A special permit is required to enter Cape Arnhem, over and above the transit permit required to travel there. Only 10 vehicles are permitted at a time with no trailers, width, height and weight restrictions also exist due to some of the tracks passing through low hanging bush, between trees or over soft sand. This meant having to abandon our beloved home, the Camprite trailer, and pull the emergency tents from the roof pod. We even bought an esky for the trip to keep our food cold.
The trailer was parked at Chris and Emi’s house in Nhulunbuy and Amanda was excited at their kind offer to do a clothes wash for us while away.
Entrance to the Cape was via a rugged dirt road along an escarpment with glimpses through the forest of beach and mangroves below. A lookout several kilometres in is where the fun starts. Having taken in the views up and down the coastline the road drops steeply down the escarpment into the forest below, weaves through narrow gaps between tall trees before becoming sandy. Taking no chances I dropped tyre pressures below the recommended 20 PSI and pressed on. Without a map there were a surprising number of trails leading off, though most of them return to meet, and without too much difficulty we headed in the right direction. There are over 50 sacred sites on the Cape, the main one known as Twin Eagles, where visitors may drive by but not stop to picnic, camp or fish. The drive north up the Cape involves beach and dune work, sometimes particularly soft and there was plenty of evidence of “boggings” along the way.
Christmas Tree worms on the coral reef
Fun in the sand
The sandy beaches looked attractive on approach but our hearts sank somewhat at the volume of sea-borne debris and detritus that littered most of them. Then sadness turned to dismay when we spotted a bottlenose dolphin washed up on the beach. We pulled over and dashed to see if we could save it but it looked like it had only recently died. Not knowing what had killed it (no obvious visible cause) we paused and walked down the beach collecting thongs (flip flops for those reading in the UK) that covered the sand. Over one hundred were recovered and placed on the car roof. Most of the debris has been brought from Asia by prevailing winds and ocean currents, or dumped from ships passing.
Ghost nets on the beach
Ghost nets on the coral
We found a campsite known as the Penthouse, at the furthest point north that visitors are allowed, set up camp and then found a dead turtle on the beach below. Some rangers had obviously stayed prior and had enjoyed a feast of mud mussels and turtle eggs, judging by the discarded remnants on the edge of the camp.
A small crocodile swam in to shelter behind the reef as the rough ocean was still being stirred up by strong easterly winds.
The hammock was brought out and we switched into relaxed desert island chilling mode. The kids explored, we fished (Oscar was happy to catch a queenfish) and Amanda sat in the hammock reading.
The next day we wanted to make a further impact and we chose the same beaches, this time targeting cigarette lighters. Over 300 were retrieved and disposed of. The children were somewhat distracted by their search for Chambered Nautilus shells that they had started to find but all helped fill the bucket. We noticed the difference but we couldn’t collect all the ghost nets, toothbrushes, light bulbs, and a plethora of miscellaneous glass and plastic bottles, jars and other items. And all the time the winds were bringing in new items. We found two more dead turtles too on the beaches. Others had obviously tried before us and had left the debris in a tree. We chose to dispose of it.
On returning to camp Xavier found a fossilised chambered nautilus in rocks nearby making us all ponder how long these animals have been around, long before humans polluted these beaches.
The sandy tracks allow a couple of days exploring. To the south there is another camp near caves beach and whilst folk do swim the crocodiles are there as we saw so extreme precaution is recommended if entering the water.
Despite the rubbish on the beaches this is a great place to escape and experience the beauty of Arnhemland.