A Garden of Eden in Australia’s Far North
Arnhem Land is not in vogue, it’s not the new kid on the block, nor the latest ‘must see’ destination. It hasn’t won awards for best tourist attraction, nor filled the pages of Lonely Planet magazine. In fact – you have probably never even heard of it. Yet for a mere 60,000 years the Yolngu people have resided here. The world’s oldest living culture calls Arnhem Land home and for over 30% of Australia’s Aboriginal population, Arnhem Land defines Australia.
So why would you go?
Authentic experiences – that’s what all travellers seek when setting foot in new lands. We have all been there when you are coerced into watching an authentic cultural show where “real” Polynesian Warriors perform ceremonial dances or where “real” Masai Tribesmen showcase their celebratory adumu (jumping) dance. Yet a cultural experience in Arnhem Land couldn’t be further from these tourist-touting-theatres. A cultural experience in Arnhem Land is to stand alongside the Yolngu and to witness their way of life in all its fragile glory. Time your visit to Arnhem Land with one of the annual festivals such as Garma, Arnhem Land’s premier indigenous festival and witness a celebration of culture through dancing, artistic demonstrations and of course traditional music such as the playing of the digeridoo. Hear the ancient stories of these nomadic dreaming people as they maintain the link between past and present through these annual celebrations of their ancient yet very much alive culture.
A festival in Arnhem Land is not a show – it’s an existence
You may go for the art. Gunbalanya, the gateway to Arnhem Land on the border of the East Alligator River is where you will experience your first taste of the timeless power of Aboriginal art. For Aborigines, art is a way of life – a means of subsistence, from traditional dot painting to weaving and even bark painting. Yet it is the rock art of Arnhem Land that has put it on the map. Injalak Arts – an Aboriginal operated arts centre on the outskirts of Gunbalanya facilitates Aborigine led tours to Injalak Hill, where art from the pre-estuarine period is etched into time on the side of red-ochre rocks. If authenticity is what you are seeking, then it is here you will find it. The rock art at Injalak Hill is a record of history that enables modern Aboriginals to decipher and understand their heritage, ancestral beliefs and ancient culture.
Art in Arnhem Land is the definition of story-telling
You may go for the landscapes. Covering an area of over 34,000 sq km, the landscape of Arnhem Land is as diverse and varied as each of Australia’s states. Visitors to the rugged coastlines of the far north’s Cobourg Peninsula are rewarded with sensational views of dramatic coastlines, endless golden beaches and azure waters ideal for lovers or the underwater world. Whereas those that venture deep into Arnhem Land’s central plateau will delight in discovering the many gorges, towering escarpments, abundant wetlands and bottomless caves that litter this endless landscape. If visiting in the wet, prepare to witness plentiful wetlands swarming with wildlife and surging rivers teeming with fish and of course the prolific predator – the saltwater crocodile.
Arnhem Land is a place of contrast – an Eden
You may go for the activities. From endless national parks to 4WD safari’s and even guided bush tucker treks, Arnhem Land is an outdoor pursuit lover’s heaven. Enjoy adrenalin enthused air-boat rides over wetlands and hair-raising 4WD excursions along red-dirt tracks that lead to sacred lands. Learn to track wildlife the Aboriginal way or take to the skies and admire this infinite landscape from above. You can choose to camp under the stars or relax in a luxury safari camp and fall asleep to the sound of Mother Nature’s orchestra.
Arnhem Land offers the ultimate in discovery
So…are you ready to bow down to the immense power of the earth and visit a landscape where any sense of time and place is void, a region where nature is king and an area where you will truly witness an ancient culture reigning supreme? Yes? Then add Arnhem Land to your bucket-list. Arnhem Land will humble even the most intrepid of travellers and that is precisely the reason you should visit it.
Access to Arnhem Land is permitted in order to protect the lands, rock art and sacred ceremonial lands of the Yolngu and to safeguard visitors who do not know or understand the land. Although access in the wet can be possible, it is highly recommended to visit Arnhem Land on an Aboriginally-led guided tour in the dry season, thus allowing visitors to see the many highlights of Arnhem Land in an authentic yet safe and un-obtrusive way.