A Weekend on the… Mary River Floodplains, NT

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Aug 31, 2016

by LIANI SOLARI, Subeditor

Following an unusually dry wet season at Bamurru Plains, lodge guest Liani Solari discovers there’s more to the Top End than barra fishing.

Nature’s arbitrariness spreads out before us on the 30-minute Cessna flight from Darwin to Bamurru Plains lodge: well-defined rivers, far from bursting at the seams, snake their way through a motley landscape that would normally be flush with greenery and water after the wet season. So we’re unsure what to expect at this barramundi mecca when we touch down on dry – very dry – land. 

In response to this year’s unseasonal wet (October to April), which has forced Bamurru’s airboats into dry dock, the fishing lodge has devised an engaging itinerary of land-based activities, including quad-bike tours. 

Bamurru Plains, just west of Kakadu National Park, is located within Swim Creek Station, where about 5000 head of buffalo roam – sometimes right up to the doorstep of your bungalow. Setting out on tours in a safari truck, we’re either bouncing along red-dirt roads, enjoying natural aircon in the 30-degree heat, or slowly inching behind wayward buffalo, eating their dust. Nature has been unkind to these cumbersome bovines, their short-sightedness giving rise to the uncouth habit of licking their nostrils to enhance their sense of smell.

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Our guides direct our gaze towards blue forest kingfishers, soaring whistling kites and a regal white-bellied sea eagle guarding its lofty eyrie. Though the magpie goose – after which Bamurru is named – is a no-show, we spot many standouts among the property’s 236 bird species, including the pretty ground- nesting rainbow bee-eater. 

On a sunset tour to Mary River Billabong, the lack of water is as mesmerising as the long shadows cast by termite mounds that dot the grass-covered waterhole, evoking a “lost world” feel. Enjoying sundowners and canapés while imbibing the soft light, we admire a two-metre-tall mound that took 20 years to build, only to be taken over by ants when the termite queen died.

The water has also receded at Back Pond, where the airboats would usually be moored. On a morning hike, guide Harry Bezuidenhout scans the scene for crocodiles lying in the mud and feral pigs sleeping under logs as he leads our group through the paperbark trees. An estuarine crocodile lurks in a murky puddle, only its nostrils piercing the water’s surface.

The upside to these dry conditions is croc sightings in creeks and rivers, as the creatures can’t spread throughout the floodplains.

“The Mary River system has the greatest concentration of estuarine crocodiles in the world,” says Bezuidenhout. During a sunset cruise on Sampan Creek, he angles the boat up to the muddy banks so we can look these prehistoric throwbacks in the eye. We get more than we bargained for: great snaps and a humbling reminder of nature’s supremacy.

Stay 

There’s no TV at Bamurru Plains – ditto internet and mobile-phone reception – but why would you need it when nature puts on a show right outside your room? The 10 bungalows, which sleep a total of 20 guests, have mesh-screen walls to give you a front-row seat to buffalo roaming the floodplain or agile wallabies headlocked in an early-morning biff. 

The beds are supremely comfortable but there’s no fear of missing the spectacle – the barking owl’s whoop whoop is your alarm clock. Not five-star in the traditional sense, Bamurru’s rooms are stylishly rustic (timber floorboards, corrugated iron and dim lighting) and offer an exclusive wilderness experience without skimping on luxuries such as high-pressure showers. 

At the main lodge, the wet-edge pool on the deck overlooking the floodplain is a watering hole where guests can chill out during the day or gather under a thick blanket of stars to share nightcaps and tales of wild encounters. 

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Eat

Darwin’s restaurants are three hours down the road so Bamurru ensures its guests are well catered for. Meals are enjoyed around the communal dining table in the main lodge, hosted by manager John Cooper or a guide. Breakfast includes eggs Benedict with smoked salmon or spicy chipolata. At night we tuck into three courses paired with Australian wines: an entrée of watermelon and tomato gazpacho; a hearty main such as rack of lamb with chickpeas, broccoli and paprika yoghurt; and desserts incorporating homemade ice-cream. 

Play 

Next year’s wet season is predicted to be wet and the barra will be biting. If you’re a keen angler, secure a place on a Wild Bush Fishing Safari at Bamurru during the run-off. 

Hone your camera skills with acclaimed travel photographer Richard I’Anson, who will host the Top End Wilderness Photo Safari at Bamurru in May 2017.

Learn about bush tucker with Biota chef James Viles on the Wild Tastes of the Top End Food Safari next May. Gather native ingredients, watch cooking demos and enjoy a specially devised local menu. 

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