So after our little taste of Arnhem Land at the Beswick Festival we thought what was the point in standing on someones doorstep, ringing the bell but not actually going in??! I had looked at permits when we were planning the trip and found the whole thing completely confusing and apparently impossible. Everyone seemed to tell me you needed to go with a tour, or be visiting a family member or working. Someone even told me it wasn’t possible at all. And even if you got a permit the roads were apparently horrendous. I called the Northern Land Council chasing a road update to get an idea of timings – TomTom is not helpful – but no one there had driven it. Considering all of this and the fact that Dad (and us) were a bit over dirt roads and dust we decided not to go. Once Darwin refreshed us and the Beswick Festival tempted us it was another story.
We left Beswick and headed back to Katherine’s Northern Land Council offices. And so began the easiest permit adventure ever. The issue I had with the transit permit online was that it required exact dates and apparently the name and address of the people we were staying with – we weren’t. It left me confused and a bit stressed to be honest, planning exact arrival so far in advance is a bit too much planning for me. Knowing what I know now I would have complete skipped the online bit and just rocked up to the Northern Land Council office in Katherine. The lady on the front desk was friendly and full of knowledge. We filled in the bare necessity of information, skipped the parts that had previously confused me and gave Nhulunbuy as our address – apparently the name of the town will do. She gave us a quick rundown of the road and a suggestion of where to stop. We were done and dusted in 15 minutes leaving with our official transit permit in our sticky fingers. We refilled petrol, diesel, water and food – we seem not to have lost our overbuying issue. Somehow we burnt a heap of hours and hit the road at 2:30pm.
We probably averaged 80kms over the whole trip, some bits of the road a bit rougher than others. We had one great whoops moment following a car and its dust. We suddenly realised the dust had cleared and the car had vanished, for a second we both looked at each other before the car shot out a side road we had missed because of the dust. Obviously a local who knew there was a massive section of road damage we launched ourselves into. I am pretty sure the car and van were both airborne for a moment together. We pulled over and checked everything and somehow it all seemed to have survived its first unplanned flight! So when driving the Central Arnhem highway look out for the signs – red triangle with a white triangle inside it and in that a red flower. Sometimes they are quite small, they signify warnings for the road and will appear moments before the actual problem giving you less time than a fly fart to brake. But it will save you having to buy a pilot’s license. They are also sometimes not present so unfortunately whoever is driving doesn’t have time for sightseeing. Not unless you want to join one of the many wrecks on the side of the road.
Yes, there are also sections that are corrugated but not nearly as much as we thought. Parts of it had recently been graded and on our journey out other parts had been done, making up for the bits that had got a little worse. There is a heap of dust – tape the van, in fact triple tape it, it doesn’t stop it all but it definitely helps. We stopped the night at Mainoru Lodge – $40 for the 5 of us with power. We were the only campers in the little section they had out the back so we got 2 showers all to ourself. Utter bliss. The kids were delighted at the little frogs that seemed to live in the showers, Jamie threaten to throw them at me while I showered which made for a tense shower time coupled with girly squealing every time he flicked water over the shower tops at me. Utter child!
We left the next day at about 10 and made Nhulunbuy by 5pm and encountered the worst bit of road between the Mainoru Lodge and Bulman. So 10/11 hours for the entire journey is what it takes. If you aren’t bothered about power or showers there were a few free camps on route that were pretty nice – Flat Rock Creek for one. Thanks to the taping we had limited dust inside, if you didn’t open any cupboards. We will be looking at sealing the fridge vents on the way back and see how that works. There is Telstra coverage at Bulman and then occasionally it will pop in and out but you won’t get proper coverage until Nhulunbuy.
The road is long, red and dusty but despite the long hours it does have some amazing moments. We saw wild horses, lots of cows – sometime on the road and sometimes beside it, all completely unbothered by us, lots of birds of prey especially in the areas they are burning off. We ran over the top of a sunbathing lizard and really hoping he just stayed completely still. We went from skinny gum trees and scrubby bush into almost lush sections of pandanas trees. But my favourite by far on this trip are the water buffalo. We came across a herd on either side of the road and we stopped. Water buffalo are all of the belief they are a lot smaller than they are. As one they all tried to hide when we got out the car. A few ducked behind termite mounds, a couple snuck into bushes half their height and one attempted to use a skinny gum tree as cover. It’s almost disney like in its adorableness. I am guessing it’ll be less so should we hit one but I like living in my merry disney world with shy little water buffalo peeping out from behind termite mounds.
We stayed 2 nights at the Walkabout Lodge and Campground. Word of warning this is the only campground in Nhulunbuy even if you don’t get a permit till the last moment call them to make sure there is space. When we left they apparently only had room for us on the first night but a space suddenly appeared when we arrived so we got an extra night in the end. We washed, slept and headed out for more permits. We picked up our camping permit from the Dhimurru Office (only open till 1pm), with a lovely girl on the front who recommended some sites to us. We paid $90 for 2 months for the 5 of us – kids don’t count. Once we had that we extended our transit permit for another couple of weeks – just dropped it off at the Northern Land Council and picked it up all done a bit later. Last on our list is the alcohol permit.
While in Nhulunbuy you need an alcohol permit to buy and to have alcohol – do not venture around with alcohol in the car without this. We were told the police would seize the car if they caught us, although we might be ok it is was still sealed. But the permit is pretty easy, you do need an address or the camping permit we had just got – they need to see it to contact the place you are staying to confirm. But it’s free and all done in moments.
We explored the Woolworths – pretty good price wise and well stocked. And then made plans for where to spend the next few days. We settled on Turtle Beach – Jack voted for it mostly on name but unfortunately we saw no turtles. We did get nights falling asleep to the sounds of waves on the sand, skinny dipping during the day – when there weren’t visitors and generally tuning out of life for a few days. We were out of coverage apart from occasional moments when you would get one bar and a message would pop through. It was bliss. Jamie hunted for oysters at low tide, ate most of his catch. Jack attempted one and almost vomited, Abi got as far as licking it, Zachary just refused. Sensible chap.
We were lucky to be the only ones staying at the beach so it was like our own private beach front property. We also looked at Little Bondi down the road but the road in was too tight for a van, and the beach too sandy to even attempt bringing down the van. Maybe if we had a roof top tent.
Jamie and I had our 11 year anniversary while we were up here. So we celebrated with a pub meal at the Walkabout, a dip at the local swimming pool and a shower and hair wash. Complete decadence – my man knows how to treat a lady!!
After 3 nights at Turtle Beach we packed up and headed to Latram River. They are just in the middle of redoing the sites, levelling out some and adding in more day parking. There is also another section called Goanna Lagoon which was closed off as they worked on it. The river was a lovely change, access to fresh water is always a plus point! We finished our trip taking river dips – and using the rope swing some nice person had hung over the river.
Again we were pretty much the only people there, meaning more skinny dipping fun! The kids spent hours at the river, occasionally freaking themselves out pretending to be crocodiles.
We took a trip out to a few fishing points, the tackle shop was a great mine of information. Unfortunately no fish for us, despite carting a huge rod down to the beach Jamie gave up after throwing brand new lure into the sea while casting – something we are just not talking about yet! The kids chased seagulls, hunted for shells and found washed up jellyfish. In all a perfect lazy time, just what we needed to recharge our batteries.
Now are are heading onto our next adventure, but I could have spent another a few weeks happily exploring. We bumped into a ranger checking permits on the second last day and he told us they are trying to encourage more tourists up this end. One of the two mining companies in Nhulunbuy has just closed up shop which means the tourist dollar has becomes more important than ever. I can hand on heart say Arnhem Land should be on everyones list. It’s still relatively uncommercialised, although I guess it won’t stay that way. So before that happens make it part of your next adventure, you won’t regret it.