NOW: NHULUNBUY IN ARNHEM LAND
We had four overnight stops on our way north from Mt Isa. The first at Barkley Homestead then Banka Banka which was once a cattle outstation and now hosts highway travellers camped around the original mud brick station building. Next stop Daly Waters Roadhouse where we had mobile reception for our weekly Sunday night call to our kids, internet to check emails, shade and grass. We were set!
Our fourth stop was Elsey National Park which had a good campground but the swimming was closed due to crocodiles. We did enjoy a nice campfire dinner though and drove back into Bitter Springs for a float down the warm spring water in the creek before getting back on the dirt heading north to Nhulunbuy.
You need a general permit from the land council to travel the Central Arnhem Road and stay in Nhulunbuy. The road is unsealed for 600kms with 75kms tarred mainly at the start. It was in reasonable condition you just needed to watch for those red triangles they use in the territory for hazards that are awaiting repair. Some people travelled much faster than us and appeared really quickly out of the dust so by 3.00pm we were looking for a gravel pit for our overnight camp.
There weren’t many places to pull off the road but those we saw had good views or were near creeks. One creek stop had drums for rubbish but the crows had had a great time tossing it everywhere so we gathered the rubbish and burnt it while we boiled the billy for morning tea.
As we bounced along the Central Arnhem Road we were overtaken by an escort vehicle with flashing lights and a truck carrying a swimming pool. Not what we were expecting and when we told the locals they were just as surprised. Next surprise was the helicopter that dropped in for the night at our campsite.
Nhulunbuy was a busier town than we’d expected and the town beaches had white sand and the bluest clear water. The general permit gives visitors access to the town beaches and permits are available on-line and from the land council office for areas with restricted visitor numbers.
Memorial Park, where a special permit is required, has a small campground with a fast flowing creek and rocky waterfalls. Giddy River, covered by the general permit has similar cliffs and falls and a few campsites as well.
Our visit to Arnhem Land had to include a visit to Cape Arnhem which also requires a special permit. We spent the day meandering along the track across a rock ridge and then along the beach and dunes.
An amazing amount of rubbish littered the beach. We’d seen collection bags on the town beaches where people were asked to collect fishing net, rope and line while they were walking on the beach to protect marine creatures from entanglement. This was a whole new category of waste washed up by the wind and carried by the tides and currents. There were thousands of empty oil bottles, thongs and plastic containers piled along the high tide line. The beach had a staggering amount of rubbish.
Thankfully, the lagoon end of Cape Arnhem Beach was cleaner as this is where the camp ground is located. The bay curves around protecting the lagoon from the prevailing wind.
In Daliwuy Bay the wind was calmer and several boaties were camping and fishing in the creek. We found old turtle eggs on the aptly named Turtle Beach and hoped the turtles had hatched and reached the ocean, not been dinner for the crocs. At Latram River a huge barra swam past us in about 30cms of clear flowing water but I doubt you’d be able to snag him easily.
High ochre cliffs run along the beach at Rainbow Creek and there were some nice campsites with shade and fireplaces. We’re not sure the far north is our thing- it’s dry, hot and windswept with just a few pockets of lush monsoon growth in small valleys. We had a different picture in our heads.
On the Central Arnhem Road heading south we found a few sections had been graded and met the grader part way along. The section between Bulman and Mainoru was still the worst part but we made good time even after stopping to help a truckie with a flat tyre who couldn’t get his wheel nuts undone. There was lots of smoke from burn offs and we stayed overnight at Mainoru as it was out of the smoke.
After 675kms we reached the highway and travelled south to Elsey National Park for a swim in the Mataranka Thermal Pool and a campfire dinner. It was too hot for fires further north and some of our firewood had travelled a long way.
NEXT: LIMMEN NP AND LORELLA SPRINGS
See you on the Emu Track
Cheryl and David