It’s a living cultural landscape as old as time, where the Aboriginal traditional owners remain connected to their country, practising all aspects of cultural responsibility; language, ceremonies, kinship and caring for country. Just as they have for thousands of years.
The climate is tropical monsoon, offering a wet and dry season, with a fairly stable temperature of 15 degrees overnight and up to 33 degrees during the day year-round, with lovely sea breezes to cool things down. The people are friendly, happy and accommodating. It’s a very different experience from visiting some Aboriginal communities in Central Australia. The Land Council asks visitors to respect the privacy of the people, only enter houses if invited and take photographs if asked to.
Arnhem Land is accessible, on the whole, with a 4WD, preferably with recovery gear if you want to access a few of the remote areas. You need to be set up for camping for parts of East Arnhem Land and Coburg Peninsular. Camper trailers are allowed, but caravans at this stage are not, due to limited facilities when you get there. Of course you can always stay in one of the two motels in East Arnhem Land or the fishing resort and take day trips to visit areas. Coburg Peninsular is camping only, unless you stay in the fishing resort at Seven Spirit Bay or Wiligi Fishing Camp.
East Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land is characterised by expansive beaches and laterite rock cliffs, over 50 sacred sites and many recreational areas. It is a fairly uneventful 9.5 hour drive or 736 kilometres on mainly good dirt roads in the dry season, with only one shallow water crossing at Rocky River Creek.
While remote, you can access fuel and food at a few stops along the way. There are also places to bush camp overnight if you’d like to break the trip up as we did.
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot along the way including wild donkeys, horses, buffalo and dingoes.
Once you make it to Nhulunbuy, you experience a small vibrant town with services available including a supermarket, post office, service station, motel/hotel and café.
It’s worth stopping here and taking time to learn about the many programs engaging all ages of the Aboriginal Communities to foster self-determination and pride in their culture.
To have access to East Arnhem Land you need to apply for a transit permit via the Northern Land Council. This is usually a two-week process, but can take longer. The permit allows you to travel along the Central Arnhem Road only, with no deviations into outstations or other areas.
An additional permit is required to access the four Special Recreation Areas, with two of the areas only allowing one group of up to five vehicles at any one time, the other areas only allow five different vehicles and ten different vehicles respectively.
At the end of the day, the traditional music and dancing begins. It’s a very authentic display and well worth basing your trip around this festival.
West Arnhem Land (Coburg Peninsula)
West Arnhem Land is characterised by the deeply indented coves and bays.
There are abundant archaeological sites, wetlands, coral reefs, seagrass meadows and a diverse range of wildlife, both in the sea and on land.
Not to be missed are the Banteng cattle, only found in this part of Arnhem Land. The area is also home to more species of turtles than anywhere in Australia, many of which are endangered.
Coburg Peninsular is virtually uninhabited, with only five family outstations in the area and the Ranger’s Station.
It is a sharp contrast to East Arnhem Land. If you want a place to truly get away from it all, this is certainly it! The entire area of 4500 square kilometres on both land and sea has been declared a National Park. At any one time only 20 cars are permitted into the area so you will see very few people.
It is best to kick off your drive from Jabiru where you can stock up on food, petrol and other essentials. We stayed at the Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park. It has a great pool and restaurant area.
The drive by 4WD takes around 6.5 hours over the 320 kilometres from Jabiru. While the road can get quite corrugated and has some sharp bends, the scenery is amazing.
Again, camper trailers are permitted but not caravans. The camping sites in the park are secluded and set up beautifully with an area set aside for people with generators.
The permit costs $232.10 per vehicle per week with up to five passengers. You need to apply to the Northern Territory National Parks and Wildlife and the process takes up to ten days.
The fishing here is unbelievable, but be wary of the ever present crocs and sharks.
It’s well worth travelling the distance and completing the paperwork to sit by the water at Smith Point and watch the sun go down with a glass of wine and your camera.
For a list of essential contacts and the full story, see Issue 25 of ROAM