$22 campsite hides Australia’s best-kept secret

I love a good guided tour as much as anyone, but the things you discover on your own are always the most exciting.

Camped at Mount Elizabeth Station, a vast cattle farm about halfway along the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley that offers sites from $22 a night, we’d mentioned that we were interested in Aboriginal art when we were checking in at the homestead. “There are some paintings at the end of the gorge,” said the woman taking our details, pointing to a photo of a beautiful waterfall on the wall.

Ten tortuous kilometers along a 4WD track so gnarly in spots that we’d almost given up, we spied a rickety ladder that dropped into an ink-black waterhole. After swimming across the pool, we clambered onto a rock ledge behind the waterfall and then rock-hopped our way upstream for a few hundred meters.

Examples of Wandjina rock art in the Kimberley. Picture: Lauren Bath/Tourism Western Australia
Examples of Wandjina rock art in the Kimberley. Picture: Lauren Bath/Tourism Western Australia

Just as we were about to turn back, we rounded a bend to discover one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen on my travels around Australia. An ancient art gallery of dozens of sacred Wandjina figures, the wide-eyed, lightning-crowned spirits that control the weather and created the landscape of the far northwest. It may have been the heat, but they were so vibrant that they seemed to dance across the rock face they were painted on. It remains one of my most memorable travel moments.

The day before, we’d had a similar experience, following even more sketchy directions (“head down the track a bit, past the bend with the clump of trees”) to a cave with a ceiling completely covered with art and a bouldered outcrop decorated with mysterious elongated Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw) figures, thought to be 20,000 years older than Egyptian hieroglyphs.

One of the greatest myths in Australian road-tripping circles is that the best of our off-the-beaten-track wilderness is found in a national park. While it’s true that our parks have plenty of wild and beautiful places, some of the country’s most impressive natural wonders are actually hidden away on private property, especially in the vast cattle stations in the top half of the country. The good news is that many of them welcome campers – some even have luxury hotels – and you’ll often have these very special places all to yourself.

The 4000sq km Lorella Springs cattle station is located between Borroloola and Roper Bar
Outback camping on the 4000sq km Lorella Springs cattle station. Picture: Sean Scott/Tourism NT

It may be because your clothes are in desperate need of a decent wash. And perhaps your body, too. You might crave a bit of company for a change. You may have run out of Tim Tams. Or you just fancy the idea of having someone else cook you dinner.

When you’ve been bush camping for a while and it’s time for a few of life’s little luxuries, the default destination is usually a caravan park in the nearest town. However, the station stay is another option – a sort of halfway alternative that’s becoming increasingly popular, especially across the Top End. Some station stays are pretty simple affairs, where you’re basically camped near the homestead, with access to the cooking, washing, and bathroom facilities that shearers, musterers, or other station workers use during periods of intense activity. You’re usually allowed to have a fire, too, which is often not permitted under Rule 3, subclause B, paragraph 25 of the Don’t Do This in the Caravan Park book of regulations.

At the other end of the scale, you have vast outback properties that are destinations in themselves.

Incredible waterholes are just one of the highlights at Lorella Springs
Incredible waterholes are just one of the highlights at Lorella Springs. Picture: Sean Scott/Tourism NT

Lorella Springs is one such station. Open only during the April-September dry season, it occupies about 4000sq km – a million acres in the old money – adjacent to the Gulf of Carpentaria on the unsealed and often heavily corrugated Savannah Way in the Northern Territory, about 180km northwest of Borroloola. Access to the station itself is via a 35km 4WD track that’s fine for off-road caravans.

Owner Rhett Walker has developed Lorella Springs into a sophisticated operation, given its remoteness. At the homestead, there’s ensuite accommodation, a bar, meals, limited Wi-Fi coverage (but no phone signal), laundry, camp kitchens, basic supplies, fuel, and even a workshop for minor vehicle repairs.

The beauty of Lorella Springs, though, is that you can camp almost anywhere you like. Most people set up near the homestead and enjoy a dip in the thermal springs, but if you’re self-contained, you can disappear into the wilderness and find your own piece of paradise. A network of 4WD tracks leads to some amazing campsites, swimming holes, and fishing spots, especially along the Rosie River. Tinnies and canoes are even provided at several locations for campers to use.

Not bad for $50 a night for two people, or $300 for a week. I could stay there for a month, easy.

Camping at Lorella Springs. Picture: Sean Scott/Tourism NT
Visitors choose where to set up camp at Lorella Springs. Picture: Sean Scott/Tourism NT

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

About the author


Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.


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