Exploring

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land is like nowhere else in Australia. Seriously remote and undeveloped, it’s a place few travellers ever get to. One of the country’s last great untouched wilderness areas, it’s a vast area that stretches across the top of the Northern Territory, covering 100,000 square kilometres and with a population of just over 16,000.

 

Arnhem Land is Aboriginal land, which means you’ll need a permit to visit. If you’re travelling on a tour the permits are usually included in the package but if you’re planning a do-it-yourself adventure you’ll need to organise permits before you travel.

 

You can fly into Arnhem Land from Cairns and Darwin, but if you’re driving you’ll need a four-wheel drive and keep in mind that roads are impassable in the wet season (Nov-April) and no caravans are allowed – our guide to Revealing Arnhem Land has lots of driving tips and everything else you need to know about getting there.

 

However you decide to travel get ready to leave all expectations behind, open your eyes and embrace a new perspective. You are coming, at long last, to Australia’s final frontier.

Best places to visit in Arnhem Land

Join a luxury 4WD cultural safari and visit remote communities and art centres in eastern Arnhem land and the Gove Peninsula, or head to the western side and glamp it up on the Cobourg Peninsula and explore the ruins of Victoria Settlement, a town forgotten, abandoned and smothered by monsoon forest.

There is no well-worn tourist trail up here, but if you really want to get off the beaten path head off shore to Groote Eylandt – only a handful of people visit each year, but those that do find one of the world’s premier game fishing destinations as well as waterfalls and many-millennia-old cave paintings.

Seriously quiet and seriously remote, tiny Bremer Island is inhabited only by a small number of Yolngu people and is accessed via a 15-minute flight from Nhulunbuy and you can learn about the Yolngu people through basket weaving, spear making and catching crabs with local fishermen

Things to do in Arnhem Land

Tours

This vast, 97,000km2 region has just 18,000 inhabitants, with the majority continuing to live a traditional lifestyle on isolated homelands. The connection to country is strong, and traditional hunting and gathering activities are still practiced and authentic local tours are a great way to immerse yourself the culture of the Aboriginal inhabitants, and much of its environment, that remains mysterious and unknown to most outsiders.

Indigenous art and culture

Australian Aboriginal Art is famous throughout the world. But to truly appreciate it, you need to travel to its source and immerse yourself. Mount Borradaile, in western Arnhem Land, can be visited both in the wet and dry seasons and offers a remarkable body of rock art including an enormous rainbow serpent, expansive contact galleries, early naturalistic animals, dynamic figures and X-ray art.

The Garma Festival, held each August near Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula at a place called Gulkula, is the nation’s largest annual celebration of Indigenous culture in Australia, four days of storytelling, dance, musical performances and indigenous films.

Buku-Larrnggay Mulka, also near Nhulunbuy may be the best indigenous art centre in the country, thanks to its powerful variety of Yolngu bark paintings, weavings and jewellery. It also houses modern artefacts critical to Yolngu law and spirituality, headed by the Yirrkala Church Panels. The two four-metre-tall painted boards (one for each moiety, with all clans represented) are akin to a constitution.

Fishing

Arnhem Land is washed by some of the most unfished waters in the country – if you love to fish you’ll love Arnhem Land. There are fishing charters available in Nhulunbuy and on the Cobourg Peninsula and your mates at home won’t believe the size of the fish. With barramundi over a metre long, there’s no need to exaggerate.

Arnhem Land Accommodation

Safari Camps

If you’re in search of a “real” outback experience, you can’t get much more authentic than Mount Borradaile. It’s a safari camp run by Max Davidson, who came to Arnhem Land in search of buffalo and instead found a strong affinity with the land and its traditional owners.

Rustic cabins and safari tents perch on white sand dunes, giving way to glorious untouched beaches at Banubanu Wilderness Retreat on Bremer Island and Groote Eylandt Lodge can arrange all your tours, including cultural tours and fishing charters. Safari Operators such as Venture North also offer luxury safari camps accommodation as part of their tours.

Camping

You don’t have to splurge out on a luxury tour. Arnhem Land has some superb beachfront camping spots where you can wake up to million dollar views and the cost of camping is often included in the cost of your permit. Just keep in mind that no caravans are given permits drive the Arnhem Highway, although camper trailers and small campervans are OK.

Where to eat in Arnhem Land

Most of the lodges and safari camps in Arnhem Land include meals as part of the package, but the real thrill of eating out in Arnhem Land is that it’s often bush tucker that you’ve caught or found yourself. Nothing beats sashimi carved from a fish you’ve just hauled out of the sea on a fishing charter– or mudcrab that you’ve just learnt how to stalk and spear.

With the waters teeming with fish expect plenty of super fresh seafood on the menu, but if you are on a cultural tour don’t expect it to be just like eating at home – hunting and eating turtles and dugongs, for example, is integral to Yolngu culture, so you’ll need an open mind.