Nhulunbuy and Surrounding Area

Wednesday, Feb 21, 2018 at 21:04

Stephen L (Clare) SA

So you have taken the trouble to get your free transit permit from the Northern Lands Council and driven out on the Central Arnhem Highway to this remote town and to what some journalists call “Australia’s last true wilderness frontier”. When you get into town, what can you expect to see and do and what do you need to know.

Like any remote area trip, you will have carried out as much possible homework on what there is to see and do around Nhulunbuy and one thing will be clear from the very start, is that this area still has a very strong Traditional Yolnu Aboriginal Culture and for this very reason there will be restrictions and limited access to many areas. To monitor tourist numbers, there are two types of additional permits that you will need to purchase when you arrive in Nhulunbuy.

The Northern Lands Council cannot issue these local permits and they must be obtained from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation, located at Lot 1620, Arnhem Road, Nhulunbuy, not far from the Toyota dealer as you drive into town. When we went into the office to get our permits, I also purchased a great little book called “Visitors Guide” for $10 which gives you all the details on every area that you can go and what there is to see and do. The two permits fall into two categories, with the first the most important permit to purchase first, which is called the “General Permit”.

This permit will give access to all the Recreational Areas on Aboriginal land in and around Nhulunbuy. You can purchase the permit for varying periods of time and as we could only spend a week there, we purchased the 7 days General Permit. Depending where you intend to stay, there are a number of locations where you can bush camp with the camping fees incorporated in the cost of this permit.

The second permit to purchase is strictly limited in vehicle numbers to only four locations in the area south of the township of Nhulunbuy, being Memorial Park, Wonga Creek, Scout Camp and Cape Arnhem. The only place that we could visit was Cape Arnhem which is limited to only 10 vehicles per day, while Wonga Creek was closed to the public due to a very large crocodile that was causing a few problems and Memorial Park and Scout Camp that were booked out, as they only allow a maximum of 5 vehicles at a time in those two areas.

Nhulunbuy is a modern town that once held a very large workforce, mainly employed in the mining and production of bauxite that is still mined in the area today, but sadly with the closing of the production plant, more than 2000 workers lost their jobs and this has greatly affected the town, with now a big push to increase tourist numbers to help the local community survive. There is only one service station in the town, and it is easy to locate and impossible to miss. The town is also serviced by a large Woolworths Supermarket that has all the usual supplies that are found in any supermarket around Australia, with the one exception of all supplies come in by sea on the weekly barge, so things like fresh milk, meat and fruit and vegetables usually sells out quickly and it could be days before their new supplies arrive. There is no Tourist Information Centre in town, but either the Walkabout Lodge or the local Town Corporation can assist with basic information on the area if you have not purchased the helpful “Visitors Guide” from the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.

Accommodation in Nhulunbuy is catered for by the Walkabout Lodge, which offers both Motel type accommodation as well as a secure campground at the back of the Lodge, with both powered and non-powered sites on a lawned area, with laundry and shower and toilet facilities. If you are free camping out in one of the areas where you can camp with your General or Special Permit, you can also use the facilities at the Lodge that are on offer, but for a fee.

All roads in the township and west of the town out to the old processing plant and beach areas are bitumen, so travel is very easy. Once out of the town and when you head south to other attractions in the area, you are back onto those deep red dirt roads that are well maintained. If the clear blue seawaters tempt you, I would strongly suggest that you seek local advise first before a dip, as you are in crocodile country and even the beach area near the caravan park was visited each night by a mid size local croc, so you must be aware on the lookout at all times.

The weather when we visited Nhulunbuy in August 2017 did not vary at all, with a constant 29° every day and dropping down to 20° at night with slight cloud cover. Even at 11pm at night, it was still 26° with a very slight sea breeze that kept the mosquitoes at bay. The only night that there was no sea breeze, it only dropped down to 24° by 6am the next morning and seeing that I have the type of blood that mosquitoes just love, I had to use a good quality tropical strength insect repellent to keep them at bay while sitting outside and enjoying that beautiful balmy night, which were just perfect, knowing that if we were back home in Clare, it would still a nice 17° in the morning, but aided from our slow combustion wood heater that runs 24/7 from late April to usually early October every year.

The only day that we had an increase in daytime temperature was the day that we did the Cape Arnhem drive, with it going to 33° behind the beach area and we put it down to breeze at all and the reflected heat from the vibrant white sand. Once back onto the actual beach driving it was very comfortable again and those crystal clear waters looked so inviting, but we were not prepared to take our chances and waited until the crystal clear water of the swimming pool back at the Lodge.

So for anyone interested in visiting an area that was once hard to get a permit to visit, I can recommend this special part of Eastern Arnhem Land where you can still drive around and in almost every cases by the only person at that special beach or fresh water lagoon, knowing that the tourist in there hundreds are at other locations in the northern parts of Australia.

Helpful Permit and contact details:

Northern Lands Council


Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation


Walkabout Lodge


My previous Blog for travelling the Central Arnhem Highway


Stephen Langman

February 2018
Smile like a Crocodile
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