Groote Eylandt, Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory

Lovingly referred to as “Groot,” Groote Eylandt is located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, in northeastern Australia. It’s the largest island in the Gulf, and the third largest Australian island measuring 50km by 60km. The island is home to almost 14,000 residents. The island is part of the Arnhem Land Indigenous Reserve, and is owned by the Anindilyakwa indigenous people.

Visitors must receive permission from the Anindilyakwa Land Council prior to arriving on the island.

The island has four towns, with the population concentrated in the port town of Alyangula, with 670 predominantly non-Aboriginal mining employees (Manganese has been mined on the island near the Aboriginal settlement Angurugu for almost 50 years, with royalties paid to owners of the land).

History

The Anindilyakwa people own and inhabit Groote Eylandt, though recently the Aboriginal group leased the island to the Australian government for 40 years, and in return the government agreed to undertake community development projects such as improving housing, education, and healthcare provision on the island.

The island was named by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644 and means “Large Island” in Dutch, but was not inhabited by Europeans until 1921 when a Christian Missionary Society settlement was formed at Emerald River. During the Second World War, the RAAF utilized the island’s airstrip for military maneuvers. RAAF ruins are still visible on the island.

The island has a variety of aboriginal rock art sites, which are gaining in popularity among the island’s visitors.

Natural environment

Groote Eylandt is a low-lying island, on average 15 meters above sea level, with a tropical climate and almost 1200mm of rainfall per annum. The island is mainly wooded savannah habitat with mangroves along the coastal strip.

Groote Eylandt is part of a barren and rocky part of coast – the Arnhem Land plateau.

The marine system comprises large patches of coral reefs, with vertical variation – creating lots of habitats for sealife.

Activities (Nature and Wildlife Interest)

Travelers visit Groote Eylandt to soak up the culture and, most often, to fish.

Over 50 different fish species are regularly caught in the waters around the island. Fishing takes place year-round.

Groote Eylandt offers outstanding fishing opportunities, with the following fish frequently caught: marlin, tuna, salmon, emperor, cod, snapper, mackerel, barracuda, sailfish, giant tevally, queenfish, coral trout, barramundi, and Spanish mackerel.

Other activities on the island include golf, cultural tours, nearby island explorations, sunset cruises, and light aircraft scenic tours.

Accommodation

Until recently, tourism was discouraged on the island. However, ET Escape Sportfishing & Wilderness Lodge opened on the island as a sport fishing-oriented hotel.  The island offers few facilities for visitors, but the dearth is more than compensated for by the island’s rich fishing opportunities.

Another accommodation option is the recently constructed eco-resort Dugong Beach Resort. The $16M resort offers 60 rooms, from basic motel-type rooms to executive bungalows.  The resort will offer a safari tent fishing village, restaurant, bar, and arts centre. The fishing village is built on raised platforms to minimize environmental impact. The rooms are air-conditioned, ensuite, with mini bars, sea views, and a private deck.

Getting There

Groote Eylandt is 50 kilometers from the mainland in Northern Territory, and about 630 kilometers away from Darwin.

Daily flights operate between Darwin and Groote Eylandt (90 minute flight).  Darwin is easily connected to most major Australian cities on a daily basis, as well as internationally to Singapore.

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