March 10, 2023
5 mins Read
Arnhem Land, that vast, mysterious top corner of the Northern Territory, is one of Australia’s last great untouched wilderness areas.
About 95,000 square kilometres of tropical woodland, gorges, rivers and wetlands extend from Port Roper on the Gulf of Carpentaria around the coast to the East Alligator River where it adjoins Kakadu National Park.
Alongside the incredible natural beauty, this region has a rich indigenous culture, where life and time move at a different pace.
The Yolngu nation is one of the world’s longest continuing indigenous cultures and is largely intact and thriving in Arnhem Land.
Yolngu people here live in communities, but also on sometimes extremely remote homelands. For many, English is their fourth or fifth language.
For an insight into the extraordinary – and also extraordinarily complex – Yolngu cultural system, you can join a handful of intimate tours, such as the Venture North’s ‘A Journey Through East Arnhem Land’, showcasing the culture, landscape and traditional arts and craft.
The Arnhem Weavers Workshop runs various intensive tours – mainly for women – introducing guests to pandanus basket weaving and bush medicines.
Attending one of Arnhem Land’s dynamic indigenous festivals, such as Garma, or Barunga is another way to immerse yourself in the art, music and customs of the Yolngu people.
Load the 4WD (you can hire one in Nhulunbuy or drive from Darwin during the dry season) with camping gear and head out to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula.
This national park is fringed by white sand beaches and is home to ancient rock art, coral reefs, towering waterfalls, grasslands, mangroves and shimmering lagoons.
With a designated camping spot, it’s the perfect place to pitch a tent by night and explore by day, says senior district ranger Alan Withers.
“We have a lot of people come back every year as there is a cap of 20 vehicles at any one time,” he says.
“It’s the sense of unspoilt isolation; they feel like they’re the only people on Earth.”
You must be fully self-sufficient and take enough food, water and fuel with you to last the trip, which is usually a week or more.
Permits can be acquired from NT Parks and Wildlife Service.
If glamping is more your bag, Arnhem Land has some great options including Wiligi Outstation, and the exclusive Banubanu Wilderness Retreat on Bremer Island.
Budding ornithologists, look no further: Arnhem Land has a wide variety of ecosystems fostering an enormous range of species.
If you can’t tell your red goshawk from your northern crested shrike-tit, try visiting during the annual Arnhem Land Bird Week (26 September to 11 October) in Maningrida.
Birding specialists lead extensive tours of the area, showcasing some of the rare and elusive birds the Top End has to offer.
Arnhem Land has long been known as one of the best fishing destinations in the world. You can stay in a nature lodge and cruise inland on a tidal estuary in search of massive barramundi (some up to 130 centimetres in length) or go bluewater fishing for marlin off the secluded coastline.
Barramundi Lodge provides comfortable and breezy accommodation in tented cabins and serves fabulous food on an outdoor verandah with views across the flood plains.
Here, giant barramundi share the waters with queenfish, giant trevally, mackerel, tuna, golden snapper, coral trout and jewfish.
“A lot of people come to the NT for barra fishing. They go to the popular areas where everyone is competing for the same fish,” says Roger Sinclair from Barramundi Lodge.
“Up here (in Arnhem Land), there’s been no development and there is no competition. Not many places can compare with the sheer number of barramundi we have and the pristine, natural running waters.”
Entry to Arnhem Land is by a free permit only. If you’re travelling independently, you’ll need to apply to the Northern Land Council at least 10 working days before you leave.
If you’re joining a tour this will be included in the booking. Most travellers fly from Darwin or Cairns to Nhulunbuy, but from May until about October you can usually drive (by mainly dirt road) to this remote paradise.
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