Feel your cheeks hurt from so much smiling as you discover the beautiful Tiwi Islands, the ‘Island of Smiles’.
Take a trip across the water from Darwin to find a unique haven. With a thriving Aboriginal arts culture, fishing lodges, coastal landscapes with breathtaking sunsets, the Tiwi Islands promises to be a destination like no other.
The Tiwi Islands comprise of two main islands – Bathurst and Melville, which are 80km north of Darwin. Most of the residents are of Aboriginal descent and you’ll meet some of them oncultural and wildlife tours.
The people on Tiwi Islands are famous for their traditional lifestyle, stunning artworks, vibrant fabrics and textiles, plus an exuberant passion for football. Take a day tour from Darwin to the Tiwi Islands to find out why it’s nicknamed the ‘Island of Smiles’.
Things to see & do on the Tiwi Islands
Annual football & art sale
Australian Rules football is akin to religion on the Tiwi Islands. People from far and wide come each year in March for the football grand final and art. It’s a hugely popular and very special event, and the only day of the year when permits are not required for travel to the islands.
Take the opportunity and have a truly fantastic day out. The sale venue is the Tiwi Design Art Centre on Bathurst Island. Additional arts and crafts are on sale from Jilamara Arts and Crafts and Munupi Arts and Crafts on Melville Island.
Sales begin at 9am on Sunday and conclude around 1pm when the football starts.
This is a day you won’t forget and your cheeks will be hurting from so much smiling.
Art & culture
The Tiwi people are famous for their art, which hangs in galleries around the world. Everywhere you look you’ll see art decorating schools, on carved burial poles, adorning the altar of the white wooden church and in the islands’ renowned art centres.
Visit an art centre to meet the artists, watch them paint, weave, sculpt and carve and learn the story behind their distinctive pieces. You can purchase artworks directly from the artist at reasonable prices.
Sit down with the ‘morning tea ladies’ – a group of Tiwi women elders who serve damper and billy tea. Learn how to weave pandanus and get a feel for what everyday life is like. Then witness dancing and a smoking ceremony and find out the meaning behind these traditional rituals.
Stay at a beachfront lodge or join a guided fishing trip from Darwin to experience the Tiwi Islands’ world-class fishing. Bluewater, reef and estuary options are all on offer in this pristine environment.
Diverse coastal landscapes
Join a tour led by a local Aboriginal guide to explore the islands’ different landscapes that range from tropical rainforest to clay-like cliffs, white-sand beaches, dense jungle and inviting rock pools. Swim in the clear, shady waterhole at Tomorapi Falls.
How do I get to the Tiwi Islands?
The Tiwi Islands are 80km north of Darwin, to visit the islands you will need a permit. Tours from Darwin include light aircraft flights or a ferry ride with Sealink Northern Territory. The flying time to Bathurst Island is 20 minutes, and the ferry ride takes 2.5 hours. Be sure to check timetables well in advance.
Can the Tiwi Islands be done as a day trip?
Yes, there are two main day trip options from Darwin to visit the Tiwi Islands. A flying tour will give you more time on the islands, although the ferry is an excellent way to see the coastline and give yourself a different perspective of Darwin.
Do I need any passes or permits to visit the Tiwi Islands?
The Tiwi Islands are Aboriginal land, and all visitors are required to have a permit. If you’re travelling on a tour your permit will be arranged by the tour operator. Visitors who are not part of a tour are required to be hosted by a resident who will arrange permits on their behalf. Visit the Tiwi Land Council’s website for more information.
How do I get around the Tiwi Islands?
The Tiwi Islands are made up of Bathurst and Melville Islands, the latter of which is Australia’s second largest after Tasmania. The Tiwi Islands are only accessible on a tour – your tour operator will arrange the transport, so you can sit back and relax. A range of touring options are available and include bus, car, boat and light aircraft.
How far are the Tiwi Islands from Darwin?
The main community of Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island is 80km from Darwin, which is a 20 minute flight by light aircraft or 2.5 hour ferry ride. The communities of Milikapiti and Pirlangimpi on Melville island are 130km from Darwin, which is approximately 40 minutes’ flying time.
What are the major attractions at the Tiwi Islands?
All year round, the Tiwi Islands offer an authentic insight into one of the most fascinating examples of Aboriginal culture Australia has to offer. Visit community art centres which feature contemporary Aboriginal art works including wood carvings, pottery, screen printed fabrics and impressive works on canvas. The Patakijiyali Museum uncovers the rich cultural history of the Tiwi people, along with photographs and stories about the modern history of the islands. The Islands are also a prime fishing spot, with many Darwin-based fishing operators offering extended tours to the region.
What should I bring with me to the Tiwi Islands?
When heading to the Tiwi Islands, don’t forget to bring your hat, drinking water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and comfortable clothing and footwear.
When is the best time to visit the Tiwi Islands?
Day tours operate Monday to Friday, April to November. The annual Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and Art Sale event takes place in March each year and is a great opportunity to see an iconic game of Australian rules football. You’ll also have the chance to scoop up some unique pieces of Aboriginal art.