Arnhem Land - Oenpelli (Kunbarllanjnja)

Posted on 20 May 2014. Filed in Northern Territory

Gunbalanya (also spelt Kunbarllanjnja, and historically referred to as Oenpelli) is an Aboriginal community in west Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia.

The sealed Arnhem Highway links Darwin to Jabiru, the town within Kakadu National Park. About four kilometres before Jabiru, the sealed road turns off to Ubirr, the Border Store, Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River and Oenpelli. The road is dirt from the East Alligator to just before Gunbalanya, a distance of about 16 kilometres. While this road is generally navigable by four wheel drive vehicle, the river crossing is a causeway which is closed by flooding during the wet season (November to April) and at high tides.

Dry season travellers are able to drive the 300 km from Darwin in about three hours and 60 km from Jabiru in under an hour. Northern Land Council permits are required to cross the East Alligator River, the western boundary of Arnhem Land, and travel east to Gunbalanya.

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After getting the permit for the day and information on when it was safe to cross the East Alligator River we headed off direction Ubirr and Oenpelli. From Jabiru where we stayed its about an half an hour drive out there, the road is quite scenic and we had to cross two small floodways on the way. Also they were burning off the land along the way - but that is just the way it is and is part of the nature cycle.

After crossing the river there is a 17km very scenic drive through different scenery of sandstone escarpment and water plains with beautiful lilies in it. I became a bit nostalgic and had to put on "Van Diemens Land" from U2 :).... finally we came to Arnhem Land and it was just as I imagined beautiful, peaceful, birdlife and remoteness. 

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With our permit we were only allowed to the village Oenpelli and the art gallery there. Where of course spent some time and bought beautiful local art from the local artists. The money goes directly to the artist - that is the way we like to support the artists, so that was the perfect spot for that.

Going back to Jabiru in the afternoon we crossed the river around 4pm and the tide was still pretty high - around 0.6m, but the car can handle that height, so that was ok.

Even thought it was a bit confusing to find out when to go and how - we were glad that we finally got there. We would have loved to go further, but there you also need special permits etc. - maybe some other time....