Bullo River Station isn’t a hotel, it’s an experience – and a gloriously hot and dusty one at that. Discover Australia’s pioneer spirit at this hospitable working cattle station, which occupies half a million acres and works closely with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Unleash your inner bushman or bushwoman by helping out with cattle mustering and feeding calves, roaming the grounds in a 4WD or croc-spotting by the river. After all that, you’ll definitely deserve a dip in the pool, a drink in the lodge and a gourmet meal.
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A parting gift of Vasse Virgin Hinterland products
Noon; earliest check-in, 9am. Both are flexible, subject to availability (guests usually arrive late afternoon and leave late morning).
Double rooms from £670.94 (AU$1,200), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include all meals and drinks (including beer, wine and spirits), free WiFi, all land-based touring activities and a short helicopter experience.
Acclaimed Sydney designer Sibella Court is responsible for the accommodation wing’s good looks, having previously strewn sartorial fairy dust over Sydney stars such as Hotel Palisade and Palmer & Co cocktail bar.
Bullo River Station shuts its doors from October until March.
At the hotel
Half a million acres; herd of around 4,000 Brahman cattle; communal lounge stocked with drinks and snacks. In rooms: air conditioning, Vasse Virgin Olive Oil bath products, kettle, tea and coffee kit.
Our favourite rooms
The 12 guest rooms are all born equal, styled with earthy colours and decorated with natural materials that riff on the surrounding landscapes. Towel holders have been braided by a local whip-maker; hardware comes courtesy of an accomplished blacksmith. If you bring a pioneering spirit to the bedroom, spend a night or two in a remote Lake View Hut, perched atop a hill and only accessible by helicopter. (Meals will be brought to you by air.)
Wash away some of that rust-red dust by plunging into the sparkling alfresco pool, which overlooks the leafy paddock where the cattle graze. Speak nicely to the staff and they’ll take you to Marlee’s swimming hole: the only freshwater (ie, croc-free) bathing spot on the property…
Bring something you can comfortably muster cattle in. Your sense of adventure helps, too.
This working cattle station isn’t suitable for guests with reduced mobility.
Little Smiths are very welcome; adventurous types will love it. Cots are free; children aged between three and 15 stay for a reduced rate ($900 a night).
All ages are welcome, but older children will particularly love experiencing life on a working cattle station.
Opt for one of the 12 guest rooms (the Lake View Huts are better for isolation-seeking lovebirds). Cots can be added to rooms for free.
lder ones can join 4WD tours of the property, swim in the pool, go wildlife-spotting, enjoy boat tours and even saddle up and go for a ride with staff.
There’s an outdoor pool but no lifeguard, so keep an eye on your water babies.
High chairs are available at the lodge. Meals take into account guest preferences; let staff know in advance if your little ones have special requirements.
No need to pack
Although the homestead doesn’t have play equipment, four children live onsite and are happy to share their toys and bikes with young visitors.
Very: the station works closely with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. A kitchen garden is underway and the hotel has a flock of resident chooks. Rainwater is recycled; organic produce is grown onsite or sourced locally; guests are encouraged to explore the property by hiking, horse-riding or 4WD. Don’t miss the two protected billabongs, where birds nest undisturbed.
The lodge dates back to the Fifties, and has the retro style to prove it. Renovations to the lodge are in the planning; in the meantime, guests tend to dine outside on the patio, in the company of Mother Nature. Breakfast and dinner are eaten at the homestead; other meals and snacks are built into guests’ adventures, with a range of potential locations: an impromptu barbecue by a waterhole, perhaps. Instead of a formal menu, guests are asked about their dietary preferences; if the station’s planned meals don’t take their fancy, an alternative will be helpfully suggested. Sociable barbecues with the team take place one a week, starring the freshest beef from the farm, barramundi from the river, plus a bounty of local produce.
There’s no formal bar as such, but you can enjoy drinks in the restaurant and lounge.
Dinner is usually a group affair at around 7pm; breakfast, lunch and tea breaks are timed around guests’ activities. To kick dinner off in style, guests are invited to sunset canapés at the homestead.
None, but help yourself to drinks and snacks from the fridge in the communal lounge between meals.
Bullo River Station occupies a remote patch of outback on the edge of the Kimberley, in the northwest corner of Australia's Northern Territory.
The closest airport is Kununurra in Western Australia, a three-hour drive from Bullo; let Smith24 book your flights. You can also catch a private charter flight from Darwin to the hotel (staff will sort all the logistics with advance notice).
The drive from Kununurra is somewhat ‘adventurous’; the hotel advises guests to come by air transfer instead. Alternatively, staff can arrange return transfers in a Land Cruiser (an extra cost).
Worth getting out of bed for
Boredom is unheard of here, thanks to awe-inspiring indigenous art, wildlife adventures galore, hiking, horse-riding, helicopter tours and Bullo River expeditions – not to mention the daily distractions of cattle-station life. Fish for barramundi in the Bullo River or cruise the Bullo River Gorge, admiring the red cliffs, mangroves, fig trees and pandanus. Keep a keen eye out for wildlife: birds, wallabies, crocodiles (including the rare pygmy croc), goannas and other reptiles gather at the water’s edge, especially in the cooler mornings and evenings. Bird-watchers can expect more than 100 resident and migratory bird species, including emus, magpie geese, whistling ducks, wedge-tailed eagles, red wing parrots, brolgas and the elegantly long-legged jabiru. Set off on a helicopter tour, go horse-riding or hiking, or get a true taste of station life by roaming the station in a 4WD, all-terrain vehicle or on horseback. Help out with bore checks, lick runs and cattle-yard work, such as feeding poddy calves and muster training during the dry season months (June to September). Join a farm tour for a comprehensive masterclass in station life. If the friendly team from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy are around, have a chat with them about their sustainable methods. Embark on an Aboriginal rock art tour: around 200 rock-art sites are hidden away in the station’s cliffs and ridge lines. These ancient artworks are thought to belong to the Miriuwung-Gajerrong people, who originally lived on and managed the land. The galleries can only be accessed by guided tour in an all-terrain vehicle or helicopter. Don’t forget to take a picture of the largest baobab tree found so far…
Don’t expect local restaurants galore – you’re in the middle of rugged nowhere. The closest town, Kununurra, is a three-hour drive away, meaning all the more reason to settle in at Bullo River Station’s relaxed Lodge.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this outback hotel in Australia and unpacked their cowboy hats and kangaroo jerky, a full account of their Northern Territory break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Bullo River Station in East Kimberley…
Good news, pilgrims: we’ve found a patch of remote, rural Australia with your name on it. Bullo River Station gives guests a rare chance to experience life on a working cattle station, home to 4,000 Brahman beasties. You’ve probably not spent much time cattle-mustering with a helicopter overhead, feeding poddy calves or helping out with bore checks, lick runs and cattle-yard work, but you can change that here. (And then reward yourself afterwards, with a cool dip, an ice-cold beer and a delicious, chef-cooked meal.) This hospitable homestead with half a million acres channels the pioneering spirit of Australia’s bushmen and women from the Fifties and Sixties – but throws in some welcome mod cons for good measure. Put your phone down, forget about Facebook and reconnect with Mother Nature in all her rugged, arid glory.