Having worked in travel for many years, I thought I knew about most of the trips you can do in Australia but until my most recent visit, I’d never come across the 11 Tiwi Islands.
The Tiwi islands are located off the coast of Darwin in the Northern Territory where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. Mostly unknown to Europeans, these islands are home to some of the most authentic aboriginal experiences you can get in Australia - quite a feat considering all the Aboriginal history and tradition within the country. If you’re looking for a truly unique Aussie experience, I highly recommend you visit as a day trip from Darwin.
There are 11 islands in the Tiwis, 2 of which are inhabited (Bathurst and Melville) and typical Tiwi Island tours visit Bathurst Island, around 80km from Darwin. There are two ways of reaching the island; by boat or by plane (and both options are available as part of a group trip).
I recommend the light aircraft option as it’s a speedy 30 minutes, compared to the 2.5 hour Tiwi island ferry), as it will leave you with more time to explore. We took the boat, but one benefit here is watching the water grew more and more tropical looking as we approached the island; crystal clear and so turquoise it almost looked like we were heading to Fiji!
On arrival in Bathurst we were greeted by a member of the local Nguiu community (the largest of the communities on the island) and taken to a welcome ceremony and to begin our introduction to the Islands.
First we were introduced to key members of the group and had the chance to sample damper and billy tea from the fire. As dance and song are a large part of Tiwi culture, we were quickly introduced to the totem dance; a smoking ceremony to bless visitors which involved us dancing around the fire through the smoke.
To escape the midday sun we were taken to an art studio for a tour of the galleries and to see local artists’ work – plenty of the Tiwi’s distinctive paintings, sculptures, pottery and textiles.
This was the highlight of the tour for me because we had a chance to make our own personal Tiwi design using their printing press. First they demonstrated how they print on fabric, then they gave us the paint and left us to it! It’s my favourite keepsake from my trip because it was something I helped to create – have a look!
A tour of the island offers the best introduction to the Tiwi lifestyle. The island still has very basic infrastructure with subsistence hunting/fishing still being an intrinsic part of daily life. Religion is still be a very strong aspect of their daily life, as we found during a tour of the beautifully preserved church built in the 1930’s. Walking the local museum will give you a fascinating insight into the history and artwork of the community
If you fly over and because you have a little more time, your tour will give you the option of a scenic drive to a local waterhole where you can learn about traditional bush tucker, medicines and cloth making.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I encountered on this little trip! I can’t express enough how welcoming and friendly the whole community are. Around every corner you turn you’ll bump into someone who wants to have a chat, show you something or get you involved with their latest weaving project.
I should also emphasise that because Bathurst Island is not overwhelmed by tourists, it still feels very personal and attentive when the community are spending time with you. At the moment there isn’t a huge variety of Tiwi island accommodation choice, so most people visit as a day trip from Darwin. There are however a few beach front lodges if you do want to consider staying the night.
If you’re interested in a unique experience of authentic Aboriginal culture whilst you’re in Australia's Northern Territory, we can easily add a Tiwi Islands day tour to your itinerary or suggest other day trips from Darwin. We can also tailor-make the rest of your trip from flights to hotels, vehicle hire to tours. Simply call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.