Bullo River Station


Bullo River 212 September 6-10, 2007:  Imagine owning a cattle ranch (or station, in Aussie-speak) almost the size of Rhode Island.  Well, Franz and Marlee Ranacher do, and they were our hosts at Bullo River Station in the Northern Territory of Australia, where we hiked, camped, rode horses, fished, mustered cattle, saw amazing birds, and ate incredible food.  Best of all, we got a real feel for life on a cattle station in Australia. 

Uluru 407 We flew from Uluru in a tiny prop plane and learned when not to fly in the dessert.  Our mid-day flight was after the dessert had heated WAY up, so we ran into lots of rising air pockets — meaning a very bumpy flight.  When we landed to refuel (in a tiny town of 1,000), we weren’t all that sure we wanted to get back on the plane, but it beat — barely — walking 350 miles through the dessert.

Bullo River 184 When the plane was 30 minutes from the main house, the pilot told us we were now over the Bullo River station — it’s that vast.  And when we finally landed, Elizabeth became the first person in  the history of the station to crawl off a plane with a green complexion.  We said a big hello to our hosts, and  looked for a discreet way to dispose of multiple air sickness bags.  Not a trip highlight, that’s for sure.


Bullo River 164Next day, Sterling and Elizabeth went on a long horseback ride, while Gibson and I fished.   Gibson hooked a good-sized catfish, and his many years of training under his Uncle Jim of Seattle paid off as he landed it!  We got some barramundi bites, but didn’t land one of the area’s best eating fish.  We saw one fresh water crocodile on the fishing trip (a ‘freshie’ as opposed to a ‘saltie’), and after that I got a lot less interested in putting my hand in the water to test its temperature!


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The highlight of the trip was camping overnight in a remote spot on the station called The Cascades.  Believe it or not, the little whitish area in the center of the photo on the left (taken from the helicopter as we landed), in the center about 1/4 of the way down from the top, is a flat sandy area  where the helicopter landed.  We set up camp,  andthen went swimming in stream pools  that were crystal pure, and served as our source of drinking water.  At one point, I said to my kids, “Remember this.  It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”  They responded, “No it isn’t.  We’re coming back!” 

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The geology of the Cascades is fascinating.  Over millions of years, a deep notch (fifty meters deep at some places) had been carved out of the rock by the running stream water.  Where we swam, we could explore the various caves and eddy holes the river has made over the course of time.  At one point, I detected a shape of concern and hustled my family out of the water — only to discover, to my embarrassment, that the crocodile I alertly spotted was a “rock-odile”!



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We explored up and down the cascades during the afternoon, had a great campfire dinner that night, and then got halfway decent sleep in Australian swags (their version of a sleeping bag).  



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While the helicopter came in handy for our camping expedition, its principal use on a station is to muster cattle.  Bullo River has two small helicopters that are ideal for herding cattle, and are used extensively.  The stations of Australia have increasingly relied on newer technologies to improve cow economics, and one cattle station is a big enough business that it is now a publicly-traded stock.  I suspect the market there is “bullish” on the stock :-) .


Bullo River 083 Bullo River has about 7,500 head of cattle, raised on their 500,000 acres.  When the cattle are sold, some poor soul drives a cattle truck (see right) a LONG way over lousy roads to pick up the cattle from the station.  They sell for about $500 a head.  There are other stations even larger than Bullo River.  We talked to someone from Victoria River Downs, which is 6,500,000 acres (the size of Massachusetts), with 125,000 head of cattle.   The folks at Bullo River do a great job running the station and supporting touring visitors with a staff of about 10 — or one per 50,000 acres!!!

Bullo River 279 You wouldn’t think a cattle station would be a fabulous birding spot, but we saw 27 trip/life birds while we were there.    The breath-taking Rainbow Bee-eater was as omnipresent as a sparrow in the U.S., and everywhere we looked we’d see Corellas, Ibis, Wedge-tailed Eagles, and Galahs.  We were really lucky and saw an adult male Emu, with two baby chicks (it’s the father Emu that watches the babies for 18 months, while the mother heads off looking for other male Emus to hook up with), and Gibson got a photo (below) of the elusive Emu.

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The Emu is the second tallest bird in the world (about 6 feet tall, just shorter than Africa’s Ostrich), can’t fly, can run 30 mph over long distances, has a loud call that can be heard over a mile away, and looks a lot like Big Bird from Sesame Street.  We were thrilled to get a great view of one on the side of the station’s main road.  BTW, the station has its own bull-dozer and grader to keep these dirt roads passable, and Marlee operates and repairs them!


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 Well, sorry to have gone on (and on) about this most interesting place.  It wasn’t easy to get to, but it was a real treat to visit, and educated us about Australia’s  economy, history, and way of life.  I don’t think our visit to this amazing country would have been complete without this experience.

One Response to “Bullo River Station”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hello Mates! Wow, that looks like so much fun! I can relate to the bumpy plane rides as I have been there myself a few times. Thanks for the awesome pictures and blog entries. I am sure they will come in handy this year as the kids start projects on distant countries. Life in VA is going well. Sarah had an awesome volleyball game last night, barely squeaking out the win at the last minute. A big difference with two new coaches this year. Can’t wait to see the next entry! Cheers Mate!

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