The Top End’s Bullo River is a working cattle station, but for adventure-starved city slickers it’s a holiday destination offering serious bragging rights. Try your hand at cracking a bullwhip, roping cattle (or maybe not!), a little mustering in season (most is now done by helicopter), horse-riding, a 4WD safari, quadbiking, or hauling in the biggest barra you’ve ever seen. Teeming wildlife (yes, there are crocs and wild buffalo), amazing landscapes, Indigenous art and handsome guestrooms adjacent to the low-slung, stone homestead. No camping facilities.
Head’em up and move em out… Well, as it happens, you’re too late for 2014. The chance to play drover for 19 days (or just a few days), helping drive around 600 cattle across 200 km of spectacular Queensland outback is mighty popular. It’s a once-a-year chance to ride tall in the saddle by day, camp under the stars at night. No frills, and you do pay (around $360 per person, per day) but what an adventure. Register now to hear about the 2015 Cattle Drive.
Trilby Station, NSW
Trilby is literally ‘back O’Bourke’, a 1300-square km sheep station that includes a swathe of the legendary Darling River lined with ancient Red River Gums. The Murray family trace their history on the Darling back six generations to 1860. Explore the property, get a glimpse of how a pastoral station runs, fish for yellow belly (golden perch) or yabbies, canoe, cycle, bushwalk or spot some of the 135 or so bird species. There are cottages, powered and river camping sites or you can bed down in the Shearers’ Bunkhouse (pretty comfy, actually).
Clayton Station, SA
On the infamous Birdsville Track, 53 km north of Maree, this working cattle station and stock horse breeding property sprawls across 2500 square km. Five-day trail rides head through remote countryside, across desert and rocky outcrops, past tree-shaded creeks. Maybe you’ll muster some cattle, but you’ll certainly sleep in a swag, yarn by the campfire. Or you join a 4WD, off-road, tag-along tour. Or just stay put and soak in the outdoor spa’s steaming artesian water.
Around 500 km north of Adelaide, in the remote Flinders Ranges, Angorichina (or ‘Ango’) is a 500-square km sheep property that takes just one booking (max 8 guests) at a time. The Farghers, here for four generations, make you feel pretty special and you can join in mustering, shearing, go on a bore run and generally see how the place runs. Then there’s bushwalking, wildlife spotting, 4WD and sunset tours, and flights to the northern ranges. Guests stay in the elegant original 1860s homestead or nearby cottage.
El Questro, WA
Around a million acres of ruggedly beautiful Kimberley landscape is the backdrop to El Questro Wilderness Park. Horse-riding treks, river cruises past towering gorges, heli-fishing, swimming in pristine waterholes, learning about bush techniques and Indigenous rock art sites and more are on offer. Gourmet fare and five-star luxury at the Homestead, or upmarket bungalows, campground or bush camping on the Pentecost River.
The quintessential cattle station, Home Valley is the type of station you see in movies. Oh, that’s right, it IS in a movie – this is where Baz filmed Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. At the foot of the Cockburn (that’s ‘co-burn’) Range, near the Kimberley’s Pentecost River, it’s beyond stunning. Guests can stay anywhere from a premium-level ‘Grass Castle’ to an eco-tent or just pick a shady spot to unfurl a swag. The Mini Cattle Muster is popular, bushwalking, sunset and station tours or fantastic fishing are other possibilities. At day’s end, make for the Dusty Bar and Grill. A range of accommodation and camping options.
Wooleen Station, WA
Way out west, in WA’s Murchison River rangelands, Wooleen offers a nature-based station stay on 200,000 hectares. This is all about the land – the ancient, colour-streaked rock outcrops and sandy plains, seasonal wildflowers, Indigenous heritage, wetlands and wildlife – and how to sustain it. There are conservation and bush tucker trails, incredible birdlife. Guests can stay in the 1918 heritage homestead, built by the original station owners, surrounded by lovely grounds (and now with a swimming pool) and dine with the station owners. There are also two guesthouses and camping.
All photos are courtesy of the Stations. Harry Redford Drive courtesy Barcaldine Regional Council.