Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory

Darwin 'vibraNT' Campaign 2008. © Tourism NT

Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory

Known as 'the islands of smiles', the Tiwi Islands, are located 100 kilometres north of Darwin, where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea.

The Tiwi Islands comprise Bathurst and Melville Island, and nine smaller uninhabited islands: Buchanan, Harris, Seagull, Karslake, Irritutu, Clift, Turiturina, Matingalia and Nodlaw. Melville Island is Australia's second largest island after Tasmania.

Almost 90% of the people living in the Tiwi Islands are of Aboriginal descent. They have occupied the Tiwi Islands for around 7,000 years.

The Tiwi Islands can only be visited on a pre-arranged tour with an Aboriginal guide and you will need a permit to visit. In this truly unique and remote part of Australia you’ll experience the cultural differences between the Polynesian-influenced Tiwi people and the indigenous people of Arnhem Land just across the water. Most of the Tiwi Islands population live in the settlements of Wurrumiyanga; Pirlangimpi (Garden Point) and Milikapiti (Snake Bay) on Melville Island.

The Tiwi Islands have few tourist facilities. There is no car hire and very few places to stay with the exception of a couple of remote fishing lodges. The Tiwi Islands are renowned for their excellent fishing. You can stay at one of the fishing lodges or join a deep-sea fishing expedition.

Take the opportunity to buy unique Tiwi Island arts and crafts which include batik and silk-screened clothing, woven bangles, painted shells, wood carvings and pottery of high quality. Many of the wood carvings by the Tiwi people depict birds from Tiwi mythology, which have sacred meanings. Some excellent examples are displayed in the Mission Heritage Gallery on Bathurst Island. At Tiwi Designs art centre local artists create, showcase and sell their works.

One of the Tiwi Islands most famous crafts are ‘pukamanis’, which are richly decorated burial poles that tower up to three metres high. Burial sites marked with pukamani poles are dotted across the islands, adding splashes of colour to the landscape. At the Patakijiyali Museum in Wurrumiyanga you can learn about the history of the Tiwi Islands and its people.

Along the coastline of the islands you’ll find rainforests, sandy deserted beaches and secluded waterfalls and rock pools. The remote location of the islands has created a home for plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The islands are home to the world's largest breeding colony of Crested Terns as well as a large population of endangered Olive Ridley turtles. The seas and estuaries around the islands are also home to saltwater crocodiles.

The Tiwi people describe three distinct seasons in the islands. The wet season from November to April brings storms and the highest rainfall in the Northern Territory.

Australian Rules Football was introduced to the Tiwi Islands in the 1940s by missionaries and is very popular. The Tiwi Islands Football League Grand Final held in March each year attracts up to 3,000 spectators.

The Tiwi Islands are a short flight by light aircraft from Darwin. A ferry also connects Darwin with Bathurst Island three times a week.

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