Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land left an impression

Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land is the best kept secret in Australia. At the most easterly point of the Gove Peninsula is Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory in Australia.

My first thoughts were that this town would be just like every other Australian beachside town.  Surprisingly, there was a world of difference.

The pace is slower.  A sleepy little town with the sounds of the waves gently lapping the white sandy beaches.  The waters surrounding Nhulunbuy and the nearby islands are renowned for their fishing.  Town Beach Gove

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Nhulunbuy is extraordinarily beautiful

Nhulunbuy, (pronounced Nool-un-boy) the Gove Peninsula showcases some of the most spectacular coastal landscape in Australia.

Beautiful offshore islands and strong Aboriginal cultural connections, it is one of the more accessible opportunities to access the remote Arnhem Land.

The Yolngu people

The Yolgnu Aboriginal people have inhabited the north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia for over 60,000 years.  Yolngu clans have lived in Arnhem Land hunting fish, bush animals and seasonal bush food.

It was fascinating to learn
about pre-settler history
of this region.

Yolngu folklore talks of the Baijini people (presumed to be south east Asian travelers) who visited Arnhem Land before the Macassans. Contact with Macassan traders began around the sixteenth century and it’s likely these European traders were the early Dutch settlers of Indonesia.

Yolngu sustained good trade relations with Macassan fishermen for several hundred years, making annual visits to harvest sea-cucumbers and pearls.  Yolngu were paid in kind with goods such as knives, metal, canoes, tobacco and pipes.

The Yolngu established trade routes within Australia, trading goods through Central Australia and other areas.

The history of Nhulunbuy

Nhulunbuy - Gove Matthew Flinders, met the Macassan trading fleet near Nhulunbuy when he was circumnavigating Australia in 1803.  This led to the establishment of settlements on nearby Melville Island and the Coburg Peninsula.

In 1963, the Federal government approved the use of the land for a bauxite mine.  The Yolngu people at Yirrkala strongly opposed this decision, and forwarded a bark petition to the Government which attracted national and international attention.  This petition now hangs in Parliament House in Canberra.  Despite the petition, the town of Gove was established as a bauxite mine and deep water port in the late 1960’s.  An alumina refinery was built to process the raw materials but closed in 2014.

Nhulunbuy is only 20 kilometres from the Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, famous for its Aboriginal artworks and hand woven baskets.

Things to see and do in Nhulunbuy

Wildflowers in Nhulunbuy

There are many beaches, rivers forests and cliffs within a short drive from Nhulunbuy.  Explore the crystal clear rivers, tropical bushland and pristine beaches in this region.


Nhulunbuy boasts a striking coastline with clear blue waters, glistening white beaches.  Its secluded bays and offshore islands and reefs are what ensures this region is beautiful and pristine.


Recreational fishing is popular on the Gove Peninsula. Throw in a line in from a coastal outcrop, a pristine beach or charter a boat to an uninhabited island or one of the nearby reefs.

The seas surrounding Gove offer some of the best tropical sport and reef fishing available anywhere in the world.  The area is now acclaimed as one of the last great fishing frontiers with the favourite offshore destinations such as the Bromby and Wessel Islands.

Visit Banubanu Wilderness Retreat

Escape to Banubanu Wilderness Retreat on unspoilt Bremmer Island.  This is a unique resort that only a few lucky travellers will ever get to see.

Gove Yacht Club

Melville Bay is a great spot for a drink and dining opportunities. With great views of Gove Harbour from the lawns of the Yacht Club, it is a perfect place to relax, play a round or two of golf or just hang out and enjoy the weather!

Snorkelling & Diving

Diving is another popular activity, with the abundant colourful coral outcrops in the crystal clear waters offshore from Nhulunbuy and its adjacent islands.

Nhulunbuy has a well-established dive centre providing all necessary equipment and tank refilling facilities and also offering a range of snorkelling and scuba diving courses for the uninitiated or less experienced.

Aboriginal Culture

Cultural tours are also available and are an interesting way to learn about the unique region and the Yolngu people.

Yolngu is the name that the local Aboriginal people use to refer to themselves, it is not a name of a particular language group.  It is important to remember that Yolngu solely own the entire Arnhem Land region and it is important to respect the access restrictions this brings.

The Garma Festival

The Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures is a celebration of local aboriginal culture and if you are in the area during August each year, it is a must do. A high profile event that brings politicians and VIP’s from around the country.

Arnhem Land is one of the few areas in Australia where Aboriginal people still live a traditional life and maintain a strong culture.

Traditional Arts and Crafts

Visit the Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala for local Aboriginal art and crafts.

Take a self-guided walk

Take a self-guided walk at Gadalathami (Town Beach) or the Gayngaru Lagoon Wetlands.

Walkabout Lodge Gove

How to get to Nhulunbuy

Flights: Daily flights by jet from Darwin or Cairns make it easy access for visitors who don’t choose to travel overland.  Hire vehicles are available locally.  Supplies and visitors are brought by air to Gove or by sea when the roads are impassible during the wet season.

Road:  The Central Arnhem highway is over 700 kilometres of unsealed road and often used as an access way into the peninsula during the dry season.  It is suitable for Four Wheel Drives (4WD) only, and a permit is required to drive through Arnhem Land. (see below)

Tips for travelling overland through Arnhem Land


The local environment is perfect for most outdoor activities, particularly during the dry season from May to October.  Locals enjoy a tropical climate of cool, cloudless and balmy conditions with day time temperatures of between 28-30 degrees Celsius.

Four wheel driving

Driving on unsealed roads and tracks requires additional care and preparation. Driving a four-wheel drive does not mean you will not get bogged or that you can ‘go anywhere’. Braking distances on unsealed roads are longer and four-wheel drive vehicles are often more unstable than a conventional car, particularly at high speeds.

Speed limits

The Northern Territory open road speed limits are 130 kilometres unless otherwise stated. It is not recommended for speeds over 80 kilometres per hour on the Central Arnhem Road. Most roads in the East Arnhem region are of formed gravel and road conditions vary greatly throughout the year. Caution should always be exercised.

Road Report

Remember that during the wet season (November to April) some roads and tracks may become impassable. Check with the Northern Territory Government Road Report for information on road access.

Flooded roadways

Unless you are sure of the water depth, flow rate and any road damage do not attempt to cross flooded bridges or causeways. Most importantly, do not ignore signs.  Many rivers and water crossings may contain crocodiles.  Do not take the risk!

Fuel and food

Nhulunbuy has a petrol station and a supermarket. When travelling on the Central Arnhem Road we recommend carrying additional water, fuel and food supplies. Fuel and refreshments are available at the Mainoru Outback Store, about 256km from the Stuart Highway. Carry at least 20 litres of extra water.

Lost or broken down

A missing vehicle is easier to locate than missing people, so never leave your vehicle regardless of the circumstances. Economise on water if you are away from a main road. If you intend to leave a main road let somebody trustworthy know of your plans, your intended route and your expected time of arrival. Importantly, be sure to let them know you have arrived safely.


The Central Arnhem Road is not recommended for caravans, only sturdy off-road camper trailers. Once in Nhulunbuy, you can either stay in the designated camping ground at the Walkabout Lodge or on private land. Camping on public land within Nhulunbuy or the Industrial Estate is not permitted.


Crocodile warning signsThe Northern Territory is inhabited by crocodiles.  Do NOT swim in rivers, creeks or beaches.  Crocodiles and Box Jelly Stingers are a problem in the Territory.

Heed the warning signs – they are there for a reason.

Entering pastoral properties

Pastoral properties (like Aboriginal land) are private property. If you are going off-road make sure that the road is a public access road or obtain permission to pass through from the relevant landowner. When passing, leave everything as you found it ie: closed gates should be closed again and open gates left open.

Permits are Required

Travel Permits are required to drive through Arnhem Land to Nhulunbuy and can be arranged at Northern Land Council in Darwin, Katherine or Nhulunbuy.

The permits are designed to make Indigenous land accessible to tourists, visitors and workers. The permits ensure the privacy of the Indigenous communities, protection of the environment and promote the safety of visitors. There are many areas considered sacred sites and the system helps visitors to avoid causing offence or disrupting cultural activities.

It is a serious offence to enter the region without a permit.  Visitors are asked to respect the wishes of the traditional Owners.

The Central Arnhem Road leaves the Stuart Highway 52kms south of Katherine. There are two major river crossings: the Wilton River near Bulman Aboriginal Community and the Goyder River, about 300kms from Nhulunbuy.  Flooded rivers often isolate Gove during the wet season.

Alcohol Permits are required if you are travelling to Nhulunbuy and the Gove Peninsula.

East Arnhem Land is a ‘dry area’. This includes Nhulunbuy and the surrounding communities of Gunyangara (Ski Beach), Birritjimi (Wallaby Beach) and Yirrkala. Drinking alcohol in public places is prohibited unless sign-posted.

The region has a liquor permit system. You can drink in a licensed premise, for example a hotel, club or restaurant. A liquor permit will be required to buy takeaway alcohol to drink in a private home.

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Nhulunbuy, Arnhem Land's best kept secret

Arnhem Land is one of the most pristine and natural parts of Australia.  Be sure to add this adventure to your bucket list!

It truly is the experience of a lifetime!  Have you been to Nhulunbuy yet? 

Reference:  Nhulunbuy Corporation

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