Arnhem Land

Travel Guide Oceania Australia Northern Territory Arnhem Land

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Introduction

Arnhem Land is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the northeastern corner of the territory and is around 500 kilometres from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km2 which also covers the area of Kakadu National Park, and a population of 16,230. In 1623 Dutch East India Company captain William van Colster sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape Arnhem is named after his ship, the Arnhem, which itself was named after the city of Arnhem in the Netherlands.

The area covers about 34,000 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 16,000, of whom 12,000 are Yolngu, the traditional owners. The region’s service hub is Nhulunbuy, 600km east of Darwin, set up in the early 1970s as a mining town (bauxite). Other major population centres are Yirrkala (just outside Nhulunbuy), Gunbalanya (formerly Oenpelli), Ramingining and Maningrida.

A substantial proportion of the population, which is mostly Aboriginal, lives on small outstations. This Outstation movement started in the early 1980s. Many Aboriginal groups moved to usually very small settlements on their traditional lands, often to escape the problems (alcohol, petrol-sniffing, idleness) on the larger townships. While beneficial to the Yolngu, these outstations are extremely costly for the taxpayer. These population groups have very little western influence culturally speaking, and Arnhem Land is arguably one of the last areas in Australia that could be seen as a completely separate country. Many of the regions leaders have called and continue to call for a treaty, that would allow the Yolngu to operate under their own traditional law.

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Geography

The area from Port Roper on the Gulf of Carpentaria around the coast to the East Alligator River, where it adjoins Kakadu National Park. The major centres are Jabiru on the Kakadu National Park border, Maningrida at the Liverpool River mouth, and Nhulunbuy (also known as Gove) in the far north-east, on the Gove Peninsula. Gove is the site of large-scale bauxite mining with an associated alumina refinery. Its administrative centre is the town of Nhulunbuy, the fourth-largest population centre in the Northern Territory.

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.

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Sights and Activities

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.

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.

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Weather

The climate of Arnhem Land is tropical monsoon with a wet and dry season. The temperature has little seasonal variation; however, it can range from overnight lows of 15 °C in the dry season (April to September) to daily highs of 33 °C in the wet season (October to March).

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Getting There and Around

Helicopter tours and light aircraft flights are available. 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 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 kilometres from Nhulunbuy and 7 kilometres 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.

During the wet season a proper 4WD should be used to get to some of the camping spots.

Anyone wanting to venture into Arnhem Land needs to apply for a permit through the Northern Land Council (tel: 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.

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Eat/Drink

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.

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Sleep

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.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 12:37 on Aug 10, 16 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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