This review of Bamurru Plains in Top End is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
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.