Step on Arnhem Land

I visited this land as part of the Kakadu National Park day trip from Darwin. The tour included a boat trip which was organised along the East Alligator River, there was a stop to step into the Arnhem Land. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to explore the entire land and see the places as listed in the Northern Territory website. But I do have this on my list of things to do and I would love to go back to experience the culture of the aboriginal people.

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Where is Arnhem Land?

Arnhem Land is an untamed and untouched wild area in the northeast corner of Northern Territory of Australia. Nhulunbuy is the service hub of Arnhem Land and is the sixth largest township in Northern Territory. The township was created on the Gove Peninsula in the late 1960s. Other centres include Yirrkala, Gunbalanya, Ramingining and Maningrida.

Step on Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land Map; Source: Trip Savvy

Most places in Arnhem Land do not have mobile coverage. However, I believe there is Telstra network near Maningrida.

Known for its gorges, rivers and pristine waterfalls, it is a home to the Yolngu people. It is also the home for the famous musical instrument the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo is a wind instrument, played with continuous vibrating lips to make a sound using a technique called circular breathing.

A Youtube video of an aboriginal man playing the musical instrument didgeridoo

The Arnhem Land was named after the Dutch ship Arnhem in the year 1623, almost 400 years ago. The total population on the land is approximately 16,000 people out of which 12,000 are the Yolngu people.

Tour details

  • Tour name: Kakadu Full-Day Tour from Darwin Including Ubirr, Guluyambi, and Arnhem Land.
  • Provider: Offroad Dreaming.
  • Cost: AUD 260.00 per person.

Note: There is a fee to enter the national park, which is usually taken care by the tour agency.

East Alligator River – Gateway to Arnhem Land

The East Alligator River is the gateway to Arnhem Land. One needs to take a boat ride from Australia mainland (Kakadu National Park) to Arnhem Land. The land is one of the last untouched wilderness area in Australia. To visit Arnhem Land, one needs special permits. The permits have to be applied through Northern Land Council or Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.

Note: One can also drive to Arnhem Land via Katherine Gorge.

The Venture North tour agency runs multiple-day tours to Arnhem Land. Someday I wish to go back to experience this beautiful culture and see the traditional aboriginal people on their land.

Note: The East Alligator River is home to the most deadliest marine life. The river and the banks of Arnhem Land are infested by salt water crocodiles and the river has Bull sharks and the water pythons. So this is a river which you definitely do not want to mess with.

Northern Territory government has an initiative called Be Crocwise. This is to educate people about the dangers and risks of being in a salt-water crocodile infested areas.

Who lives in Arnhem Land?

Yolngu people live in Arnhem Land and are the traditional owners of the land. They are the indigenous Australian people. According to Wikipedia, in Yolnu languages, ‘Yolngu’ mean ‘people’. It is said that these people have taken care of the land for more than 40,000 years.

Arnhem Land is owned by the aboriginal people under the Commonwealth laws.

The Arnhem Land is considered as sacred as the land has been passed down the generations. The culture and the traditions are part of the aboriginals and this land is the square destination only for the aboriginals.

An insight into Kunwinkgu tribe culture

Mandedaidai Namatnyilk was our guide, on the boat ride that we took on the East Alligator River. He was from Kunwinkgu tribe. Very knowledgeable and he told us stories about his culture and his land.

Our guide Mandedaidai Namatnyilk: day trips from Darwin
Our guide Mandedaidai Namatnyilk

One of the most amazing and interesting things he shared was about their ritual when someone from their tribe passes away. He said that in their tribe (as they cannot burn the body in Australia), they first lay the person on a platform covered with a bark of a tree and leave the body to decay by itself for 3 years. After 3 years or so, the tribe members collect the passed away person’s bones and keep it with them for the next 6 months. During that 6 months, members of other tribes come and bless that person who has passed on. The bones are then coloured red and are buried inside the caves or the trunk of the trees for the person to rest. The whole process to rest someone who has passed on takes about 4 to 5 years.

I found this extraordinarily amazing and emotional. In an era where everyone moves on so fast, this culture still believes in grieving and resting someone that takes 4 to 5 years. That’s like Wow!

Safety for solo female travelers

I would suggest visiting this land with a reputed tour agency. With so many risks of crocodiles and the permits involved, the best and easiest way would be by being a part of a tour. So a definite No from my end if you are traveling alone.

In case you decide to travel alone, then ensure to let your family or friends know of where you are going and provide them with a rough itinerary.

Closing notes

I am sure that there is no other land like the Arnhem Land. This is a one of the kind experience that everyone must have when visiting Norther Territory. The Arnhem Land was surely beautiful even though mine was a very short visit. I would love to go back someday and spend more days on the land.

Darwin has plenty of things to do as well, so in case you are looking for a weekend to spend in Darwin, refer my post 2 days in Darwin.


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19 thoughts on “Step on Arnhem Land”

  1. Wow. Arnhem was never on my list. But your recommendation is quite strong. I am also intrigued by the culture and locals of arnhem. Even in Uganda I ventured out and met so many local tribes. I would be taking this journey for sure and with a tour package for sure.

  2. I never heard about Arnhem. But this place looks so amazing and one should visit this place. I am adding this to my messy bucket list will try to visit this place in near future.

  3. As always, your post is superb with stunning pictures. I’d like to visit Arnhem Land someday and learn about the culture of indigenous Australian people. I hope travel becomes safe and normal like it was earlier. This is my biggest wish for 2021.

  4. I actually learnt quite a lot from this post. I never heard of the Arnhem land, what the land is named after, who lived there, what to see….or the fact it is kinda near Darwin. To be blunt, I knew nothing. My history of Australia is very limited especially when it comes to aboriginal people. I do plan to come to Darwin but would love to check out this area and learn more about the culture.

  5. I haven’t heard about Arnhem Land before, but I’ve heard a lot about Kakadu National Park instead. So when you mentioned that Arnhem it’s part of the park I understood why it’s so beautiful. I’m not surprised you need a special permit to get there if it’s one of the last left untouched areas in Australia.

  6. This sounds so exotic. i wish in India, also we had such cordoned off places. Right now, we only need a permit for Arunachal Pradesh and the culture there is amazing. Everything is so mainstreamed now, that to see this culture alive is such a treat. I loved the Youtube video of didgeridoo.

  7. It must have been a great experience to encounter the indigenous cultures in Arnhem Land. I lived in Australia for a long time but never actually visited so this was very interesting for me. Glad to hear the are trying to protect the area for future generations.

  8. What a perfect trip idea! As nature and wildlife lover I would love to visit this place. And I love boat trips. Arnhem land looks stunnning. I haven’t heard about this place before.

  9. This surely sounds like an experience unlike any other! Arnhem Land seems to be the perfect place to experience indigenous history and culture, and given the dangers of the terrain, you are so right about using a good tour operator; and glad you found one too! I can’t believe they take over 4 years to put the passed on to rest, but that also shows you how close and warm they are as a community.

  10. How interesting to hear the story about how the Yolnu people taking care of the dead body. I wonder if the area is smell badly or there’s something on the bark that made the body didn’t smell like the island in east Bali. I’ve never heard about the Arnhem Land or Kakadu National Park before, but this place sounds really interesting!

  11. We love places that are full of history and beautiful landscapes. And Arnhem land is a great place to get to know indigenous roots, which to us, is a recipe for a perfect place to visit. Adding this to our Bucket List, including Kakadu National Park!


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