Discover Arnhem Land before the whole world does
It's home to the world's oldest living culture, and it's on the brink of being on every traveller's must-visit list. Here's five of the best ways to experience the magic of Arnhem Land.
Wild and remote, the dazzling white-sand beaches and sparkling waters of north-eastern Arnhem Land are so far off the tourist trail that most maps don’t even show the road that takes you there. But it’s not just the landscape and isolation that make this vast place so unique. Declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931, there’s nowhere else in Australia where you can experience Indigenous culture in such an authentic way. Here are five unique Arnhem Land experiences.
Fish an island paradise
Nothing tastes better than a mud crab you’ve speared yourself, or sashimi sliced from a fish you’ve just hauled out of the sea. Bremer Island is a speck of land about a 50-minute boat ride from Nhulunbuy, surrounded by waters teeming with big fish. The only footprints on the white sandy beaches are those left by the flippers of sea turtles and the handful of guests at Banubanu Beach Retreat, an artfully rustic lodge with bungalows right on the water’s edge. A Registered Sacred Site, the island is the homeland of the Yolngu people and the locals are happy for guests – and the Banubanu chef – to tag along on traditional hunting trips.
Discover a world of art and culture
Visit the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre at Yirrkala near Nhulunbuy to see an extraordinary collection of Yolngu art, including painted barks, weaving and didgeridoo, plus film and music recordings. Don’t miss the famous Yirrkala Church Panels; painted in 1963, they represent the first time that land rights were documented and led to the Yirrkala bark petitions, which are now on display in Parliament House. On Elcho Island in Arnhem Land’s north-east is Elcho Island Arts, where you’ll find traditional fibre works – such as pandanus baskets – and wooden sculptures.
Dance with the locals
So you think you can dance? Wait until you see the breathtaking bunggul dance, performed each night at the annual Garma festival. It’s one of the biggest Indigenous cultural events in the country, with four nights of traditional and contemporary music, an Indigenous film festival, outdoor art shows, and workshops where you can learn how to make spears, paint, weave and speak Yolngu Matha.
Camp on the beach
The campsites scattered around the Gove Peninsula are some of the most spectacular in the country. They are almost all either right on the beach or overlooking one, and so few people know about them that more often than not you’ll have the whole beach to yourself. You’ll need to purchase a permit through Dhimurru first.
The ultimate adventure drive
You can fly from Darwin to Nhulunbuy (Gove Airport) in less than 90 minutes, but driving the Central Arnhem Road is an adventure-filled road trip like no other. It’s a dry season trip, and it will take two full days to bump your way across the 710 kilometres between Katherine and Nhulunbuy, but it’s a journey across a timeless land, where the savannah stretches out beneath an endless sky and wild buffalo roam. You need a permit from the Northern Land Council to drive the road, and you can overnight at Mainoru Safari Lodge, which also sells fuel, on the way.