Kidman's Camp, Bourke review: Camp by the Darling

Read our writer's views on this property below

In the company of backpackers and grey nomads, Bruce Elder finds outback hospitality and a bushman's cabin.

If you want to experience outback NSW in comfort - and, believe me, "comfort" and "outback NSW" rarely appear in the same sentence - check into Kidman's Camp at North Bourke.

You can relax in the large and comfortable rooms, sit on the verandah of the new timber cabins, splash in the swimming pool surrounded by rose gardens and gaze across the Darling River flood plain, which was dry and dusty after seven years of drought when I stayed. Since then, western NSW has experienced enough rain to turn the countryside green and put smiles of the faces of the local farmers. Still, the drought lasted too long in a place where, even with rain, life is tough and creature comforts, at least for the locals, are few.

Kidman's Camp started life as a caravan park and, as you might expect, turning a caravan park into an upmarket destination is a challenge. It probably helps that one of the park owners, Peter Simmonds, a former Australian champion bronc rider, also happens to be a builder. Here he combines his love of horses and a penchant for equine ornamentation with a love of burnished, but unmilled, eucalypts.

On a river bank above the Darling River flood plain, just out of view of the river, Simmonds has built five timber cabins, each with a tree trunk holding up the roof, with exposed timber walls and huge, knotty beams smoothed only by an axe and adze. He has furnished the cabins in a style best described as contemporary rustic - with a rough-hewn homemade bed supporting a very comfortable mattress, two raw-timber rocking chairs on the verandah and a saddle strategically located on the crossbeam above the bed. The effect is a subtle mix of contemporary comfort and the rawness of a 19th-century bushman's cabin.

Now, before you pack your bags, hop in the car and drive the 778 kilometres from Sydney to North Bourke, it is worth knowing that Kidman's Camp is also a caravan park capable of holding 500 people. At this point, Simmonds has completed five new cabins - numbers 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 - so you'll need to be specific about booking them, as opposed to the older, less attractive cabins on the site.

This is, however, no ordinary caravan park. It has a huge resort-style swimming pool edged with iceberg roses and green lawns dotted with chairs and tables and there is a covered picnic area. And on Wednesday and Friday nights a number of Bourke bush poets, led by Nicky Brown, lead recitations and songs around a campfire after a barbecue, which over the years has raised thousands of dollars for charities in Bourke.

As with most caravan parks, there is a shop selling basic groceries and the patrons, in caravans and tents, tend to be a chatty and happy crowd of enterprising European backpackers and grey nomads making their way around the country.

Visitors wanting a "proper" breakfast should either cook their own (there are facilities including a full-size fridge and a decent stove in each cabin) or head into town, where Morrall's Bakery Cafe, on the highway at 37 Mitchell Street, is considered the best. It certainly serves a decent cup of coffee.

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Kidman's Camp's new cabins are the best accommodation option in Bourke and for all the hardship caused by the drought, Bourke remains a fascinating town.

Only a few hundred metres from the camp - just across the flood plain at the river's edge - is the mooring point for the PV Jandra, a replica paddlesteamer that cruises from the camp to the famous North Bourke bridge twice daily. It is a relaxed way to admire the ancient river gums that fringe the river. If the water is deep enough (it wasn't when I was there) the vessel passes under the lift-up North Bourke bridge, which was built in 1888, the first bridge across the Darling River.

Rural towns often boast about the interesting graves in their cemeteries. In Bourke, they have reason to. The cemetery includes the smallest mosque in Australia, a number of graves of Afghan camel drivers pointing towards Mecca, the grave of John McCabe, a local policeman who was shot by bushranger Captain Starlight in 1868 and, most impressively, a chiselled plinth commemorating the eye surgeon Fred Hollows, who is buried nearby.

Last year, the Back O'Bourke Exhibition Centre opened, located on the road between Kidman's Camp and the town centre. A state-of-the-art museum with impressive audio-visual displays, it gives a superb introduction to life in the back country covering particularly "stories of early exploration, the poets, local bushrangers, the grazing industry, our legendsand conflicts".

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS BOOK

Address Kidman Way, North Bourke.

The verdict Unique bush accommodation celebrating timber and horses.

Bookings Phone 6872 1612 or see kidmanscamp.com.au.

Price Cabins are $99 a double.

Getting there Bourke is 771 kilometres from Sydney. Continue through the town towards North Bourke. Kidman's Camp is seven kilometres north of the town on the Enngonia-Barringun road.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Drive north to Barringun and Enngonia and have a drink in real outback pubs. Visit Bourke's impressive courthouse, one of the few original maritime courthouses in inland Australia. Visit the Back O'Bourke Exhibition Centre.