Things to Do in Bamurru
By David Cogswell
After the Australia Tourism Exchange in Adelaide ended in June, I joined several tour operators on a trip sponsored by Australia Tourism to Australia’s Top End for a quick look at some of the tourist attractions at the Top End of the Northern Territory. We traveled first to the coastal city of Darwin and from there visited two very different outback destinations: Bamurru Plains Tented Camp and Bollo River Station. We flew to Bamurru from Darwin on a 10-seat Piper Chieftain airplane. It was a 25-minute flight. Driving takes three and a half hours.
Bamurru Plains Tented Camp is on the northwestern edge of Kakadu National Park on the Mary River floodplains. Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park, nearly 8,000 square miles. It has four main rivers: Wildman River, West Alligator River, South Alligator River and East Alligator River. Seventy percent of it is savannah woodlands. It’s very remote and unmarred by industrial civilization.
The camp was created on the model of the luxury tented safari camp in Africa, which in turn grew out of an old tradition of big game hunting trips taken by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. Like the safari camps in Africa, Bamurru has a central lodge building that is the headquarters for nine bungalows, which are sort of half tent and half permanent structure. The lodge has an indigenous feel, built largely out of local materials recycled from earlier buildings in the ranch area. The lodge is wooden framed, with high open-beam ceilings, and recycled corrugated sheet metal providing many of the walls and ceilings. Some of the construction materials are clearly much older than the building itself, and like museum pieces they speak of an earlier era. Though some of the materials are obviously of an old vintage, the elements are put together so tastefully and artistically that the resulting architectural statement is smart and modern, embodying an environmentally friendly attitude. Bamurru is not, as some tourist developments, an assault on its setting. The camp generates 80 percent of its electric power through solar heat. The rest is provided by a diesel generator.
The lodge building is an open space that has areas within it that serve as living room, dining room, kitchen, library and bar. Some of the walls are decorated with big, bold aboriginal paintings. Cuisine is healthy, tasty and artistically presented.
The front and sides of the tents are woven fabric, like fine-mesh screens that are transparent when looking out during the daytime, but opaque when looking in from outside. It made it possible to observe the animals that grazed just outside the tent, including wallabies and buffalo, without being seen by them. At night when the lights are off, the animals again come very near the tents and you can hear them.
The camp occupies land leased from Swim Creek Station, a cattle farm that has 5,000 buffalo and 1,000 Brahman cattle from India. The cattle and the buffalo are part of many animal populations that inhabit the area, along with many wallabies, many varieties of birds and some crocs lurking in the swamp waters that you rarely see until it’s too late. The wallabies, of which we saw hundreds, are the subspecies known as agile wallabies, and they really earn their names. They are the smaller cousins of the kangaroos, marsupials with small front limbs and relatively huge hindquarters. They travel like lightning in giant leaps. They look like they are galloping, without using their front legs.
During the days, the rangers take guests on morning and afternoon drives through the surrounding wetlands and woodlands, pointing out different species of plant and animal life and geographical features. Fishing trips are offered for an extra charge. On one of the days my group went on a tour of aboriginal lands at Kakadu through Lord’s Safaris, also offered as an option. We drove to the town of Gunbalanya in Arnhemland, where we were met by an aboriginal guide who goes by the name of Thompson. He took us up a mountainside and showed us many examples of ancient rock art, and talked about them, giving us a glimpse of his cultural point of view.
On the last morning at Bamurru, we went for a ride in the airboat through the strange world of the marshlands. It was a flat-bottom boat with a huge fan on the back for propulsion. The swampy water in the wetlands is so thick with underwater growth, there is no way for a propeller to work under the water. Rowing would also be next to impossible. The fan pushes the boat around. When the fan is on the passengers have to wear headphones to block out the noise. As we rode on the surface of the swamp, the grasses and plants were so thick, it looked like we were just gliding through the grass
Our guide pointed out many exotic varieties of wild plant and animal life. Though there are crocodiles in the area, they are elusive and hard to spot. Our guide told us there was one crocodile in the area that was more than 12 feet long. We saw many exotic and eye-catching plants and flowers, such as wild rice, tall spike rushes and water lilies with round leaves floating on the surface as big as parasols with delicate violet and white flowers. Pandanus plants have leaves that grow in elaborate spirals. Melaleuca trees had white bark like paper. The lotus has two-foot wide leaves with velvety surfaces that stay perfectly dry as water beads up and rolls right off. NASA is studying them to learn how to make transparent coverings for space technology that will resist lunar dust. Our ranger guide said, “We call these safaris. Maybe we should call them something else.” I saw his point. Calling them safaris, blurs the meaning of the word and calls forth a comparison with the African safaris, where people see lions, giraffes, zebras, hippos and leopards. Australia has its own amazing wildlife and landscapes, as well as the appealing lore and mystique of the Outback and the Aboriginal tribes. It doesn’t need to place itself in the shadow of Africa. As the Australia Tourism slogan says, “There is nothing like Australia.”
For more information on travel to Australia, see www.australia.com. -- David Cogswell