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Eighty kilometres off the coast of Darwin lie the Tiwi Islands. This archipelago in the Timor Sea is about as far north as Australia’s Top End gets – a beautiful, secluded paradise that sways to the gentle rhythm of its own way of life.
The Tiwi Islands are foremost a place of significant Indigenous art and culture – the vast majority of the population here is Aboriginal. But the islands also boast some extraordinary natural beauty. From smoking ceremonies to art shows, to fishing adventures along the islands’ curling coastlines, here are five ways to experience a destination unlike anywhere else in Australia.
Take a walking cultural tour through Wurrumiyanga
A one-day walking tour to Wurrumiyanga on Bathurst Island is the easiest way to dip into the Tiwi Islands’ rich culture and history. Regular ferries depart from Darwin for Wurrumiyanga, the islands’ largest settlement, where local guides will take you through the early mission precinct and its unique Tiwi-style Catholic church, and the Patakijiyali Museum with its displays of traditional art and depictions of dreamtime stories. You’ll also get to sample local billy tea and damper, witness a smoking ceremony and totem dance, and spend time with some of the artists as they weave and paint, before returning to Darwin at the end of the day.
Explore the islands’ fabulous art centres (and maybe catch a game of footy)
Tiwi art has by now reached well beyond the islands’ coasts to hang in galleries across the world. Here you can see Tiwi practices first-hand with a tour of the exceptional art centres dotted around the islands’ communities.
There’s the iconic Tiwi Design, which is regarded as one of Australia’s oldest art centres; Jilamara Arts’ collection of Tiwi artefacts and prints at the Muluwurri Museum; and Munupi Arts & Crafts Association’s diverse array of paintings, pottery, carvings and weavings. If you can, time your visit with the Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and Annual Art Sale in March, when a Sunday morning art show culminates in an enormously popular 2.30pm showdown on the football field – it’s a major fixture on the Top End sports calendar.
Settle in at Tiwi Island Retreat
One of the standout accommodation options here is the handsome Tiwi Island Retreat, run by wildlife personality Matt Wright (of outback wrangler fame). These recently renovated digs sit on an isolated beach in the south-western region of Bathurst Island and boast a spectacular outlook west and north-west across the Timor Sea. The retreat sells all-inclusive accommodation packages, and there are extra tours and activities designed to get you out fishing, exploring the island’s wildlife, or discovering its culture and arts scene. Of course, if you just want to sit by the pool with a sunset wine or beer, that’s fine too.
Stay a night at Tarntipi Bush Camp
For those who want to more deeply immerse themselves in Tiwi culture, Tarntipi Bush Camp offers both one-night and two-night stays in an isolated eco-friendly setting 15 minutes outside of Wurrumiyanga. The two-night option is really designed as training for non-Tiwi people working on the island, but a one-night pitch-up is the perfect way to get a more intimate take on this sophisticated Indigenous culture. You’ll get first-hand experience living with a Tiwi family but also plenty of opportunities to enjoy the surrounding area – including Mudlangapi, a nearby fresh watering hole, and the gorgeous Tarntipi Beach.
Take a fishing tour
Fishing is an enormous drawcard for Tiwi visitors, with numerous specialty lodges dotted around the islands offering multi-day accommodation and expedition packages. The equation here is simple: you spend your day on the water with experienced local guides angling for barramundi, threadfin, cod and mud crab, and your nights cooking your catch using both traditional and modern techniques. Packages tend to include tackle and permit costs, and light-aircraft transfers from Darwin. Also available are week-long fishing safaris that take in at least two accommodation stops.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism Australia. Whether you’re seeking a quick getaway, lazy holiday or epic trek, Australia is a land of endless adventures. There’s never been a better – or more important – time to get out and explore. Take a Holiday Here This Year.