It’s hook, line and simple at Banubanu
A tiny island fishing retreat just off Gove lures guests with its easy charm
‘‘NEVER change this beautiful place . . . keep it a secret,’’ pleads a guest in the comments book.
But how not to talk about a tiny, private fishing retreat tucked amid silver dunes where the Arafura Sea meets the Gulf of Carpentaria? An island nook whose substance is driftwood dreams and salt-air tang no less than it is timber, glass and canvas?
Banubanu Wilderness Retreat, on little Bremer Island just off Gove in northeast Arnhem Land, is a simple place. A large living-dining-lounging area opens straight on to the dunes; accommodation is in the aptly-named Hideaway suite or one of five substantial tents; and a sunset-facing cocktail deck lures your daydreams to infinity, or at least to Papua.
Add two deserted beaches, whistling kites in the she-oaks and turtle tracks on the sand, and you have the basics of Banubanu.
The sum of the parts is, of course, something greater, more magical.
‘‘Where else can you wander the beach and find that the only footprint is your own?’’ wonders another guest. If Robinson Crusoe were marooned on this beach and came across Man Friday’s footprint, he’d probably think that two’s a crowd. Certainly neither Crusoe nor Friday had the pleasure of hanging out with Banubanu hosts Trevor Hosie and Helen Martin, who established the retreat six years ago with permission from the island’s Gutjangan community.
Banubanu is a 40-minute boat ride or 15-minute flight from the Gove-Nhulunbuy mainland. It might as well be a century away.
Coming ashore and dropping my bags in the self-contained Hideaway suite, I immediately feel at home with Hosie and Martin as they prepare dinner and we share a sundowner.
Banubanu is both their home and their vision. They, and their eco-friendly getaway, seem perfectly paired with this landscape of dunes and shade trees, sea eagles and weatherworn granites. Martin is of Central Australian Arrente descent and Hosie might reasonably be called a saltwater people whitefella, having spent decades in the north as a charter skipper and mapping Aboriginal areas of significance, as well as enjoying an honorary clan relationship with Bremer Island’s indigenous matriarch, Lak Lak Marika. Martin is a trained chef and when a fellow guest acclaims her as ‘‘Bush MasterChef’’ he’s not thinking about bush tucker.
Her dessert tonight is a devastating chocolate volcano with chantilly cream. It follows Hosie’s equally flash main course of freshly caught red emperor in lemon sauce. All this is complemented by wine, port and good conversation, which ranges across fishing, colonial explorers and local Yolngu culture.
Playing softly in the background is the numinous music of neighbouring Elcho Islander Gurrumul Yunupingu, singing the spirit of place.
Come morning, Hosie and I and his mate Shane hop aboard MVNomad, his well-equipped, 8m aluminium fishing launch.
With fixed rods we trawl among turquoise waters, jagged limestone islets and sandy shores peopled only by a pair of sea eagles. The reefs teem with trevally, queenfish, red emperor, jewfish and coral trout but, historically, I’m a jinx when it comes to fishing — ignored, hook, line and sinker — so I am hardly surprised that, even in these pelagic-thronged waters, we are catching almost nothing.
Then, off Veronica Island, my line suddenly comes alive. I grab the rod and start reeling in something feisty. Soon enough, the one that didn’t get away is slapping on the deck, a glistening, 10kg spanish mackerel. It will be tonight’s dinner. John Borthwick was a guest of Banubanu Wilderness Retreat.
Catch of the day at Banubanu Wilderness Retreat