Traveling throughout the Northern Territory is something I do often, but my recent trip to Gove in Arnhem Land really got under my skin.
I loved it! My first impression was that Gove is just like every other Australian beach town. Surprisingly, there was a world of difference.
The Gove Penninsular is
Often referred to as Nhulunbuy, Gove is the point that the Gulf of Carpentaria meets the Arafura Sea and the most easterly point of the Northern Territory in Australia.
With spectacular coastal landscape, beautiful offshore islands and strong Aboriginal cultural connections, this region offers one of the more accessible opportunities to visit and experience remote and fascinating Arnhem Land.
The waters surrounding Gove and the nearby islands are renowned for their fishing with charters available to ensure you experience it all.
The pace is slower, it’s a sleepy little town with the sounds of the waves gently lapping the white sandy beaches.
The Yolngu people of this land
The Yolgnu Aboriginal people have inhabited the north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia for over 60,000 years. Yolngu means ‘person’ in the Yolngu language. The many dialects of this region are known as Yolngu Matha. English can be anywhere for a third to a tenth language for Yolngu people.
Throughout the ages, Yolngu clans have lived abundantly in Arnhem Land hunting fish, bush animals and seasonal bush food. Today, Yolngu still retain cultural and spiritual links to the area.
It was fascinating to learn
about pre-settler history
of this region.
Yolngu have recorded their interaction with Europeans prior to the arrival of British in Australia.
Yolngu folklore talks of the Baijini people (presumed to be, Southeast Asian) who visited Arnhem Land before the Macassans.
Their 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.
With well established trade routes within Australia, the Yolngu traded these goods through Central Australia and other areas.
The history of 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 and deep water port in the late 1960’s. An alumina refinery was built to process the raw materials but later closed in 2014.
Nhulunbuy is only 20 kilometres from the Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, famous for its Aboriginal art and hand woven baskets.
How to get there
Explore the crystal clear rivers, tropical bushland and pristine beaches in this region.
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. A permit is required to drive through Arnhem Land. (see below)
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. Supplies and visitors are brought by air to Gove or by sea when the roads are impassible during the wet season.
What to see and do
There are many beaches, rivers forests and cliffs just a short drive from Nhulunbuy, some of the more popular ones being Little Bondi beach, Latram river, Cape Arnhem and the Giddy river.
Before heading out to these locations is is best to get the latest information from locals.
- Visit the Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala for local Aboriginal art and crafts.
- Explore the beaches and fresh water holes of the Dhimurru recreational areas on a four-wheel drive camping adventure.
- Hop on a scenic charter flight to see this diverse landscape and coastline from the air.
- Take a self-guided walk at Gadalathami (Town Beach) or Gayngaru Lagoon Wetlands.
- Escape to Banubanu Wilderness Retreat on unspoilt Bremmer Island. This is a unique resort that only a few lucky travelers will ever get to see.
- Take a blue water fishing charter for some amazing fishing.
- Admire the pristine white sandy beaches and enjoy the stunning coastal views.
- Gove Country Golf Club is the perfect course to play a round or two of golf.
- Enjoy the stunning sunsets over the ocean.
- The Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures is held each year in August.
Tips for travelling throughout the Gove Peninsula.
The 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 as they are there for a reason.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 through leave everything as you found it i.e. closed gates should be closed again and open gates left open.
Permits & Requirements
If you are travelling to Nhulunbuy and the Gove Peninsula, there are some important local alcohol rules that apply.
East Arnhem Land is a ‘dry area’. This includes Nhulunbuy and the surrounding communities of Gunyangara (Ski Beach), Birritjimi (Wallaby Beach) and Yirrkala. Drinking in public places is prohibited with the exception of some popular recreational areas that are sign posted.
The region has a liquor permit system. You can drink in a licensed premise, for example a hotel, club or restaurant. However, you need to obtain a liquor permit to buy takeaway alcohol and drink in a private home.
Permits to drive through Arnhem Land
Permits are required to drive through Arnhem Land to Nhulunbuy and can be arranged at Northern Land Council in 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 or significant and the system helps visitors to avoid causing offence or disrupting cultural activities.
It is a serious offence to move throughout the region without a permit, and visitors are asked to respect the wishes of the traditional Owners.
Arnhem Land is one of the most pristine places left in 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