Southeast Arnhem Land, NT

Battling bulldust to reach Arnhem Land’s secluded secrets.

Southeast Arnhem Land NT

BULLDUST streamed off the churning Mickey Thompson mud terrains.

Locked into the GPS were the co-ordinates for Wuyagiba Outstation, 560km east-southeast of Darwin on the eastern side of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Any 4x4 with well-mannered suspension should sail over the wide and frequently used gravel track that led us towards the Wuyagiba turn-off from the main track.

A south-easterly turn then pointed to a recently graded track, but deep channels of bulldust remained. Low-lying scrub clawed at the paintwork as the track narrowed, and it became a balancing act between the bulldust and the tight track to keep the vehicle and camper aligned.

4WD-Southeast-Arnhem-Land-NT.jpgThere’s no denying a fourbie was essential to completing the 40-odd kilometres out to Wuyagiba, but it was all worth it when we arrived at the coast. We were warmly welcomed by the traditional owner Kevin Rogers, who’s an incredible chap to talk to.

Kevin has enjoyed a colourful life and is a very learned man, having attended university to study linguistics – he was also a Golden Gloves boxer in his younger years. Several dwellings and small amenity blocks can be found here, and the homestead often provides accommodation for seasonal buffalo hunters.

An estuary system not too far from the homestead can be accessed by four-wheel drive, and there’s a suitable spot to launch a small boat. These waters are inhabited by crocodiles, and we were reminded of this when a juvenile crocodile started snapping at our lures. Crocs aren’t the only concern, as we had a massive buffalo bathe in the mud only metres from our boat.

Wuyagiba-tradition-owner-Kevin-Rogers.jpgA 4km drive along the beach in a northerly direction leads to a camp spot on the edge of sand dune vegetation. We took the opportunity to sit back and soak up the sensational NT sunset, with the ocean breeze lifting the aromatic smells of our campfire feast. This camp spot even boasts a new eco toilet hut that is (bizarrely) about two metres off the ground.

Upon leaving the remote outstation of Wuyagiba for the journey north, we arrived at the coastal town of Numbulwar, located about 83km from Wuyagiba, and were greeted by the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria – a beautiful site after battling dusty roads.

The town, with a population of less than 700 people, has a grocery shop and basic services, while diesel and opal fuel are available from the 24-hour pump near the boat jetty. It’s a dry community so no alcohol is permitted, and a permit must be obtained from the Northern Land Council prior to arrival.

4WD-Western-gulf-Southeast-Arnhem-Land-NT.jpgWe camped near the jetty; no facilities are provided, but we did make use of the shelter and picnic table. Fish are extremely active at night and you can hear them jumping out of the water, and a few nice fish were reeled in just metres from camp in the morning.

We had to tone down our excitement after we discovered a local lady was nearly dragged off those very rocks by a croc only a few weeks prior – we only had to walk a few hundred metres into the mangroves to see a big croc trap with a tasty buffalo leg swinging in it.

By mid-afternoon when the sun was starting to lose its sting, a Troop Carrier rolled into our camp with our hosts Raymond, Adam and One Shot, who had kindly been showing us around their town. As traditional owners in the community, they had come to ask if we would like to attend a special ceremony taking place that afternoon. Quicker than a politician’s promise on Election Day, we were loaded into the Troop Carrier.

shak-Southeast-Arnhem-Land-NT.jpgIt’s a huge honour to be invited to watch one of these special events take place. Called a ‘skin’ ceremony, it can be best related to a coming of age celebration, where a boy becomes a man. Upon arrival at the ceremony I was ushered to where all the women from town were sitting on the dirt, with their backs to the men.

I had no idea what was going on as I sat there as the only fair-skinned woman, listening to the tribal music filter through the paper barks. Some ladies beside me were kind enough to tell me to listen to the beat of the drums, which signalled when to get up and walk towards the men.

Numbulwar-skin-ceremony.jpgI must have missed the apparently distinctive drum sound, as they urgently shouted “Penny, get up!” I sprung to my feet and walked with them towards two totem poles. What I saw next was incredible: I watched two tribes challenge each other through dance, as the ground shook and the air filled with the sound of clapping sticks. The whole ceremony lasted only 10 minutes, but it was electrifying.

To travel into a remote community like Numbulwar and to be completely immersed in its history, culture and landscape is the essence of 4WDing in Australia. To get the most out of the trip, be prepared, don’t rush and always talk to the locals; they know their stuff, and by having a chat you’ll often discover great places to check out.


Wuyagiba Outstation is approximately 426km east of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Numbulwar is a coastal town 468km east of Katherine in the Northern Territory.

Best map is Hema’s Australia Road and 4WD Atlas.

Campsites and huts are available at Wuyagiba Outstation. Numbulwar and Wuyagiba camping can be arranged through Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation. Phone: (08) 8977 4203.

No services or supplies are available at Wuyagiba Outstation and you’ll need to be self-sufficient. Diesel and Opal fuel are available from the pumps at the jetty at Numbulwar. Basic groceries and some fresh fruit and veggies are also available.

Accommodation can be booked for Wuyagiba by contacting Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation. Numbulwar is a closed community that’s only beginning to open up to tourism; a permit will be required to visit. Contact Bill Blackley at Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation by calling (08) 8977 4203. Numbulwar is an alcohol-free town.

A vehicle fitted with good suspension is necessary to negotiate the bulldust and rough tracks into Wuyagiba. Experience in remote travel is required and explorers need to carry drinking water. A remote first-aid kit (including snake-bite kit) is a must.


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Penny Wells

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