Not only should the record-setting concentration of saltwater crocodiles not deter you from visiting Australia's Top End, but it should be a reason to make your way to stylish safari lodge Bamurru Plains. This elegant hotel boasts bungalows with an exhilarating back-to-nature vibe that’ll have you chasing beasts and eating outdoors in no time.
Double rooms from $836.84 (AU$1,236), excluding tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include all meals and selected beverages from an open bar and daily guided activities.
Don’t even think about going out to eat – the nearest place selling food is a garage-cum-burger shack around an hour-and-a-half away by car.
The hotel is closed from 1 November to 30 April each year.
At the hotel
Outdoor pool, library. In rooms: king-size beds, organic cotton bedlinen, ensuite with high-pressure shower, deck, air-conditioning (in three of the bungalows, for AU$100 extra per night; request it when you book).
Our favourite rooms
We love West 4, the bungalow that’s furthest from the main lodge, for its secluded position and great views of the wetlands. Set on a timber platform, it’s lined with ‘outlook’, a mesh fabric that allows you to keep an eye on passing wildlife even though nobody on the outside can see in, and it comes with comfy beds with bush-style canvas bedspreads. Extra ‘swag’ beds can be provided for a third adult or kids sharing your room (a fun update on traditional bushmen’s bedding rolls). If you must have air-conditioning, then bungalows West 1 and 2 or East 1 are the ones to book.
The inviting infinity pool sits behind the main pavilion. It is flanked by two covered areas, which come with plenty of cushion-strewn banquette seating and a big wicker basket filled with towels.
A hat and high-factor suncream are absolute essentials – it gets very hot out here. Also, bring a camera with a powerful zoom lens to get those professional-standard wildlife shots.
There’s a two-night minimum stay at Bamurru. Pets are not allowed – unless, maybe, as crocodile bait.
Bamurru welcomes kids aged eight and over, and is planning special family programmes for the school holidays. Rates for a child aged 16 and under, sharing with two adults are AU$470 a night; or AU$837 a child sharing their own room.
It’s all very egalitarian around the shared tables at Bamurru, but you could have a private meal in your bungalow if you wish. You’d miss out on all those ‘who saw the biggest crocodile?’ conversations, though.
Sun-smart safari threads: perhaps omitting any crocodile-skin accessories.
Dining at Bamurru is a relaxed and convivial communal affair, and guests bump elbows around three solid-timber tables in front of an open kitchen that dishes up robust country-style dishes such as wild barramundi with home-made tomato relish or warm emu salad with a pepper-and-strawberry dressing. Lunch is from 12.30pm; dinner after sundowner drinks and canapés at about 7pm.
Guests can help themselves to drinks at any time in the central timber-and-iron lodge, where couches abound, but the early starts tend to keep a lid on late-night revelry.
Lunch is served from around 12.30pm, while dinner starts about 7pm – after sundowner drinks and canapés.
While it doesn’t really exist at Bamurru, staff will do their best to deal with guests’ requests between breakfast and dinner.
Perched on the edge of the Mary River floodplains, Bamurru Plains is a true outback sanctuary, close to the coast and just a swagman’s step from Kakadu National Park.
Darwin International Airport (www.darwinairport.com.au) is serviced daily by international and domestic flights. Qantas (www.qantas.com.au; 13 13 13), Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com; 13 67 89) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com; 131 538) are the most popular domestic carriers. From Darwin it’s a 20-minute flight via light aircraft to the Bamurru Plains airstrip. Flight transfers to Bamurru can also be arranged for guests flying into Cooinda Airport in Kakadu National Park.
All the usual car rental companies have desks at Darwin International Airport. Once you’ve got your wheels it’s a three hour drive to Bamurru Plains, or two and a half hours from Jabiru (Kakadu National Park). However, take note, as the property is a working buffalo station you are required to leave the car at the entrance of the property from where you will be picked up by a staff member for the 20-minute drive to camp.
Worth getting out of bed for
Bamurru is set on the edge of the Mary River wetlands, east of Darwin and west of Kakadu National Park. Explore the arid plains on a guided bushwalk, or head out in an open-topped 4WD for some pre-sunset wildlife spotting. This is when the animals are most active and are moving off the open floodplains to spend the night in the safety of the savanna woodland. You’ll see hundreds of wallabies, water buffalo, birds, and there’s a good chance you’ll spot brumbies, wild boar and crocodiles. River boat rides afford more chances to view the snap-happy reptiles. Early morning drives to Van Diemen Gulf also showcase an impressive cast of Australian critters, too. For venturing further afield, highly recommended Lords Kakadu & Arnhemland Safaris (08 8948 2200; www.lords-safaris.com) offers specialised private safaris to difficult-to-access areas, at extra cost. If you want jaw-dropping sights with little exertion, head to the pool deck after dinner to gaze up at the stars – in dry season the mozzies tend to stay away. You can also hole up in the resort's treetop 'hide' and survey the bush in seclusion.
All meals are included in the rates, so you wouldn’t want to eat out – besides, the lodge is on a working buffalo station in the middle of the wetlands; the nearest civilisation is a roadhouse selling petrol and burgers about an hour and a half away.
Flying to Darwin isn’t like flying anywhere else. You might leave from the same Sydney airport but once airborne you’re on a journey to the frontier – and you can feel it. On this plane to the Top End sits actor Anthony LaPaglia, army types, German backpackers, old blokes sucking beer, a couple of Aboriginal elders and two slightly buttoned-up Smith reviewers heading to Bamurru Plains with a curious blend of excited anticipation and dread (there really have been quite a lot of croc attack stories in the NT recently).
On arrival at the frontier airport, we jump a cab around the corner to the charter flights and are away. Now, small planes landing on dirt strips in the middle of the Territory might not be for everyone but I love it and so, thankfully, does Mrs Smith. The flight (you can make the three-hour drive if you must) isn’t cheap, but in less than half an hour you are in one of those African safari-style Land Cruisers with the green canopy, rattling through the bush and getting excited by the sight of a red-tailed black cockatoo.
Already I am relearning skills from previous bush safari trips. Rule one: appear interested in nature, particularly fauna. Rule two: strike up conversations with people you don’t know despite your normal aversion to it – this helps to make you appear nicer. As Mrs Smith says, if I am engaging with strangers then we must really be on vacation.
Ever stayed at an African safari camp? Replace elephant for buffalo, and impala for wallabies, and you have the perfect replica. The fit-out’s the same – communal area with leather lounges, library, well-stocked bar and long dinner table that leads onto a massive deck with day-beds, an infinity-edge pool and a view across wide, open space. Of course, it’s all eco-friendly with solar power, artesian water and no mobile phone coverage.
Bamurru is situated at the edge of Kakadu on a private farm (some 300 square kilometres of it) called Swim Creek Station. There are just nine rooms, six identical and new (they are the best), with the three closest to the camp bigger but less exotic since you don’t feel like you’re sleeping under the stars as you do in the newer rooms.
The rooms are glam safari with a local feel – lots of corrugated iron, tans and khakis. The bed is literally in the open air (protected by netting wall-screens), raised up on a wooden platform. It is tops – Aussie but not kitsch. There are candles and gas lamps and, as I watch the buffalo amble past on their way somewhere on the station, I think to myself, ‘This is good, very good indeed.’
Dinner is perfect for the surrounds: salty mussels, crisp riesling, good pork and excellent shiraz. I even manage a perfectly enjoyable conversation with a Californian republican – now that doesn’t happen every day.
Dawn at Bamurru puts you in the middle of an Outback oil painting – soft grey, pink and pale blue. We are woken at 6.30am, breakfast is at 7am and by 7.30am we pile into the troop carrier and head to Sampan Creek where we putt-putt up and down the stream looking at birds. Secretly, though, we want just one thing: a monster croc. Garry tells us it’s unusually quiet and my heart sinks. It needn’t have – after an hour or so of relatively fruitless but quite pleasant boating, we come upon not one but dozens of crocs. And then the money shot: the five-metre monster that waits till you are in good camera range before snapping around, rustling like fury down the bank and then somehow gliding in silence into the water. It’s bloody unreal and has made my day – almost. Seriously, my entire trip is made when we return to camp to find prawns and lamb cutlets on the barbecue. How good can it get? Who needs foie gras and sauternes when you have crocs, beer, prawns and lamb cutlets? And it’s not even half past 12!
I then spend two hours doing something I never do – I lie on a shady day-bed, pick up a book and relax. And somehow, as in Fiji and a few other places on earth, the body just puts on the brakes. Some advice for those who plan to come to Bamurru: two nights is enough so don’t worry if you can’t afford the Kakadu option. We found the all-inclusive offerings – the early-morning adventure and late-afternoon amble – ample enough.
In the afternoon we trot around the billabong with our guide Justin, looking at birds, wallabies and buffalo and talking about nature, life and climate change. It’s truly revelatory for me – a couple more days here and I could have become the world’s fattest hippie (hence the advice to only stay for two days – the world needs no more hippies). Another fine three-course dinner is followed by our second morning in camp, which turns out to be one of the most stunning mornings of the decade for me, fair dinkum. (By day two Mrs Smith reckons I start sounding like Hugh Jackman in Australia. I just wish I had his biceps.)
I have one word to explain my brilliant morning: airboat. Yep, one of those hovercrafty things with the huge fan at the rear you see on the Everglades in Florida. Soon we are gliding and sliding among thousands of magpie geese (‘bamurru’ in local Aboriginal dialect), resting in a field of stunning pink lotus flowers and tailing four-metre crocs through swamps shaded by thousands of paperbark trees. It is brilliant, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. I have plenty more adjectives I could throw at airboating, but suffice to say if I’d spent the morning on a Pirelli calendar shoot, I could not have been happier.
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