DISCOVER, EXPLORE, EXPERIENCE
Offering remote bluewater cruising for experienced boaters only, the Northern Territory is best known for its world-class fishing. DAVE KRANTZ darts across the Top End…
The Northern Territory has a lot to offer boaters. With everything from tranquil freshwater billabongs to bluewater contained within its borders, it’s no wonder the ‘Territory’ has one of the highest rates of boat ownership in the country.
Bordered by the Arafura Sea, the NT offers vast and remote bluewater cruising grounds, although it’s recreational fishing for which this part of the country is best known.
One of the best-known freshwater fishing and boating spots in northern Australia, this expansive billabong provides great fishing for barra and saratoga in a gorgeous wetland environment. There’s more than 40km of waterways to explore and it’s accessible all through the dry season, roughly from April to November.
It’s an easy drive of around 80km from Darwin – and now on bitumen almost all of the way. Also renown as a popular bird watching destination, wildlife abounds in this waterway – including a healthy population of crocs.
If you don’t have your own boat, houseboats and small tinnies can be hired at Corroboree Billabong.
Kakadu National Park is home to a number of billabongs of interest to boaters. Perhaps the best known and accessible is Yellow Waters (with the sunset cruise a popular tourist attraction), although there are many others including Jim Jim, Mardugal, Home, Red Lily, Alligator and Leichhardt Billabongs.
These Kakadu billabongs are generally quiet and tree-lined and offer good lure and fly fishing for species like barra, saratoga and sooty grunter.
While some have ramps, a bank launch is required at many smaller Kakadu waterways. A 4WD is also needed in some areas. Be sure to check the access information before you head out on your expedition.
NT’S BIG RIVERS
Spread right across the NT are several big – and largely untamed – rivers.
About 220km south of the capital of Darwin is the famous Daly River. Popular with tourists and locals alike, there is a range of riverside accommodation in the area and several good boat ramps. The Barra Classic and Barra Nationals fishing tournaments are held here every year.
Further south are the Katherine and Roper rivers and the opportunity to explore the spectacular natural wonders of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge). These rivers are well served with boat ramp access.
Heading east from Darwin along the Arnhem Highway brings you to the Adelaide, Mary, South Alligator, West Alligator and Wildman rivers, and eventually, the East Alligator River. Most of the rivers along this stretch of the ‘Barra Highway’ are accessible by boat ramp.
It’s important to check the tides as some of the ramps are dependent on tidal movements which can be large – up to 7m of vertical movement at times during the tide cycle.
The Mary River and Shady Camp are renowned as a spot for big barra. Anglers flock to Shady Camp during the run-off (March-April). The Mary River eventually runs into Chambers Bay.
Dundee Beach is west of Darwin and is a popular spot for boating.
There is excellent fishing in the area, both offshore at the famous Dundee jewfish reef and at the mighty Finniss River and also the Little Finniss. These two locations can be reached by launching at Dundee and travelling along the coast.
There is no ramp at Dundee, but Jethro and his trusty tractor will have you safely in the water in no time. A word of warning though – Jethro shuts up shop and heads to the bar at a designated time and he has little sympathy for those arriving back late!
Darwin Harbour is huge – and is well served by boat ramps.
There are good-quality public boat ramps at Nightcliff, Museum, Vesteys Beach, Dinah Beach, East Arm, Middle Arm and the Elizabeth River. As with launching anywhere tidal in the NT, some ramps become unuseable at very low tides. Plan to be at the ramp when there is at least 2m of water.
The harbour offers pleasant boating and sightseeing, and some remarkably good fishing – particularly given you are just a few minutes from the heart of Darwin’s CBD. During the dry season schools of tuna come right into the harbour, much to the delight of local small boat owners.
There are flats and mangroves to explore and many small feeder creeks that are accessible on higher tides.
Cullen Bay Marina is a popular stopover for seafarers, bringing some civilisation to those who have been cruising the remote Top End for weeks on end. The marina provides extensive modern facilities for local and visiting vessels including yacht maintenance services, an internal slipway, an external fuel station, waste pump-out facilities and 24-hour staffing and security.
KING ASH BAY
Located near Borroloola on the Macarthur River – which feeds into the Gulf of Carpentaria – the King Ash Bay Fishing Club is a small, unique and very remote community.
More than just a club, facilities include a powered caravan park, set in a bush camping style environment; a non-powered camping area on the bank of the river; shower and toilet facilities; a laundry; a bar, with a large ‘beer garden’ under shade sails; bistro, which provides great meals each evening during the dry season; and the Sir Edward Pellew Golf Links – that’s right, a six-hole golf course!
A number of private businesses operate at the club to provide services to members and visitors. These include a service station, a mini-mart and some accommodation. Houseboats can also be hired at King Ash Bay. There is, of course, a boat ramp too.
There is great barra fishing in the MacArthur River and just offshore is the Sir Edward Pellew group of islands – an extensive and naturally beautiful area.
The population of this little oasis swells considerably each dry season… and it’s not hard to see why.
TOP END SAFETY
Anyone boating in the NT should be aware that conditions can be challenging.
There are big tidal movements and it’s easy to get into trouble if you’re unfamiliar with the area you’re exploring. Getting stuck high-and-dry on an outgoing tide can see a long wait for the water to return.
At some times of the year intense storms can blow up very quickly so check forecasts. Always carry safety gear, ample food and water, and let someone know where you are going. Commonsense goes a long way in the NT...