Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia: Top 10 things to do



The Northern Territory's Arnhem Land is larger than many European countries and inhabited by just 16,000 people. To really appreciate its size and remoteness, see it from the air. Short flights give you a bird's eye view of  Kakadu's escarpments and billabongs and might swoop around Jim Jim Falls, but longer flights reveal an extraordinary tapestry of muddy, mighty rivers, startlingly green wetlands and rusty outcrops of rock. Along the coast, white sand and emerald waters shimmer. See


Because Arnhem Land is remote and unsuitable for agriculture, its Indigenous communities have remained relatively undisturbed and unaltered by outside influences. The result is a strong Indigenous culture and still-vigorous traditions. The region is especially noted for originating the didgeridoo and X-ray art, which depicts animals with their bones and internal organs. Numerous Indigenous-run tours and events such as August's Garma Festival provide insight into Indigenous life and arts. See


This family-run lodge in Arnhem Land's north-west corner sits amid 700 square kilometres of sub-tropical savannah, wandering billabongs, crocodile-haunted wetlands and rock-art-covered escarpments, getting you out into remote wilderness without sacrificing much comfort or abandoning cold beer. Twice-daily excursions to birdwatch, fish, swim, discover rock art or simply enjoy a sunset cocktail from a boat are included in the tariff. Evening story-swapping over dinner is a sociable occasion. See


Paperbark woodland and vast expanses of wetland meet to spectacular effect around the Mary River, one of Australia's most significant ecosystems and home to more than 200 bird species, including stunning numbers of magpie geese, egrets and ibis. Sea eagles perch atop dead trees and carpets of waterlilies unfold. A sunset trip into the wetlands by airboat, as the scenery turns orange and pink, is one of Australia's great experiences. See


If visiting Arnhem Land by yourself sounds too tricky, then private small-group tour company Lords will arrange permits, cross rivers, avoid crocodiles, lead you to solitary rock-art sights, organise itineraries and pour wine, all in the company of an exceedingly knowledgeable driver-guide. Co-owner Sab Lord was born on what is now Kakadu National Park land, and there is little he and fellow guide Dean Hoath don't know about the region's landscapes, nature and Indigenous life. See


Arnhem Land's largest town, sitting on the Gove Peninsula, Nhulunbuy is a centre for fishing safaris as anglers set out to pit wits and strength against giant barramundi. Coral trout, red emperor, mackerel and marlin are other prizes. The town is surrounded by glorious beaches (though there's no swimming) and rugged landscapes offering beautiful places to camp. Macassan Beach has interesting remains from interaction with Indonesian traders. See


Wonderfully remote without being too inaccessible, this Aboriginal sacred site is a scenic outcrop of escarpment fringed by billabongs, wetlands and paperbark forest. Overhangs that sheltered Indigenous people for tens of thousands of years feature a stunning array of rock art, including a fabulous rainbow serpent, animals, handprints, contact art and totemic figures. In Kakadu you'll have to share such sights; here, you're the only one around. See


This eco-friendly, luxury lodge on a working buffalo station on the Mary River floodplains immerses you in the landscape and among the wildlife, with wallabies hopping beyond your windows and innumerable birds wheeling in the sky. Happily, there is no phone coverage, no internet and no television, but you do get an infinity pool, excellent meals and daily excursions by airboat or four-wheel-drive in the company of knowledgeable guides. See


This Indigenous-owned, not-for-profit association in Gunbalanya, about two hours north east of Jabiru, brings together the works of some 200 Arnhem Land artists, screen printers and weavers. If you are after Aboriginal art, you couldn't be in a better place. You can also join comprehensive three-hour guided tours to see the extensive rock-art galleries on Injalak Hill and learn more about the artistic and cultural traditions of the Kunwinjku people. See



Take several days to appreciate Kakadu's paperbark-reflecting billabongs, bird-filled wetlands and teetering piles of stone, sandwiched and contorted into odd weathered shapes. Cruise Yellow Water for crocodiles and abundant bird life and hike the escarpments for rock art 40,000 years old. At Ubirr shadowy X-ray outlines in black and red depict fish, turtles and kangaroos, as well as contact art showing a sailing ship and pipe-smoking European sailor. See

The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism NT.