Arnhem Land might just be one of the most remote and rugged locations we have visited on our travels so far. You can travel for hours without seeing another car, have a family of buffalo wander right in front of your car on the main highway, and find that you have some of the most beautiful beaches all to yourself.
Visiting East Arnhem Land requires a lot of pre-planning, with multiple permits required to visit. It’s a good idea to completely plan out your trip in advance, including anywhere you hope to stay, to avoid missing out once you arrive.
Before you continue, make sure you check out our post on planning your trip to East Arnhem Land, including a guide to all the different permits you might need to make sure you are on top of everything you need to know before you go. To visit most of these places you will require a permit from Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation and the Northern Land Council.
Yirrkala Community Store
Top 10 places to visit in East Arnhem Land
There are heaps of places to visit in East Arnhem Land, some of them free and easy to get to, and others requiring special permission or jumping onto a day tour. If you’re planning your first visit to Arnhem Land here are a couple of places to check out:
Once you arrive if you’re still looking for a little advice and guidance for your visit head to the Nhulunbuy Visitor Information Centre on Westal Street, just around the corner from the town centre. It’s open from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4:30pm.
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The main town in East Arnhem Land is Nhulunbuy and it’s a great place to start your trip. Nhulunbuy is actually much larger than we had anticipated before our visit, with two supermarkets, a petrol station, a hospital, bank, lots of place to eat, an aquatic centre and lots of local beaches.
If you’re not sure where to begin, the guys at the Walkabout Lodge were so lovely and helpful. This is also a great place to base yourself if you want to stay right in the middle of town. They have casual lodge accommodation available as well as a campground, a swimming pool to cool off and the Walkabout Tavern with a big beer garden and live music on the weekends.
Walkabout Lodge || 12 Westal Street, Nhulunbuy || Ph: (08) 8939 2000
2. Garanhan (Macassan Beach)
One of our favourite places in East Arnhem Land, Garanhan is where the red dirt meets the bright blue ocean, creating some beautiful landscapes. Best seen from above in our opinion, make sure you pop your drone up here as long as you have the right permits.
There are lots of spots to fish along this rocky shoreline and even a cute rope swing to chill out on as you watch the waves roll in. You’ll definitely need a 4WD to access this one, as the path to get in here can be quite tough in some places.
While you’re in the area make sure you also check out nearby beaches Barinura (Little Bondi Beach), Numuy (Turtle Beach) and Binydjarrna (Daliwuy Bay). Remember, there are crocodiles and also jellyfish all throughout the beaches in the Top End, so it’s not really safe to swim anywhere along this coastline.
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre
3. Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre, Yirrkala
Head straight to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre when you arrive in East Arnhem Land for a complete immersion into artwork from local artists across Arnhem Land. Throughout the gallery and shop there are so many beautiful pieces here, it’s just amazing to see the detail and stories that have been carefully shared through this art.
In the local language – buku-larrngay means ‘the feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun’ and mulka means ‘a sacred but public ceremony’.
Artists share their work here from all across Arnhem Land, with all different types of art on display and available to purchase. If you’re lucky you might even get to witness some of the artists working on their pieces as they create them. The Art Centre also has an online shop if you can’t make it but still want to check out some of their art work.
Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre || 138 Tuffin Road, Yirrkala || Ph: (08) 8987 1701
Gove Boat Club
4. Gove Boat Club
Head to the Gove Boat Club for a few drinks as the sun goes down. The Boat Club is a members only club, but you can sign in as a visitor if you’re just passing through. The sun sets over the water and through the palm trees on the beach here and it’s just beautiful.
Drinks and cheap here ($6 tequila, yes please) and the meals are huge so come down for a meal as the sun goes down. We can definitely recommend their french schnitzel and crumbed cutlets, omg so good!
There’s also a campground here, we stayed here during our visit. They have hot showers with good water pressure, phone reception, a laundry and grassy campsites so you can finally get out of that red dirt. A campsite costs $40 per night, which is pretty standard across East Arnhem Land.
Gove Boat Club || Drimmie Head Road, Nhulunbuy || Ph: (08) 8987 8388
Gove Boat Club
5. Wanuwuy (Cape Arnhem)
One of the most beautiful beaches in the Northern Territory and home to beautiful views across the coastline, unfortunately Cape Arnhem was closed during our visit to East Arnhem Land.
We found out later (from the lovely woman at the Mainoru Outback Store on the way home), that every year the Cape Arnhem beach is closed for about 6 weeks or so across August and September due to the turtles nesting and hatching along the beach. The traditional landowners request that the beach be closed during this time to give the baby turtles the best chance of survival without anyone touching them.
If Cape Arnhem is high on your list of places to visit, make sure to visit a little earlier in the dry season to avoid disappointment.
East Woody Beach
6. Bawaka & Lonely Beach
There are a countless beautiful images shared from East Arnhem Land, but many of them can be found in and around Bawaka, including the iconic Lonely Beach. And unfortunately, we don’t have any. This region is part of the Yolngu Homelands, and is still home to many local families living and working on their traditional homelands.
The only way to visit these beautiful areas is on a day tour with Lirrwi Tourism. Lirrwi offer many different tour options into the Yolngu Homelands, where you get the opportunity to interact with some of the local people, learn more about their land, culture and traditions and take part in spear fishing and crab hunting.
Unfortunately, due to covid-19 Lirrwi had to cancel their whole 2020 touring season to help protect the health and wellbeing of the local people that live in this area, but they are taking bookings for next year! We’re definitely hoping to come back and jump on one of these day tours when they’re back up and running next year.
To find out more head to the Lirrwi Tourism website.
7. Banambarrna (Rainbow Cliff)
Only a short drive from Nhulunbuy, the Rainbow Cliffs are a can’t miss and such a beautiful spot to visit. Standing tall next to the water, these cliffs have a beautiful palette of colours, from red to orange to yellow as they stretch into the sky. There is a campground here as well as a day use area, that’s perfect for taking a few photos.
East Woody Beach
8. East Arnhem Islands
Really make the most of your visit to Arnhem Land and check in to one of the islands that lie just off the coastline. These island retreats can offer some of the most luxurious stays in the region.
Groote Eylandt: the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Groote Eylandt is a popular island along the East Arnhem coastline and is a popular place for fishing and adventure tours around the island. The traditional owners of the island are the Andindilyakwa people, and there are some great cultural tours on the island that teach you about their traditions, language and life on the island.
Website: Groote Eylandt Lodge
Bremer Island: one of the more luxurious places to stay in East Arnhem Land, Bremer Island is home to the Banubanu Beach Retreat, which is ultimately a very secluded island resort along the coastline. It’s only a short 15 minute flight from the Gove Airport, and can actually be seen from some of the beaches near Nhulunbuy. Jump onto a sunset cruise or a fishing charter to really make the most of your time out here.
9. Wathawuy (Goanna Lagoon)
A great spot to head to if you just want to swim without the risk of crocodiles. This little lagoon has some of the clearest water we have ever seen, and even though the lagoon is quite shallow, it’s the perfect temperature for a quick dip to cool down.
There are quite a few campsites here if you’re looking to stay out of town and there’s also a great day use area so you can just take a dip as you explore. Around the corner another great spot to check out is Latram River.
10. Gapuru (Memorial Park)
Now, this is a beautiful spot but you need to commit to staying here the night in order to visit. Memorial Park is home to a beautiful big waterhole and rock pool and when you book a camping permit you get to have the whole area exclusively to yourself.
It’s one of the best places for swimming in the area so it’s really disappointing that it doesn’t have a day use area to allow people to come and cool down without staying for the night.
Just a note: if anyone accidentally arrives at your exclusive campsite it’s always nice to be polite and let them know the situation without being rude. Many of these sites are shared around social media with very little explanation to the permits required to access them, and due to poor signage it’s easy not to understand the exclusiveness of the situation, especially if they were never planning to camp.
Head to the Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation to book your night at Memorial Park and since there is only one campsite here it’s probably a good idea to book this one in advance.