The best way to explore a destination is connecting deeply with nature and locals, making the bond with culture and empowering local entrepreneurs to thrive and give the future generations more opportunities in their countries. As a traveller you can always choose guided tours, ideally with certified tour operators or be a self-guided, planning in advance your steps. Both ways, you will reduce the carbon footprint and enjoy an eco-friendly vacation! In this sense, we decided to explore the most australian ancestral land, the top-end of the northern territory, and discover the natural wonders and connect with the ancestral owners of this mythical land, North-East Arnhem-Land, peninsula of Gove.
For most Australians Northern-Territory is the pearl of Australian aboriginal land. The Gove Peninsula is on the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria within Arnhem-Land, a vast tract of aboriginal owned land on the coastline. Nhulunbuy is the main commercial and service centre of the Peninsula and is 600 kilometres east of Darwin.
Protected by the traditional aboriginal owners, the Yolngu people, it is a place rich in culture with locals maintaining strong ties with their land, believes and traditions. We decided to be more adventurous and do a self-tour through the interesting points of the peninsula, attending to the biggest aboriginal festival in Australia and volunteer in the art centre of Yirrkala.
To keep an eco-friendly behaviour while we travel is hard, however nowadays it is essential. Our partner Ecotourism Australia is making a real difference in Australian tourism scene, contributing to the cultural, economic and environmental well-being of the country among travellers. A definition about sustainable tourism explains the true meaning of keeping an eco-friendly behaviour while traveling. “Ecotourism is ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”
To able to attend to some of the most beautiful places around, you have some rules to follow and pay the touristic tax is one of them. Is not expensive, but be aware that it’s law and if you want to explore some sacred and special aboriginal sites you must have your documentation in order. This fee reverts to the protection and maintenance to the sites and aboriginal ranger’s income.
Around Nhulunbuy we found some beautiful beaches that are easily reached by bike. Buffalo Creek (Gumuniya), Crocodile Creek (Lombuy), Mount Saunders (Nhulun) and Woody beach (Dhamitjinya) are recreation areas and you can camp here overnight. All of them are easy reach by car, but you can go by foot or follow the bike trail. Woody beach has an incredible rock/island where you can climb when is low tide and appreciate the vast ocean and with some lucky you can see some dolphins and wales passing by. Remember, in this area wild salt-water crocodiles are abundant, and they reach easy all the beaches, so be aware and do not camp next to water.
The hiking Trail from Macassan to Turtle Beach is 2.5km walking away. The trail is rich on trees and leads from the beach in a northerly direction, initially up a rather steep dune. Careful, you can encounter buffalos on the road. The Turtle beach (Ngumuy) is reachable through a dense patch of vine forest. The white and pristine beach is a known place for turtle postures. From here you can reach Little Bondi (1.5 km) and Macassan (Garahan) beach (2.5km) following the walking tracks. In Macassan you can see a cluster of stones arrangements, that are the remains of the trade between Yolngu people and the Indonesians until 1907.
From Latram River to Goanna Lagoon is a 2km trail. This is a whole river stream that lead its way through an open eucalyptus forest. It’s a very popular destination where overnight camping is allowed. The stream is generally shallow and sandy with deeper waterholes in some places, especially in the wet season. During the dry season Goanna lagoon can be very shallow or even dry completely. Take a hike deeply inside of the forest and it’s a unique opportunity to observe rare birds, bats and other animals.
A rock has defined the shape of the Giddy river (Guwatjurumurru), creating beautiful waterholes and mini-canyons. Located 40 km from the main town of what, the site can be reached on the western side of the river. There are camping areas located on both sides of the river. Fire areas are restricted to the camping sites on proper places. Don’t forget to look for wallabies, rare birds and reptiles.
At the first weekend of August, The Garma Festival of Traditional Culture is held in Gulkula, a spiritual and sacred site 40 km away from Nhulunbuy. This annual festival is a celebration of the cultural inheritance of the Yolngu people and the aim is sharing knowledge and culture. The festival attracts around 20 different cultural groups from around Arnhem Land and the Northern Territory and a lot of other nationalities around the world.
You can experience the traditional bunggul, where indigenous leaders dance and sing about the sky, land, water, spiritual sites and traditions. You can learn how to play Yidaki (didgeridoo), learn about the technics behind spiers, paint with pigments and weaving with natural plants.
Volunteering with the indigenous community
Yolngu people are best known for their art and craft. The sales of paintings, didgeridoos and beautiful sculptures are one of the main means of subsistence in the region. Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre, in Yirrkala is the Indigenous community art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Yirrkala community has become one of the best and biggest producers of original Australian aboriginal art since the opening of the centre in the earlies 1960’s. The mission is to sustain and protect Yolngu cultural knowledge under the leadership of community.
As volunteer in the art centre the connection with the local community is immense and the acquired knowledge is unimaginable. Building and maintaining a cultural centre requires support from a range of financial, cultural, technical, institutional and local organisations. Giving a bit of time to places like this will help communities to thrive easily in the future and the pay back is rewarded by the unique living experience.
To keep an eco-friendly behaviour while we travel is hard. Bookdifferent.com is taking care of this by providing a convenient overview and having experts to guide you to make the best decisions while travelling, even in such deep and special destinations.
Photo Credits: Ricardo Branco & Susana Ferreira