Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land is an isolated reserve that covers 91,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory of Australia. It's located in the middle of Australia's northern coast and bounded by Kakadu National Park, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Map of Arnhem Land


The main settlement is Nhulunbuy with a population of over 4,000 people, actually the fourth largest settlement in the Northern Territory. The area belongs to the Yolngu Aboriginal people who have lived on and taken care of the land for more than 40,000 years. Nhulunbuy is one of the most isolated areas of Australia, surrounded by beautiful beaches and is a popular adventure fishing spot. The town was built in the early 1970s to service a bauxite mine and alumina refinery, operated by Alcan. However it has also assumed a role as a centre for service provision to Arnhem Land. Its isolation has meant that its natural attractions have had little visibility in the mainstream tourist market. Nhulunbuy is often referred to as "Gove", however Gove is actually the peninsula on which the town is located.

Port at Wupurr


Arnhem Land is home to the oldest living culture in the world. There are hundreds of different languages, customs and laws, each woven together to tell a story that is more than 50,000 years old. Sharing and learning about aboriginal art and culture is central to the Arnhem Land experience.


This Aboriginal-owned expanse is made up of wild coastlines, deserted islands, rivers teeming with fish, lush rainforests, soaring escarpments and savannah woodland. This land is one of the last great unspoiled areas of the world. Its small population is predominantly indigenous, whose traditional Aboriginal culture remains largely intact. The didjeridu originated in Arnhem Land, and the area is also world-renowned for its distinctive Aboriginal art.

Flora and fauna

Arnhem Land is one of the best fishing destinations in the world, mainly owing to its seldom-fished waters. The World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, Arnhem Land, the Mary River and the Gove Peninsula are home to around 280, or one-third, of Australia's entire collection of bird species, making the region a mecca for bird watchers.


Six seasons of Kakadu and Arnhem Land Throughout the year, Kakadu and Arnhem Land's landscapes undergo spectacular changes. Bininj/Mungguy recognise six different seasons, as well as subtle variations that signpost the transition from one season to another. This knowledge of nature is fundamental to the culture of Kakadu and its people. Bininj/Mungguy have lived with the changing landscape for tens of thousands of years, adapting and using the land for food, shelter and general well−being.

Yegge: Cool weather time, May to June. The wetlands are carpeted with water lilies. Drying winds and flowering Darwin woolly butt tell Bininj/Mungguy to patchwork burn the woodlands to encourage new growth.

Wurrgeng: Early dry season, June to August Most creeks stop flowing and the floodplains quickly dry out. Magpie geese, fat and heavy after weeks of abundant food crowd the shrinking billabongs.

Gurrung: Hot dry season, August to October Hunting time for file snakes and long-necked turtles. White-breasted wood swallows arrive as thunderclouds build, signalling the return of Gunumeleng.

Gunumeleng: Pre-monsoon, October to December Streams begin to run, water birds spread out as surface water and new growth becomes widespread. Barramundi move from the waterholes downstream to the estuaries to breed.

Gudjewg: Monsoon, December to March. The heat and humidity generate an explosion of plant and animal life. Spear grass grows to over two metres tall and creates a silvery-green hue throughout the woodlands.

Banggerreng: Harvest time, April. Clear skies prevail, the vast expanses of floodwater recede and streams start to run clear. Most plants are fruiting and animals are caring for their young.

The most popular time to visit Arnhem Land is in the dry season (April to September) The wet season sees extremely dramatic weather conditions. Unless you are an experienced adventure traveller booking a tour to visit the area in the dry season is highly recommended.

Get in

By car

Access by road to Nhulunbuy is only possible via the Central Arnhem Road which connects to the Stuart Highway south of Katherine. A permit to travel this road is required by the [Northern Land Council]. The Central Arnhem Road is approximately 650 km of mainly gravel road with numerous river crossings. The drive should only be done in a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. Caravans are not permitted on the road. There is limited fuel available along this route.

By plane

Helicopter tours and light aircraft flights are available.

There are daily Qantas flights to Nhulunbuy (Gove Airport) from both Darwin and Cairns. Airnorth flies from Darwin 6 days a week as well. Gove Airport (GOV), is approximately 13 km from Nhulunbuy and 7 km from Yirrkala.

There is only one road into Nhulunbuy, the Central Arnhem Road. It is a gravel road and only accessible during the dry season (April to September). It is only accessible with high clearance four wheel drive vehicles and caravans are not permitted on the road. Access permits must be obtained in advance from the Northern Land Council.


Anyone wanting to venture into Arnhem Land needs to apply for a permit through the Northern Land Council (1800 645 299) and discuss the best spots to camp with the regional permit officer. Call or check website for up to date details on pricing etc.

Nhulunbuy is surrounded by land that is under the control of the local Aboriginal landowners, the Yolngu. Permits are required to enter Yolngu land. During the wet season a proper 4WD should be used to get to some of the camping spots.

Get around

Many travellers fly in or visit Arnhem Land on a four-wheel drive tour, but to really test your driving skills, obtain a permit and experience the networks of four-wheel drive tracks yourself (April to September only). Scenic flights are another way to really take in the vast scenery.

Organised tours are really the best way to experience Arnhem Land. A knowledgeable guide will lead you through the area and answer any questions you may have.


There are a number of indigenous art galleries in and around Arnhem Land. The art centres can arrange visitor permits and advise when is the best time of day to watch local artists and craftspeople create their work.

As access can be affected due to high tides, please check with Dhimurru Land Management Land Corporation for details. Travellers must also obtain a recreation permit from Dhimurru prior to visiting the area.

The beaches around Nhulunbuy are absolutely spectacular. Beautiful sand and water that you can swim in most of the year, of course being cautious about sharks and other dangers. The bush here is great as well. Beautiful animals and types of plants you see all along the way to the spectacular waterholes. They have clear pristine water.


You can learn about and view the many world-famous rock art galleries on a guided tour or through the comprehensive interpretative signage at many art sites. Tours led by aboriginal guides explore the spectacular bush environment, searching for traditional foods and medicines while others cruise rivers and billabongs or tell you the story of the didgeridoo.


The art sites and galleries sell original aboriginal arts and crafts.

Collect Aboriginal Artoffer small, tailor made flying tours to remote Aboriginal communities in Arnhem Land, Central Australian and beyond, to view and purchase authentic Aboriginal art. Focusing on their belief, ‘the first rule when collecting Aboriginal art is to spend time where it’s created’, these fully escorted tours will provide you with a rich cultural experience. The Arnhem Land Art Tour runs for three and a half days and visit remote art centres. This tour costs from AUD $8600 to $9220. Private Charters are also available.


Exploring the area through a tour is most recommended. The tours will provide you with all your food needs. Bush tucker tours show visitors how the indigenous people live from the land. Basic food is available at the sporadic rest stops and museums throughout the park.


Make sure you drink plenty of water when trekking through Arnhem Land, at least one litre of water for every hour of walking.



Accommodation is limited, but there are some facilities scattered over Arnhem Land, two of them in Nhulunbuy.


You can then sleep under the stars at one of Arnhem Land’s many secluded camp spots. Discuss the best places to camp with the regional permit officer.

Stay safe

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This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, December 28, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.