia to Queensland and on to Darwin.
Bamurru Plains, from US$466 per night, twin share, including meals and open bar.