Eco resorts often claim to blend subtly into the local environment. Bamurru Plains goes one better and is actually part of its environment. By James Teo.
KUALA LUMPUR, 10 October 2017. Bamarru Plains Resort is located on the Mary River floodplains, in Australia’s Northern Territory. Set in 300 square kilometres of privately-owned station land just to the west of Kakadu National Park, the remote site caters for up to 20 guests at a time to stay in what must be one of the most stunningly natural surroundings in Australia.
Lying in bed looking through a canvas window, watching a water buffalo graze just beyond the balcony is a memorable experience. Add to that access to miles of the teeming Sampan River, the coast and the Mary River Floodplain system with its astonishing profusion of bird and wildlife, and you could be forgiven for thinking you are in an African wildlife documentary. In fact, Bamurru’s profuse wildlife has been compared to that of the Okavango Delta in Botswana – and it doesn’t come up short.
The camp was built with the aim of causing minimal impact on the environment, with only 10 bungalows and a main lodge built on short wooden stilts. They use a combination of natural materials to maximise cooling air flow, with walls made of floor to ceiling mesh to keep you cool at night. To underline the ec0-credentials, only three rooms have air conditioning - and they come with a surcharge to discourage wimps. They all nestle among the bush along narrow paths that you need a hand torch to navigate at night, and with unobstructed views of the crocodile-friendly marshes. It’s a very natural setting – just don’t get lost.
Bamurru’s designers have worked hard to make sure at least 70 percent of the camp's power is solar generated, meaning no noisy generator drowning out the sounds of the bush at night as well as keeping the carbon footprint minimal. The main lodge with its lounge, eating area, kitchen, well-stocked bar and heritage-style verandah boasts a rusticated timber roof, thatched ceilings, and natural finish polished floorboards. It’s all very comforting – and so far out of mobile phone range you don’t even bother to check Whats App. This away-from-it-all feel is complemented by kerosene-style lamp fittings, along with real tree-trunk showers and dunny-style wooden walls.
The camp also uses eco-certified cleaning materials to minimise the impact on the immediate environment, it avoid using plastics, takes waste to the Darwin disposal centre, brings in food from local growers and farmers, and even uses organic cotton sheets that don’t need bleaching or ironing to keep energy and chemical demands to a minimum.
Even things like soap are produced locally using chemical free native herbs. And those late night torches don’t use batteries – they are wind-up torches that recharge with a simple winder. Far from the normal services, Bamurru uses drinking water filtered from onsite bore water wells. All bottles supplied are reusable; the camp refuses to use plastic mineral water bottles.
The managers claim to have made great efforts to avoid impacting the ecologically unique and sensitive environment, adding they are committed to sustainability and conservation. Manager Leith Graham says the key objective the owners strive for is for guests to “immerse themselves in the environment”- not just act as visitors with cameras and a bucket list of wildlife to tick off.
“We work towards what we call ‘wild bush luxury’,” he says. “It’s quality accommodation and cuisine, but made even more real by the option to lie on your bed and watch truly wild animals out of the windows.”
Weather or not
Sited as it is on the Far North floodplains, Bamurru is subject to the vagaries of the weather. When it rains there, it really rains. It can see some 1.5m of rain between October to April in the wet season. That’s when warm, moist monsoonal northwest winds bring high humidity and deluges. Because of this the resort operates two main seasons: February to April when it runs as a fishing lodge, and May to October when it opens to general leisure travellers. It closes the rest of the time – it is too wet to do anything.
But Bamurru is not just a resort experience. In season, its wildlife is something out of the ordinary. On an average day, you might see any of the almost 250 bird species that use the Mary River floodplain as a home or stopping point on long distance migrations. There are literally thousands of magpie geese, egrets, ibis, brolgas, wetland ducks and jabiru storks every way you turn. It is astonishing and bemusing how much birdlife there is. The wetlands are also home to wild buffalo, wild horses, a myriad of fish species and of course one of the largest populations of estuarine crocodiles on the planet - all wandering about in front of your verandah.
Bamurru’s staff say one of the prime motivations for what they do is to open the minds of guests through its environmental activities. This includes interpretation of the environment, the birdlife, the mammal and reptile life, and a commitment to introduce informed debate on topical environmental issues. These can include hot issues like the role of fire, water usage, the impact of introduced species on native flora and fauna and more. The resort also offers a full-day chance to learn about the escarpment landscapes and ancient rock art at Ubirr in Kakadu. Explanations about local mythology, the East Alligator River’s food chain, traditional uses for plants and animals and bush survival skills are given by a local Aboriginal guide.
As well as educating guests and blending its structures and processes into the landscape, Bamurru also donates $10 per night to Australian Wildlife Conservancy for every visitor. It is not just a commercial operation, stresses Graham.
Although committed to sustaining its environmental goals, Bamurru Plains can still offer one hell of a holiday. Taking an airboat ride across the wetlands into the eerily quiet wetland forests is a must. As Graham says, the environment there is like nothing else on earth. “I’ve taken people into the giant melaleuca forests and among the wild lilies and they have just burst into tears,” he says. “It’s just so amazing and special.”