It is thought that the Tiwi People first had contact with non-Australian natives when Indonesian-based Makassan trepangers (sea cucumber collectors) and traders initiated contact as early as the 1500s. They then encountered Dutch explorers, who landed on the Islands in 1705. It wasn’t until 1824 that the first European settlement was established upon Melville Island, and this settlement – which was located near what is now known as Pirlangimpi –was the first European settlement in Northern Australia. This settlement was abandoned in 1829 though, due to the harsh conditions and the hostility of the Indigenous population towards the new settlers.
In 1911, Francis Xavier Gsell established a Catholic mission on the Tiwi Islands, which assisted the Tiwi People with access to welfare and education, but it is thought that there were also many negative affects created by the mission, such as the suppression of the Tiwi language and culture. Thankfully, there remains enough knowledge of the ancient Tiwi People’s culture today to keep the candles of tradition alight and to teach other’s about what remains.
Today, the traditional people of Tiwi are world renowned for their amazing and colourful art and craft works. If you happen to come across an Indigenous Australian art piece while overseas, there’s a good chance it was created right here on the Tiwi Islands. The Islands themselves are thoroughly decorated with the masterful designs of its people, including the schools, the church, the carved burial poles and within the many art centres dotting the Islands.
By visiting Tiwi Islands, you’ll not only be able to experience the creation of this art yourself, but you’ll also be able to see and appreciate the stunning natural environment that inspired many of the works. The pristine wilderness of the Islands has flourished in its isolation from the mainland of Australia. As a result, the vast, open eucalypt forests, amazing wetlands and gorgeous coastal areas are bursting with wildlife – much of which consists of rare or endangered species. Whether you’re after a wildlife experience, an Indigenous cultural experience or just a relaxing weekend away in a secluded location, Tiwi Islands is simply a place well worth visiting!
Darwin Travel Guide
Want to know more about Darwin, including top tours, latest specials, travel information and plenty more things to do then read our extensive Things to Do in Darwin Guide.
With the Northern Territory’s tallest open eucalypt forests, broad wetlands and even thick patches of lush rainforest (all growing on nutrient-rich soil, thanks to a lack of depleting agricultural practices); the Tiwi Islands have an ideal assortment of natural habitats that allows many forms of wildlife to flourish. Numerous estuaries, freshwater springs and mangrove swamps further contribute to this area’s sanctuary status, as does the particularly high rainfall.
The Island’s endangered or critically endangered species include the Tiwi Hooded Robin (only found on Tiwi Islands but unfortunately not recorded there since 1992), the Tiwi Masked Owl, the Olive Ridley Turtle, the Atlas Moth and Dodd’s Azure Butterfly. Some of the threatened and vulnerable species living on the Islands include the Australian Bustard, Brush-tailed Rabbit-rat, Butler’s Dunnart, Carpentarian Dunnart, Cognate Land Snail, False Water-rat, Flatback Turtle, Green Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Land Snail, Merten’s Water Monitor, Northern Brush-tailed Phascogale, Partridge Pigeon, Red Goshawk and the Yellow-spotted Monitor.
Because of the Tiwi Islands’ phenomenal number of endangered and threatened species, there have been numerous conservation projects put into place to continue to protect these precious plants and animals. The Islands are dense with bird species and even contain the largest breeding colony of Crested Terns in the world. Because of this, the Islands have been named by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA), protecting the breeding grounds of species such as the aforementioned endangered bird species, as well as Bush Stone-curlews, Beach Stone-curlews, Great Knots, Chestnut Rails, Northern Rosellas, Varied Lorikeets, Rainbow Pittas, Silver-crowned Friarbirds, Canary White-eye and Masked Finches, as well as White-gaped, Bar-breasted and Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters.
The Islands sea turtle conservation programs protect the important marine turtle nesting sites. The north-west coast of Melville Island, as well as Seagull Island are considered internationally significant due to the large number of Olive Ridley Turtles nesting within these areas. The Islands also take care of their vast range of marine fish by protecting the numbers caught. Catch and release programs on the Islands let keen anglers fish for barramundi, black jewfish, giant trevally, golden snapper, mangrove jacks, queenfish, saratoga, spanish mackerel and threadfin salmon (as well as many more species) without depleting their numbers.
Not only will your visit to the Tiwi Islands contribute to these conservation efforts, but you may even be lucky enough to spot an undiscovered species or a species thought to be extinct! Whether you aim to visit the Tiwi Islands for its gorgeous scenery, wild inhabitants or its Indigenous art, just be sure to bring a camera!
A few Darwin Tours
The Tiwi people have blended their culture and Christianity to create a unique story. learn about the Dreamtime stories and the arrival of the early missionaries. Be blessed at a smoking ceremony, learn about traditional arts and visit Bathurst Island
- Museum visit
- Billy tea and damper
- Local arts and crafts
- Learn about bush tucker
Before heading to Katherine Gorge visit the Adelaide River war cemetery. At the gorge take a cruise through the looking for the elusive freshwater crocodile then walk through to a second gorge, later maybe enjoy swim at Edith falls if conditions permit.
- Wildlife Spotting
- Scenic cruise of the Gorge
- Nitmiluk National Park and Edith Falls
- Lunch included
Immerse yourself in the flora and fauna of Fogg Dam. Enjoy an amazing Aussie BBQ lunch in Batchelor & explore the raw beauty of Litchfield National Park. See Traditional Arts and Craft, maybe hike to a perfect photo spot and end the day with a glorious sunset.
- Small group (max 10 people)
- Plenty of Wildlife
- Flexible itinerary
Kakadu is a timeless landscape of exceptional beauty and diversity. This tour takes you deep into the park to really get a feel for the land and the diversity of wildlife not seen anywhere else in the world. Learn about the culture of the traditional owners of the area.
- Optional Scenic Flight
- Warradjan Cultural Centre
- Traditional Rock Art
- Billabong cruise with Lunch