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Guide to Tiwi Islands

With a thriving indigenous arts culture, secluded fishing lodges and a passion for football, the Tiwi Islands promise a holiday like no other.

By Jennifer Ennion

A unique part of Australia, the Tiwi Islands are an off-the-beaten track destination for intrepid travellers. The two main islands are Bathurst and Melville, and nine smaller, uninhabited islands. While there are minimal tourist facilities across the group, don't let this deter you from visiting; the islands are renowned for the excellent fishing opportunities and the locals are welcoming. Almost 90 per cent of residents are of Aboriginal descent and you can meet some of them on a range of cultural and wildlife tours.

Don't miss

  • Create your own Tiwi-inspired artwork on Bathurst Island
  • Stay in a tropical fishing lodge
  • Meet the locals on a cultural tour

Tiwi Islands highlights

Top things to do in the Tiwi Islands

Island arts and crafts

From batik and silk-screened clothing to woven bangles, painted shells, pottery and wood carvings, there is a thriving arts and crafts scene across the Tiwi Islands. Your first port of call should be Tiwi Design, on Bathurst Island. It's one of Australia's oldest and most diverse art centres, and produces ochre paintings on canvas and bark, ironwood carvings, screen-printed fabrics, ceramics and bronze and glass sculptures. You can join a Tiwi by Design cultural tour, which is hosted by a local guide and includes a welcome ceremony, a morning tea of damper and tea, lunch and an art session with a Tiwi artist for you to create your own piece of art. On Melville Island you can visit Munupi Arts, an indigenous owned and governed association, and take home a traditional painting or woodcarving as a souvenir of your visit. 

Go fishing and stay a while 

Fishing is one of the island's biggest drawcards and it doesn't matter if you're a beginner or experienced angler. Tiwi Islands Adventures offers all-inclusive two to six day fishing trips, with accommodation at Melville Island Lodge. Private charter flights out of Darwin and other island transfers are covered, along with visitor and fishing permits. You can test your barramundi angling skills on a tour with Clearwater Island Lodge, also on Melville Island. The lodge is known for its sport-fishing package, but visitors can also go croc spotting, crabbing and birdwatching. You can even sample traditional bush tucker, such as mangrove worms.

Get a taste of Tiwi culture

Enjoy a cup of billy tea and some damper with Tiwi women, as you watch them weaving and painting on a tour with AAT Kings. The women perform totem dances and prepare and initiate a smoking ceremony. The day tour includes visits to Tiwi arts and crafts co-operatives and a burial site as well as ferry transfers between Darwin and Bathurst Island. AAT Kings also runs a similar tour that includes a 30 minute scenic flight instead of the ferry ride. For a more in-depth experience, book a multi-day, all-inclusive trip with SeaLink Northern Territory

Catch a football match

Australian rules, or simply football as it's known in some states of Australia, was introduced to the Tiwi Islands by missionaries in the 1940s. The sport's popularity is evident every March when up to 3000 spectators turn out to watch the Tiwi Islands Football League grand final at Wurrumiyanga Oval on Bathurst Island. Grand final day is the only day of the year that you can travel to the Tiwi Islands without a visitor permit, and SeaLink run extra ferry services for game days. It's believed the islands' first organised football games were held in 1945; now there are seven Tiwi teams that compete during the wet season, from October to March. Independent travellers can apply for a free visitor permit online via Tiwi Land Council

How to get there

The Tiwi Islands are 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of Darwin, where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. You can reach the islands on a 30 minute flight from Darwin and there is also a ferry that travels between Darwin and Bathurst Island three times a week.

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