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Central Arnhem Highway -
Katherine to Nhulunbuy (Gove) road

Passing near Barunga, Beswick, Mainoru Store, Weemol, Bulman, Wilton River, Emu Springs, Ramingining turnoff, Goyder River, Lake Evella turnoff.

This image is the end of the line at East Woody Beach, Gove Peninsular , Nhulunbuy NT.

And we are pleased to say it was a wonderful trip in July 2004. A 11 hour casual drive cruising at 80-100 kms hr along the gravel road.

The Trip

The distance is 710 km between Katherine & Nhulunbuy through Central Arnhemland. Only one fuel stop 240 km from Katherine at Mainoru Outback Store (500 km South of Gove). We had 2 Jerrycans of fuel which would of just sufficed our Pajero 4x4. (However an extra 20 Litres was taken incase of headwinds and those other things that may happen).

You are on Aboriginal land and will need to obtain permits from the Northern Land Council (But I actually wonder if all those we passed had them) (It at one stage made me wonder if all the bureaucracy was worth it)

Katherine to Bulman Community section 300 km
From Katherine there is 110 km of bitumen before it ceases at Beswick Aboriginal Community. From then on it is a dirt road of various condition. And for some reason it was the worst stretch of road for the whole trip with lots of corrugations & dips & washouts that have so far only been marked & not fixed. Still very drivable at 80-90 kms/hr but as soon as you get speed you also need to slow down again as some of the dips take their toll on the shockies at speed. (Passed several Falcons & Holden passenger vehicles of the Community people traversing between Katherine & Bulman)

Picture is probably a smoother section


Mainoru store Phone 08 89754390 (240 km from Katherine) opens at different hours (like 10AM - 5PM) 7 days per week (apart from our return day when it was closed for several days due to a wedding) (but as there was warning of the closure the extra jerry can was purchased). Smoko at the Mainoru river 200 metres past the store. Saw a 2 metre croc under the shady tree (Freshie).

Mainoru River causeway (been a cement slab since about 1999) Watch the approach to the cement as it is washed out on both sides.

Bulman to Nhulunbuy section 410km

Just past Bulman you get to the first stumbling block of the trip for most travellers.... the Wilton River. It was still showing impassable on the NT Govt roads report, however it was very good. Traverse it (this year) on the down stream side , it was just over a foot deep all the way across. (The centre is still several feet deep and catches a few people out).

Crossing the Wilton on the Downstream side
I understand this crossing is now a cemented causeway.

At this time you are in Central Arnhemland and for some reason the road gets better in quality (overall) and improves the closer you get to Gove. (A credit to Snowy Noakes who poured many lonely hours of his life into building it back in the 1980's, giving Nhulunbuy residents an option to drive in/out)

You pass Emu Springs and the Ramingining turnoff (for those going that way to Maningrida etc do not get a shock when the 2 lane dirt road suddenly ends into a 2 wheel rut "track" weaving in and out of the trees) (Good old Government funding ran out back in the 90's)

The Goyder River is the next potential hazard (apart from the odd piece of wreckage from vehicles that were driving a bit to fast). Again cross the Goyder on the downstream side (this may change from year to year, so if in doubt walk it) It was only a foot+ deep and a let down after expecting the worse from the NT Road report website). No camping allowed at the Goyder River.

Crossing the Goyder River on downstream side

Don't put your fan through your radiator at speed

There are plenty of gravel scrapes (borrow pits) along the way that can accommodate an army, if you happen to get caught out late along the road and need to pull up and camp. (Your permit allows an overnight stop)

Good quality formed earth road 300 km from Gove

Taller trees closer to Nhulunbuy

About 240 km from Gove (3 hrs ) there is a concrete table & chairs alongside a small creek that is a designated rest stop (not much in the way of signage on the way from the Gove side so it sneaks up on you)

Not far up the road is the turnoff to Lake Evella (Gapiwiyak Community) and also the goat track to Numbulwar (another great trip done a few years back with Rossco)

The last 200 km to Nhulunbuy already has you in the tall woodlands, with many of the creek crossings and dips actually being overlayed with culverts making it a much more smoother road at a constant speed.


The driving was good , Kids toured well with the long days, had an hour each way at the Goyder River for a feed and another lengthy stop at the Mainoru river. A recommended stop is at Flying Fox River (very sandy and shady as the water flows through the paperbark trees) Between Beswick & Mainoru.

Fuel stop at Mainoru is a welcome surprise nowadays as the road has become more popular (Sorry to say that from 2009, the Mainoru store is no longer in operation so please research your fuel supplies & consumption)

It is not the road it was when I was living in Nhulunbuy back in the mid 80's, it is 'almost' a super highway in comparison nowadays.

Crocodile at Mainoru River Crossing

And then theres the camping at Macassans Beach, fishing at leisure, swimming at Little Bondi, Turtle Beach and the Latram River. Unfortunately at our time of visit there had been several deaths of the local Yolgnu Elders associated with "Cape Arnhem" and therefore the Cape was closed and off limits to all people. Didn't get to visit some of the old haunts like Caves beach & Twin Eagles, but there is always next time. Had a fantastic time at the "common" recreational areas around town.

Here is some more info passed on as at Feb 2009 (from an email from Outback stores)

Outback Stores is a not for profit retail management service for remote community stores and we now have partnerships with Bulman, Beswick, Barunga, Jilkminggan and Manyallaluk to operate their stores. The stores remain owned by the community and any profits are returned.

We would like to encourage tourists that travel the Central Arnhem Highway to use these stores to help build local economies. Fuel is available at Bulman (Gulin Gulin Store) and soon to be available at Beswick (Wuduluk Store).

Please have a look at our webpage and consider updating any advice given to travellers on that track. If would like to know more please feel free to contact me or any of the stores. Contact details on the link below.


Further to this email I have had reports from locals about hit & miss availability of fuel at Bulman  - So please do your research.