A guide to exploring the Tiwi Islands

A guide to exploring the Tiwi Islands

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 09/20/2023

Reading time: 5 mins

Discover the gorgeous Tiwi Islands, also known as the Island of Smiles. 

Across the water from Darwin is where the Tiwi Islands, a beautiful area from the people and the landscapes. The Tiwi people have lived on the islands for over 18000 years, even before the last Ice Age!

When you plan your trip to Tiwi Islands, you will need to have a permit to visit. If you book a tour, it will be organised for you by the operator. But if you go on your own, you’ll need to be hosted by a resident who then organises the permit for you.

More about the islands

The two main islands are Melville Island and Bathurst Island.

Bathurst Island’s main community is Wurrumiyanga. This community is the largest on Tiwi Islands and it has basic facilities for Tiwi people and visitors to access.

Melville Island’s two communities are Pirlangimpi and Milikapiti. Pirlangimpi is a smaller community and is home to the Imalu Tigers football club.

Milikapiti is the other small community which has a fishing lodge with accommodation. Milikapiti is also home to the Muluwurri Magpies football team.

How to get to the Tiwi Islands

The best way to get to Tiwi Islands from Darwin is either a light aircraft or a ferry. Depending on which island you go to will determine the travel time.

To reach Melville it can take about 40 minutes on the aircraft. But Bathurst is a bit closer and takes 20 minutes of flying time or two and a half hours on the ferry.

To get around the islands you can book a tour, hire a car, or go on a bus or ferry.

What to bring with you

When you’re planning your visit to Tiwi Islands, here’s a small list of things you should bring with you on a day trip!

– Light weight/comfortable clothing

– Good footwear

– Water bottle

– Sunscreen

– Hat

– Sunglasses

– Mosquito repellent

Where to stay

Have a weekend getaway on Tiwi Islands and get to know the Tiwi people and the community. There are limited accommodations on the islands, but they’re all comfortable to stay at for your stay.

• Tiwi Island Retreat

Tiwi Island Retreat is a comfortable and luxurious accommodation to stay when you’re visiting Bathurst Island. The retreat has activities available and a restaurant and bar to enjoy a meal and drink.

There are ocean rooms available for couples and families that both come with a private bathroom. The family room has a living area, a kitchenette, and a separate bedroom.

The village rooms are perfect for couples, families, or groups. The rooms available are queen, twin share, and family.

Enjoy glamping in style with the luxury glamping tents. These tents are spacious, have complete privacy, and have a private ocean front spa!

• Munupi Wilderness Lodge

The lodge is spacious and a great place to stay to relax at the end of the day from your travels. You’ll have a lodge with either three single beds or a double and a single bed.

There is also a bar and restaurant you can access and enjoy a meal as the sun sets.

• Mantiyupwi Motel

The motel is in Wurrumiyanga and has many king single rooms with an ensuite and two queen rooms with ensuite and basic kitchen facilities. The motel includes a large commercial kitchen, a meeting room, and a covered outdoor venue.

• Wulirankuwu Motel

The Wulirankuwu Motel is in Milikapiti and has double rooms and single rooms with an ensuite, basic kitchen facilities, and a TV. There is also a shared room with a fully equipped kitchen, lounge, TV, dining area, and free Wi-Fi.

Tiwi Island Arts Centre

What to do

• Art centres

There are many different community art centres you can check out on the islands. The centres have a great collection of Aboriginal artwork from canvas, pottery, screen printed fabrics, and wood carvings.

• Patakijiyali Museum

Head into the Patakijiyali Museum to learn about the Tiwi people’s cultural history. There are heaps of stories to learn about, photos to see, and learn more about the modern history of the Tiwi Islands.

• Fishing

Tiwi Islands are a great fishing spot! You’ll find there are a lot of fishing operators from Darwin who will do a tour to the best fishing areas on the islands.

• Football

Tiwi Islands have a great football atmosphere and hold their own Football Grand Final each year in March! The Tiwi Islands Football League has eight teams and runs during the wet season.

• Art Sale

Every year in March (around the same time as the Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final) there is the annual Art Sale. This is a great way to see some exclusive Aboriginal art pieces and an option to buy the art too!

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Tiwi Islands is during the dry season, so anywhere between May to October. The benefit the dry season gives you is no rain!

Tours do only operate between April to November each year, but you’re welcome to make your way to the islands all year round.

However, there are exclusive events that happen on the islands in March! You can go to the annual Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final or the Art Sale event which both happen in March! A great time to visit to go to the football while also checking out any unique Aboriginal art pieces.

After your visit to Tiwi Islands, you’ll discover why the islands are also called the Island of Smiles. You’ll meet a lot of new people who are happy, and spending the day in nature will generally make you smile.

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.

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