When Baz Luhrmann came to town to recreate the bombing of Darwin for his movie Australia, some the locals thought the city was under attack again. As the cameras rolled, the sound of huge explosions and WWII aircraft bombing the harbour echoed up the hill and along the CBD’s Esplanade, bringing startled locals to Stokes Hill Wharf in record numbers.
It comes as no surprise to see a wedge-tailed eagle soaring above "Big Bill's Place". Its other name is, after all, Hawk Dreaming. Bordered by ancient outcrops of red sandstone and a network of lush green billabongs, this enclave is one of the Northern Territory’s best-kept secrets, a gem of a place that gives visitors an insider’s view of this World Heritage-listed national park.
This lodge gives adventure seekers a taste of understated luxury and the option of going on an African-style safari Down Under. Located next to Kakadu, Bamurru Plains sits on a peninsula in the middle of a flood plain, a wildlife haven with hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, the world's largest estuarine crocodiles, Asian buffalo, Indian sambar deer, wild boar, agile wallabies and flocks of flying foxes that fill the sky at sunset. It offers "wild bush luxury" in a region that during the Wet has been compared with Botswana's Okavango Delta. Built on stilts, the lodge is flanked by silvery-green paperbark forests and billabongs, and is the brainchild of Africa aficionado Charles Carlow, heir to British aristocrat Lord Portarlington.
Seven Spirit Bay is a place of colour, a remote coast of rainbow cliffs, where sedimentary rocks of turmeric yellow, caramel and chilli red earth rise above the turquoise waters of the Timor Sea. As the tide ebbs, slithers of white sand emerge from the bay. When it returns, shoals of fish leap from the water, their scales flashing silver in the sunlight.
Once the home of outback legend Sara Henderson, Bullo is the essence of a Top End cattle station. A place where a herd of 8000 Brahman-cross cattle graze on 250,000 hectares of grassy plain, while huge crocs cruise the large meandering rivers that run through the property.
Ringside at Uluru
This tented camp in the dunes around Uluru gives guests a dress-circle view of Australia's iconic landmark. If you cant be bothered to get up and open the curtains in order to see the Rock at dawn, simply flick a bedside switch and the curtains slide apart. As the sun peers over the horizon, the great monolith begins to glow. Nothing but scrub and desert come between you and this sensational scene – except, maybe, your bank account.
Croc-spotting on the Victoria River
Lord Kakadu and Arnhemland Safaris
Barramundi Nature Lodge, Arnhemland
**Where to Stay**
Set among lush tropical gardens next to a wetland, this hotel/resort is built around beautiful landscaped gardens with swimming pool, spa area, bar and award-winning restaurant. Designed like a Balinese resort, it must be one of Australia’s most spectacular airport properties. And it’s only a seven-minute drive from the Esplanade that overlooks the bay.
Price: Standard room, from $160.
Where: 1 Henry Wrigley Drive, Marrara.
Welcome to life on an iconic outback cattle station made famous by author, the late Sara Henderson. Run by her daughter and son-in-law Marlee and Franz Ranacher, Bullo offers a purpose-built guest area next to the homestead with 12 double room with aircondition and ensuite facilities. Drinks and informal dinners are held on the terrace or in the homestead’s dining room. Guests can learn how to muster cattle, fish for barramundi, go croc-spotting or visit a pristine water hole and swim. It’s possible to fly in a small charter plane from Darwin or Kununurra as the station has an airstrip on the front lawn!
Price: Rooms and full board, from $750 a night.
Where: Off the Victoria Highway, 800kim from Darwin, NT, and 200km from Kununurra, WA.
These swish modern apartments are located on the beach overlooking the Coral Sea in a secluded spot a little out of town. With large balconies facing west (sunset), the one, two and three-bedroom apartments are modern, very stylish and come with large balconies and well-equipped kitchens. A few minutes walk is Horseshoe Bay, Hugh Jackman’s favourite beach when Baz Luhrmann brought the film unit of Australia to town. On the lawn, overlooking the beach, is The Cove International Restaurant that serves three meals a day with Asian fusion cuisine in the evening.
Price: From $210 a night for one-bed apartments
Where: Horseshoe Bay Road, Grays Bay.
Tel: (07) 4791 2000
Absolute beachfront villas on a palm-shaded lawn with cabanas on the water’s edge.
Price: Beachfront villas, from, $125 a night.
Where: Queens Bay.
Kununurra, Western Australia
Easily the grandest place to stay in Kununurra, this property looks as if it is built from sandstone, but in fact, its walls are made from a clever composite material. The stylish, spacious rooms and suites overlook boab trees and a swimming pool. There’s a bar, popular with locals, and a restaurant that serves good quality meals. Owned by Marilynne Paspaley, of the pearling dynasty, the Grande has sister properties in Broome.
Price: Rooms from $187 a night; spa suites, from $336 a night.
Where: 20 Victoria Highway, Kununurra.
Almost two hours west of Kununurra on the Old Gibb River Road, El Questro is located in the spectacular Cockburn Range, a pivotal location in the filming of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, and a remarkable place to get a taste of what Kimberley wilderness has to offer. Guests can either stay at the camp site or air-conditioned villas overlooking the Pentecost River at the Station Homestead, at tented cabins at Emma Gorge (a 45-minute walk from a 30-metre waterfall and huge natural swimming pool) or at the exclusive Homestead, overlooking the Chamberlain Gorge.
What’s on offer: Trekking tours through spectacular wilderness areas, swimming at waterholes, barramundi fishing, 4WD tours, riding, scenic air tours and much more.
Price: Camping from $15 a night; Emma Gorge Tented Cabins, from $256 a night; Homestead from $1900 a night.