Bamurru Plains sits on the edge of what it describes as Australia’s Okovango Delta, the Mary River floodplain.
The luxury bush retreat is set on a small portion of the 77,000 acre Swamp Creek Station, which supplies live export buffalo and cattle to Asia. It is three hours from Darwin but feels much more remote and wild. At this time of year, early in the dry season, the waters haven’t fully receded and the wilderness is alive.
This is not cocktails-by-the-pool, finery at dinner style luxury. It is next level glamping, an escape to the wild for those not quite inclined to rough it. We are in what feels like the middle of nowhere, sleeping in elegant safari bungalows perched on the edge of a wetlands plain teeming with birds and buffalo and crocodiles and wallabies, and it is an exceptional balance of the outdoors and comfort. There is no phone signal or Wi-Fi, an initially terrifying prospect for someone so plugged in, but I get used to it quicker than I’d have imagined.
Closed during the wet season, Bamurru opens early in the year for fishing safaris before moving on to wilderness experiences as the waters recede.
3pm, exploring the wetlands
Along a dirt road through the bush, I cross a couple of cattle grates and meet my guide, Larissa, who will drive me the rest of the way.
After winding through eucalypts and purple turkey bushes for half an hour we arrive at Bamurru Plains, a collection of 10 huts perched on the edge of a sweeping green wetland. Inside the central lodge – a long and open timber room with a 30 seat dining table and clusters of couches – I’m greeted with a deliciously cold drink, and Larissa details the weekend’s activities to come.
Outside I see buffalo, birds, and agile wallabies wandering throughout the grounds, and I wonder if they even notice we’re here. I’m given the reassurance that any noises in the night will be them. One year, after a particularly wet monsoon season, a crocodile did drag a wild pig under one of the huts, but still – any noises are almost definitely the wallabies.
I’m in the farthest safari bungalow at the end of a dirt path. The bungalows take the best of camping, and remove the annoying parts – like tent zippers, low ceilings, dirt floors and long walks to bathrooms. From the back it looks like a sweet and rustic corrugated tin shed, set on stilts in its own clearing. But walking inside reveals a stunning timber bedroom with a large and low bed surrounded on three sides by a pale netting instead of walls. I can see the bush and wetlands around me, but no one can see in. The angle of the huts mean none of us are looking at each other.
Attached to the gorgeously detailed room is an equally beautiful tin and timber bathroom with a hot shower fashioned from a smooth tree stump.
Late in the afternoon we jump back in an open LandCruiser and make our way slowly to a nearby billabong, stopping frequently to examine trees, flowers, and birds. We cross the plain, avoiding the craters dug by wallowing buffalo, to the waterhole which has shrunk to a fraction of its wet season size. We park on the opposite side for sundowners and bush-tucker canapes – salsa and creamy cheese on bread slices, and smoked crocodile with sundried tomatoes and capers. The guests take this opportunity to get to know each other, trading travel stories.
Back at the lodge we all freshen up before meeting for dinner at the single long table. It’s a convivial dinner party of strangers, but in the small and friendly group no one stays strangers for long.
The chef, Glen introduces himself and details the dinner to come. A delicious and tender marinated kangaroo skewer on sweet potato and wild rocket for starter, followed by a succulent barramundi steak with a salsa mix and slightly dry polenta, with prosciutto wrapped beans on the side for main. Dessert is a very rich tiramisu, heavy on the cream. Wines are paired.
Bamurru’s very down to earth general manager, John Cooper, invites the guests out to the deck where a fire is crackling, and we settle in for the evening.
Lighting the way with the provided torch I head back to my bungalow, and the night is quiet, save for the rustling wallabies.
Dawn, wildlife wake-up call and airboat
I’m up early twice. The first time is a little before dawn courtesy of a few blue winged kookaburras in a nearby tree. The second wakeup is more welcome, as the sun rises over the long grass and blinks into the bungalow at the foot of my bed. The mesh glows in the morning light, and the animals begin to stir. I’m already on safari and I’m not even out of bed yet.
After a comfortably late breakfast of eggs and bacon and a continental buffet, we head towards the airboats. Expectations are high after other guests raved about it last night. The boats sit low and flat, with an enormous fan to push it over the reeds and grasses of the wetlands. We don our earmuffs and take our seats, and our guide, Logan, zooms across the open floodplain. The airboats get us incredibly close to it all – I feel much more a part of the environment than a sequestered observer.
Thousands of magpie geese, egrets, and the odd jabiru lift to the air as we chase flocks like a kelpie rounding up seagulls. Herds of buffalo raise their heads nonchalantly, staring at the boat before galloping away awkwardly through the knee high water.
A slow cruise around the tree line finds three crocodiles – much to the excitement of the kids in our group of seven. Tall ghostly gums reflect on the still, glassy water, and when the boat is stopped and the engine off, it is quiet and peaceful.
12pm, lunch and down-time
Lunch is a surprisingly filling meal of still warm rolls and a sweet potato and persian fetta salad so delicious I try to replicate it as soon as I get home. Then it’s a few hours of welcome downtime to read by the pool with a drink in hand and watch the wildlife amble around the deck munching on the grass and pandanus – this is after all a luxury retreat, and not an action adventure. A helicopter from the station flies overhead, prompting thousands of disturbed birds to take flight.
R&R is cut a little short so we can embark on our river cruise earlier and catch the low tide. The banks of the long and winding Sampan river are exposed and now is our best chance of seeing crocs (not that missing out was ever a danger in a region with the world’s highest concentration of the reptile.) A short drive takes us through part of Swim Creek station and past the airfield, which was new to me but not for those who flew in.
The cruise is pleasant but hot with the afternoon sun coming in low, rendering the canopy nearly redundant. Larissa and John hunt out more than a dozen crocs sunning themselves in the mud, and point out the bird life. If this is your first chance to see the top end’s reptilian superstars then you won’t be disappointed but for me it had nothing on the morning’s airboat trip.
7pm, dinner and bonfire
Dinner is even better than the night before, and chef Glen generously gives us his recipe for the world’s best pureed cauliflower cheese, as well as a few other tricks to make vegetables taste like anything but. Sharp and delicious scallop ceviche is served with wasabi, and the following duck confit falls off the bone. Blueberry pannacotta to finish leaves us feeling very satisfied.
Over the course of dinner John details the ethos of Bamurru, as envisioned by the owner, Charles Carlow. Bamurru is powered primarily by a bank of solar panels on site, with a back up generator which goes through just 30 litres of fuel a day. It is geared towards conservation and minimising its environmental footprint – all cans and bottles are driven to town for recycling, which has the added benefit of a small cashback through the NT’s recycling scheme.
I ask John if they intend to build more bungalows and increase the number of guests – it’s largely booked up most weeks – but John says it’s unlikely. The obvious economic incentives are not worth the impact it would have on the guest experience. He gestures around the table: imagine another 10 people sitting here? You wouldn’t get to know everyone like you do with this small group. John tells me of a recent visit to another nearby resort, where the first thing he noticed was a name-tag on a staff member. He doesn’t want Bamurru to be the kind of place where staff need name-tags.
The night moves again to the fire, and then later the self-serve bar.
The kookaburras are at it again, and I wonder if the lodge offers a hunting package. Probably not. Breakfast is scrambled eggs and smoked salmon as the main meal. The serve-yourself coffee pod machines and tea are popular today.
Those who are here for another night gather for their morning’s activity, and we say our goodbyes.
I had been offered the chance to go on another airboat tour, and while it is supremely tempting, I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time enjoying the actual lodge. After breakfast I wander around the site – as far as it’s safe to go after a warning not to get between the buffalo and the wetlands. Then I enjoy the time to myself by the pool, watching nature and enjoying the remoteness. A young buffalo calf wobble past the deck on shaky legs.
All too soon, it’s home time for me. Larissa drives me back to my car, and I head back to civilisation. About 45 minutes out my phone starts to beep, signalling my return to the world. It’s a tempting thought to turn back around.
The Ultimate Wilderness Experience is $950 per adult, per night twin-share and includes all meals, beverages and activities. The Floodplain Chillout is $550, but doesn’t include activities which range from $150 for a 4WD safari to $2,245 for full day tour to Arnhem Land by small plane.
The Guardian was a guest of Bamurru Plains.
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