A five-star wilderness camp banishes bad childhood memories for Carol West.
Camping can scar you for life. A dismal holiday in Wales as a 13-year-old saw me vow I'd never again go under canvas. I kept pretty much on script until the opportunity to go bush-with-frills at two Northern Territory camps appeared on the radar; eco-friendly camping neatly dovetails with an environmentally responsible attitude.
In our tented cabin at Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge, a faded photo of Scottish immigrant Bill Liddle shows a stern face that has known hardship. Liddle's grandson, Ian Conway, opened the lodge last year on the 1800 square kilometre cattle-and-camel spread of Kings Creek Station.
Each of the lodge's 10 tented cabins has a spacious ensuite, heating and air-conditioning. Water restrictors are fitted to shower heads, there's natural gas hot water on tap and plans to add more solar panels.
Camping is more than just environmental comfort, though. It also nurtures easy interaction with locals and other guests, something that doesn't come with a hotel room key.
At Kings Canyon tables are set under the stars as people from around the world gather for campfire food. A hearty soup is followed by barramundi garnished with lemon myrtle, beef marinated in red berries, pepper-crusted kangaroo and prosciutto-wrapped camel. Later, we sit around a fire tailor-made for yarns, port and more wine.
Now that I've confidently unleashed my inner Girl Guide, we decide to head for the second camp. Ten kilometres from Kakadu's western boundary, at the entrance to Swim Creek Station, we rendezvous with Chris, who will drive us to Bamurru Plains. With promises of wild bush luxury, I'm ready for it.
Sydney-based businessman Charles Carlow opened Bamurru Plains in 2006. A discreetly built forest of 260 solar panels generates power and hot water for nine cabins. Greeted with a fragrant cold towel and a signature tipple of rosewater, sugar and lemon juice, we drink in the panoramic view of the Mary River floodplains.
The walls of our cabin appear solid but it's an illusion. Opaque mesh fabric is stretched over the timber platform and frame made from recycled wood. The fabric provides us with a one-way view of the resident wildlife.
A mob of agile wallabies bounds into view grazing on young grass while its young males square up for a kick-boxing bout and a joey peeks nervously from a pouch. A squadron of correllas streaks across the sky. We're enjoying this personal theatre show while lounging on a luxury, linen-swathed swag.
Bush luxury comes not only in the form of gourmet food, fine wines and a comfortable bed but also the opportunity for an intimate, eye-level wildlife perspective with one of Bamurru Plains' experienced guides.
A glowing sunrise is forming just as a guide kickstarts a 450 Chevvy motor. The craft is a Teflon-bottom air boat. We fly across the lush green floodplain, its tall grasses bending to reveal the slender, black necks of magpie geese after whom Bamurru takes its name.
Cruising through a meadow of lily pads, we enter an aquatic forest of unbridled beauty where water reflects around sturdy paperbark gums. We scan the water trying to spot two telltale eyes, the only indication that crocodiles are lurking beneath.
Back at the lodge, chef Isaiah Sang is making canapes, to be served with cocktails at the pool.
Wilderness food seems lifetimes away from my childhood wet week in Wales.
"I'm working on a buffalo curry using ground lotus seed, papadums, bush chutneys and relishes," Sang says. "The buffalo eats the lotus seeds so there's something symbiotic about this, although we have to harvest carefully so as not to deplete the lilies."
As the kookaburra alarm clock sounds, strips of pink slash the night sky. Paperbarks and spiky pandanus palms are darkly silhouetted and there's gentle footfalls as a group of brumbies saunters past to graze beside us. A pair of corellas begins to squabble, Bamurru magpie geese swoop overhead and a buffalo calf calls for its mother.
Then a buffalo raises its massive head and stares straight at me through my tent cabin's one-way mesh mirror.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Northern Territory and Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge.
Qantas flies daily to Darwin. Bamurru Plains is a 21/2-hour drive, or 20 minutes by light aircraft, from Darwin. Kings Canyon is a three-hour drive from Uluru. Phone APT on 1800 891 121, see aptouring.com.
Phone Bamurru Plains on 1300 790 561, see bamurruplains.com. For Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge, contact APT (see above). Self-driving travellers can use APT's booking service.