Exploring aboriginal land in Arnhem Land, Northern Australia

It’s hard to imagine so many different types of beautiful geological features within such close proximity to one another

marc_casolani
Marc Casolani
14 April 2017, 7:39am
Arnhem Land is the last frontier when it comes to the few remaining strong roots of the Aboriginal people
Arnhem Land is the last frontier when it comes to the few remaining strong roots of the Aboriginal people
Literally known as ‘God’s country’ to most bush folk, this is definitely the most magical land that I have seen after two years of exploring in Australia. I’ve gone through each and every state and I’ve only got one left to roam – Western Australia – so I’ve covered a fair amount of ground. Probably one of the harder places to get to in Australia; but oh my, even the effort it takes you to get to the jewels of Arnhem Land, is a beautiful pain in the backside. Once you reach most of the highly recommended sites in Arnhem Land, keeping your jaw from hitting the ground will be as hard as it gets. It’s hard to imagine so many different types of beautiful geological features within such close proximity to one another. I guess this is what makes this last remaining Aboriginal-ruled territory so special. 

Located in the northernmost region in the Northern Territory of Australia, Arnhem Land is the last frontier when it comes to the few remaining strong roots of the Aboriginal people. Their land here spans around 97,000Km² and is mainly connected through unpaved roads or 4WD tracks. The only tarmacked roads are near key towns or within certain communities. Crazily enough with the vast land that surrounds this fertile land only around 17,000 people inhabit it. 5% of them would be white Australians who mine the land that is leased out to the mining companies from the Aboriginal elders. 

you need to become accustomed to the nature around you and tune into the fruit that this land bares
you need to become accustomed to the nature around you and tune into the fruit that this land bares
Driving through this land gives you a sense of well-being. Now I’ve said this before for only a handful of places but this will probably be the first time I have said it for a place I think is rather hostile to live in if you do not connect to it. By that I mean that you need to become accustomed to the nature around you and tune into the fruit that this land bares. Most of us are blind to all this, myself included, but if you get a lucky break and live with the locals here, you might just get a chance to see what I mean. 

If you get past the wild animals, the weather is another force to be reckoned with
If you get past the wild animals, the weather is another force to be reckoned with
Amongst all this beauty of nature that you see around you, from the lush green bush to the fresh streams and rivers that flow from a coast that is glowing red and white, there is danger at every corner with poisonous plants, snakes, crocodiles in the rivers and jellyfish in the sea. Buffalos that were introduced to this land 100 years ago and have now thrived in their surroundings pose a danger to the one that is unawares. If you get past the wild animals, the weather is another force to be reckoned with.  Lightening can strike in the wet season at any time and cause a massive bush fire, or it can rain so much that you will be stuck between two creeks for hours, worse even, days. Or as I learnt, just one hour of torrential rain can turn an unpaved road into a slush park. Getting bogged is not a pleasant thing out here and help is always hours away. 

Amongst all this beauty of nature that you see around you, from the lush green bush to the fresh streams and rivers that flow from a coast that is glowing red and white, there is danger at every corner
Amongst all this beauty of nature that you see around you, from the lush green bush to the fresh streams and rivers that flow from a coast that is glowing red and white, there is danger at every corner
This land can turn from unpleasant, to breathtaking and back to unpleasant with just a half an hours’ notice at the most. As long as you explore these areas in the dry season, you should hardly have any trouble except maybe getting lost. It’s hard to keep track of all the 4WD tracks that take you to places which are unique and magical but most of all, with very few other people around, if any at all. Areas such as East Kakadu, Nhunlunbuy, Cape Arnhem, Rainbow Cliff, Gunlom Falls, Willgi Station, Garig Gunak Barlu, Beswick and Birany Billabong are just a few to give you a good idea of what beauty Arnhem beholds. 

The coastal scenery from Cape Arnhem all the way to Garig Gunak Barlu is probably some of the best coast that Australia has to offer
The coastal scenery from Cape Arnhem all the way to Garig Gunak Barlu is probably some of the best coast that Australia has to offer
Nhunlunbuy would probably be Arnhem Land’s capital town. It has one of the biggest communities where both Australians and Aboriginal people live together and it probably has the only decent landing strip in all the land. 

Nhunlunbuy has one of the biggest communities where both Australians and Aboriginal people live together
Nhunlunbuy has one of the biggest communities where both Australians and Aboriginal people live together
This and the fact that an old Aluminum mining company has operated off the land for many years has made this quite a hot spot and a good base for those travelling around Australia. The coastal scenery from Cape Arnhem all the way to Garig Gunak Barlu is probably some of the best coast that Australia has to offer, and funnily enough I would say that some parts of it really remind me of Malta’s rocky coast and beautiful blue waters. The only difference is that most of the rock here is red clay and sandstone rock mixed with sediments of granite.  

Once this is granted you will have between 10 days to two months to explore their land
Once this is granted you will have between 10 days to two months to explore their land
Do remember that to get access into Arnhem Land you require a permit, which you can get hold of from any of the Aboriginal community offices in Darwin or Katherine. This permit is given out after all the Aboriginal elders in all the main communities within Arnhem Land have given their approval of your being on their ancestral land. Once this is granted you will have between 10 days to two months to explore their land. Make sure to always check into an Aboriginal community and get a bit familiar before you get back on your way. You never know, you might get lucky and an elder might take it upon himself to show you around and let you in a bit on their knowledge.

Getting there

Emirates offer regular flights between Malta and Darwin with a stopover in Dubai and Sydney. Flights departing from Malta on 19 April and returning on 4 May were priced at €1,430 including tax, at the time of going to print. Total flying time is approximately 40 hours. From Darwin you will be able to rent a car and drive into Arnhem Land.