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Little-known East Arnhem Land

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July 268 minute read

Arnhem Land is a truly remote region of Australia. Those willing to work for it will be rewarded with a truly unique experience.

East Arnhem Land

Our first destination was Wanuway (Cape Arnhem), which many referred to as the jewel of East Arnhem Land. On big travel days, we always like to get through some kilometres early before first coffee. Barely a couple of hundred kilometres along the Central Arnhem Road from Katherine and we were already surrounded by wild country.

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We took on diesel at Mainoru Store, the only fuel on the 700km stretch between Katherine and Nhulunbuy – and we planned to do some exploring along the way.

East Arnhem Land

We acquired three permits for our journey. A free Northern Land Council Transit Permit allowed us to travel along the Central Arnhem Road. A paid Dhimmurru Aboriginal Corporation General Permit was required to explore and camp in many areas, while a second paid Special Permit was necessary to visit and camp at Wanuway.

Acquiring these permits was relatively simple. The permits limit traveller numbers, a great thing for both sustainability and solitude. Plus the revenue is the key reason we visitors are welcome on these private lands and funds the local Rangers.

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As we turned toward Wanuwuy the path narrowed to fun single track. A few kilometres and we had our first glimpses of the wild Arafura Sea.

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Dusk arrived early which made navigating this remote, saltwater crocodile rich, terrain with an incoming tide and soft sand a challenge. It was a pretty exciting arrival!

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With daybreak we took stock of our surroundings. We were the only humans. It felt like we were on the edge of the earth.

East Arnhem Land
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There are a few campsites at Wanuwuy. Each has a fire pit and swing – my kind of land management!

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East Arnhem Land

It’s a real off-grid adventure. If you plan to stay a few days, and you should, you’ll want to carry plenty of diesel and water, plus be able to produce power.

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It’s tough not being able to swim (if the crocs don’t get you the stingers will!), but the beaches are breathtaking.

What’s interesting is that one section would be pristine but around the corner another section had collected an endless amount of plastic on the incoming tide.

It’s always heartbreaking to see the impact of our modern life on nature, but I take some comfort in comparing the groundswell of action on solving the plastic issue to a few short years ago.

East Arnhem Land
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We ventured on, heading into the breathtaking Banambarrnga (Rainbow Cliff). We camped further south, but the campsite near here looked good.

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To the south again we weaved down another narrow track to Baningura (Little Bondi). We’d hear good things, but wow. This was an absolutely stunning beach and our campsite was about as good as it gets!

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A trip up to East Arnhem Land is a big one, but it’s one we think experienced travellers will love. The permits were far more effortless to attain than we’d anticipated, and it’s an incredible place to explore away from the crowds.

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Mike Collister has spent his life outdoors. He has represented Australia as a slalom kayaker, guided whitewater expeditions in Nepal, and taught outdoor education and wilderness medicine. He’s paddled the Kimberley’s Fitzroy River in the wet season and across the Bass Strait and is an avid photographer, overlander and camper.


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