If you prefer off-the-beaten-path destinations, discover Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory before the rest of the world does.
One of the Northern Territory’s five regions, Arnhem Land is the definition of a wild natural paradise. Located in the state’s northeast, it’s home to rugged coastlines, isolated islands and savanna woodland. A totally underrated destination in the Northern Territory (and Australia), here are Culture Trip’s recommendations for the best things to do.
Because Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal Reserve, the only way visitors can legally go fishing is through accredited tour operators or by obtaining a permit. But the red tape is worth it as this is where you’ll experience some of the best fishing in Australia. There are various areas where you can go fishing in this vast region. Cobourg Peninsula is known for its bluewater fishing (think golden snapper, red emperor and coral trout) and permits are available between May and October through the Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary Board. There’s guided fishing charters operating around the Gove Peninsula, while Groote Eylandt is known for its marlin and sailfish, which are especially active between November and March. Groote Eylandt Sports Fishing organises professional fishing expeditions in the area.
Discover Aboriginal art at the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre. Located near Nhulunbuy, it houses an extensive Yolngu art collection, which includes the renowned Yirrkala Church Panels. For something more raw, head over to Elcho Island Art and Craft, which displays a range of traditional art made by local artists using materials from the surrounding bushland and beaches – think bark paintings, shell jewellery and woven pandanus baskets. Anindilyakwa Arts on Groote Eylandt provides a place for local artists to sell their work, while Injalak Arts in Gunbalanya has an arts centre and offers guided tours (Dreamtime stories included) to ancient rock art galleries at Injalak Hill as well.
Lirrwi Tourism is a business owned by the Yolngu Aboriginal people, who have lived in the region for over 40,000 years. The company offers both day and multi-day tours across Arnhem Land, plus women-only and cross-country options. Their Bawaka Yolngu Day Tour allows you to experience traditional spear fishing and crab hunting. The Gululu Day Tour includes stops at Daliwoi Bay, as well as Macassans and Turtle Beach, and you can also participate in a yidaki (didgeridoo) masterclass.
Garma is the Australian indigenous equivalent of the World Economic Forum. Coordinated by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, it brings together over 2,500 business and political leaders from around the world to discuss Australia’s most pressing issues. The annual festival includes both a key and youth forum, a nightly ceremonial dance, workshops, musical performances and an indigenous film program.
Located on the Cobourg Peninsula, Wiligi Outstation offers tents, cabins and camping on a cliff overlooking Mount Norris Bay and Copeland Island. Fish, birdwatch and see the sunset at this gorgeous slice of nature. For those seeking a little more luxury, nestled among savanna bushland is Cobourg Coastal Camp – a glamping experience that offers guests both luxury tours and fishing charters. Another eco-friendly option is Banubanu Beach Retreat on Bremer Island, where there’s a maximum of 10 guests and no internet or phone coverage. Bliss.
Explore Dhimurru’s designated recreation areas
Dhimurru is an Aboriginal corporation that manages permits for specific areas in Arnhem Land, giving you access to ample fishing, boating, camping and walking opportunities. This includes the beautiful Dhamitjinya (East Woody Island) and Galaru (Easy Woody Beach). Located just three kilometres from Nhulunbuy, they’re characterised by their pristine sand and clear waters. To top off the sheer variety of natural wonders here, no visit would be complete without exploring the Rainbow Cliffs (Banambarrnga), the watering holes at Giddy River (Guwatjurumurru) and the beaches of Little Bondi (Baringura) and Turtle Beach (Ngumuy).
The award-winning Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris offers both eco lodge living and ecotourism experiences. Set against a natural bush backdrop, the eco lodge has a relaxed lounge area, fully-stocked bar, large outdoor deck and swimming pool. Its eco tours include a billabong cruise, exploring the wetlands to spot both reptiles and birds, and an epic trip to Mt Borradaile.
Located at the very top of the Northern Territory, Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is home to historic sites, colourful coastlines and white-sand beaches. On the Cobourg Peninsula, visit Port Essington to see the remains of an early British settlement, which was established in 1838. Then check out the Black Point Cultural Centre and its displays on Aboriginal, European and Macassan history in the region. Keep your eyes peeled on the ocean for saltwater crocodiles, dugongs, turtles and dolphins. A permit is needed to access this national park.
Do some birdwatching
The best time to visit Arnhem Land for birdwatching is from May to December, when you’ll have prime access to floodplains and billabongs following the wet season. In Nhulunbuy, the Gayngaru Wetlands interpretive walk is home to over 200 bird species and two viewing platforms. Native birds here include the blue-faced honeyeater and the northern fantail. Higginson Island is also significant as it supports the bridled and roseate terns. For avid birdwatchers, Bird Week is held annually at the Arnhemland Barramundi Nature Lodge, where specialists offer extended birdwatching tours. Happy spotting!