Is private property camping the future of 4X4 exploration?
We go to Lorella Springs Station to find out. Northern Territory.
Atrip to the Gulf Country is not for the faint-hearted. It was the effort to reach this remote place that led to the demise of the famous Burke and Wills expedition. Smack bang in one of the most remote places in all of Australia lies the little oasis of Lorella Springs. ‘Little’ is probably not the appropriate word to describe Lorella Springs. As the owner, Rhett, or any one of his sons will tell you when you arrive, the working cattle station occupies an area of one million acres.
The signs around the homestead say ‘Welcome to Paradise’; and gee, it’s hard to argue. There’s a bar stocked with cold beers and a garden overlooking a grassed hill that leads directly down to the actual Lorella Spring – a little swimming hole that would have been the personal swimming hole for Rhett and his family. It’s about now you start to realise what these guys have given up to allow us Terry Tourists access to this amazing part of Australia.
Drive though the creek crossing at the back of the homestead and you will be greeted with a huge area that’s the main campground of Lorella Springs. Here you will find toilets, along with a couple of donkey boilers so you can even have a hot shower. It is BYO wood though, so no wood means a cold rinse. There’s also taps around the campground plumbed directly into the spring. Rhett’s son, Tristan, tells me he’s been drinking this water his entire life and they even went to the trouble of having it tested to make sure us weaker-stomached travellers could safely drink it. The good news is that I can vouch for its safety first-hand after losing the tap on my 20L jerry can and having to top up here after some minor repairs.
The way to adventure
While the main campground is nice, Lorella is really about having fun. Turn left after the homestead and you will come across a sign that says ‘This Way to Adventure’. Truer words have never been written. As you pass through the first couple of gates (remember this is a working cattle station so leave the gates as found), you are greeted with the first crossing of Rosie Creek. This crossing has a sandy base and a few psi should definitely be dropped out of the tyres before attempting it.
If it’s a hot day and you can handle a bit of a walk, head towards the north-west side of the station. Here you will find some newly opened areas including some fantastic swimming holes like Le Spa. There’s a steep little pinch to get all the way to the parking area but if your vehicle isn’t quite up to it you could walk the extra few hundred metres. A short walk and a rock-lined swimming hole await. Don’t think this is a quick little drive from the homestead though. After 45km of tracks and bulldust, the sheer scale of Lorella was slowly dawning on me. But the drive is worth it – especially if you make the hike out to the real jewel in this area. Nanny’s Retreat is a waterhole located between two sheer cliffs with a gently flowing creek running into it at one end. You could easily spend hours here just soaking in the crystal clear waters.
Two histories merged
The history of Lorella Springs is fairly interesting too. There’s two main parts: The Aboriginal history and the European history. The best place to get a taste of both together is without doubt Musterer’s Cave. The caves in this area include Aboriginal art and were used by the cattle musterers as shelter in the early days of European settlement. Now the caves provide panoramic views across Lorella and, judging by the bones on the ground, shelter for a local dingo population.
The European story continues at Billy’s Camp. This was the site of the original settlement of Lorella Springs Station. Although only ruins remain, a walk around will reveal a little about what it was like living this remotely when the area was first being settled. Gas lanterns lay around the place and a root cellar with a steel door sits hiding beneath a bush. Billy was completely cut off while living here for up to six months a year, having to store supplies and grow his own vegetables.
The story goes that Billy met a girl and fell in love, but she couldn’t handle the isolation. Whether as the result of a broken heart or due to malnutrition, Billy supposedly went mad; but not before burying all of his gold somewhere in the area. They say that the gold is still buried there today.
Crocs, a secret spot and great fishing
Another of the relatively new tracks at Lorella takes you roughly 80km north from the homestead to Secret Spot X. This track follows a saltwater creek dotted with camps along the banks, all the way to the ocean. This would be one of the most pristine and untouched pieces of coastline I’ve ever seen. The water is the kind of blue you only see on postcards. It genuinely feels like a tropical island… all to yourself. Beware though, this is not the place to whack on your finest pair of budgie smugglers and jump in the water. There are crocs here. Big crocs, too. In fact when I was there someone had placed a sign in a tree at one of the riverbank camps warning people about a 4m croc watching their camp at night.
If the open saltpans and beaches of the coast aren’t to your liking, but you would still like to fish for those pelagics (like trevally or queenfish) that call these waters home, then a stop at Rosie Creek boat ramp could be for you. The camping is set high up the riverbank so you are a little safer from crocs than at Secret Spot, but the fishing is just as good. Add to that the stunning sunsets looking back down Rosie Creek and you have the makings of one of the best campsites in Australia. Seriously, this is as good as it gets. Rosie Creek is really up there with Vic High Country streams, Sandy Cape on Fraser Island and the Simpson Desert.
While fishing, and seemingly unable to land a barra in the saltwater, one last try in the freshwater seemed appropriate. Back towards the homestead lies a permanent billabong aptly named Snapping Handbag Billabong. You see, as the upper reaches of Rosie Creek dry up through the dry season, this billabong provides a home to the resident freshwater crocodiles. There’s a tinny tied up here with only one oar… and apparently the oar is as much for paddling around as it is for hitting crocs on the head.
Four days exploring Lorella Springs Station is nowhere near enough for a place that covers one million acres – but it will give you a taste. If you’re anything like me and just love remote camping, fishing and that sense of adventure you only get being miles from anywhere or anyone, then one visit will not be enough and Lorella will call you back. Unlike many of our public areas, Lorella will only ever open more and more tracks, more and more camps and more and more pristine swimming holes. If that doesn’t sound like the future of 4WD-based camping and exploring, then I don’t know what does.