Aus­tralia’s fourth big­gest is­land is in­cred­i­bly re­mote, with north­ern quolls, evoca­tive cave paint­ings, su­perb fish­ing – and just pos­si­bly a mil­lion-dol­lar bar­ra­mundi. Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Car­pen­taria is part of Arn­hem Land and a fish­ing mecca.

Zero pressure from com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors and few recre­ational fish­ers means the teem­ing stocks in these pris­tine waters are healthy and di­verse. From fight­ing sail­fish and mar­lin to queen­fish, trevally, span­ish mack­erel, red em­per­ors, coral trout and much more, you might also spot tur­tles, whales, even dugongs – and sharks en­joy­ing the ban­quet. You could also land a for­tune with a bar­ra­mundi.

Sea­son four of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s Mil­lion Dol­lar Fish com­pe­ti­tion is on – 100 barra have been re­leased across the Ter­ri­tory with $10,000 tags, and five with $1 mil­lion tags, but only the first gets the jack­pot –the other four re­vert to $10,000 fish. The sea­son runs to the end of March and if the mil­lion-dol­lar fish isn’t landed, the sea­son for the top prize will be ex­tended to Septem­ber 30, 2019.

It’s easy to get fish­ing – lit­er­ally within min­utes of launch­ing on Dar­win Har­bour with Dar­win Har­bour Fish­ing Char­ters we were cast­ing in creeks, back­wa­ters and man­groves where barra roam – and croc­o­diles may lurk.

If you come this far you’ll want to ven­ture fur­ther afield to fish, to places like Tiwi Is­lands, Arn­hem Land, Kakadu or, in my case, Groote Eylandt. This lit­tle-known is­land might be re­mote but is easy to get to – fish­ing pack­ages with Groote Eylandt Lodge in­clude a 90-minute Airnorth flight from Dar­win and pick-up.

About 50km from the East Arn­hem Land main­land, it is owned by the Warnind­hilyagwa Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple who speak the Anindilyakwa lan­guage. Four­teen clans live in the ar­chi­pel­ago which in­cludes 40 smaller is­lands, main­tain­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture.

The is­land’s mas­sive man­ganese mine has op­er­ated for more than 50 years, fund­ing huge in­fra­struc­ture and pro­vid­ing jobs plus lu­cra­tive roy­al­ties for the tra­di­tional own­ers.

The loading ter­mi­nal sees a steady pa­rade of bulk car­ri­ers which dwarf fish­ing craft shar­ing the boat ramp. The water­front lodge is an oa­sis with 60 air­con­di­tioned bun­ga­lows, restau­rant, bar, pool, day spa, sun­set ob­ser­va­tion deck, in­dige­nous art gallery and fish­ing char­ters.

A run to Blue Mud Bay landed barra but none with the lucky tags. But over two full days of runs from the lodge there were plenty of other fish as ex­pe­ri­enced guide Jonathan “Johnno” Eddy found prime spots.

Great fish­ing, even for a mil­lion-dol­lar fish, is not the only draw­card in this wild is­land world. Af­ter mo­tor­ing out of sight of the town­ship of Alyan­gula and the bulk ore car­ri­ers, on suc­ces­sive days we didn’t see a sign of hu­man habi­ta­tion or even hu­man im­pact.

And what a coast. To the north espe­cially, where a string of at­ten­dant is­lands lay, the weath­ered rock coast­line throws up crazy for­ma­tions – weird bal­anc­ing boul­ders, huge rocks that look like gob­lins. There are de­serted beaches and invit­ing wa­ter. But apart from sharks there are croc­o­diles.

Trav­el­ling in­land, a four-wheel drive tour to Jagged Head and Hang­ing Rock show­cases forests where na­tive mam­mals, rep­tiles and bird life thrive. A high­light was an eerie out­crop of white rocks ris­ing high above the flat­lands, a chal­leng­ing climb re­warded by im­pos­ing views. And as a wel­come breeze cooled us, Johnno led me to a high cave which turned out to be an in­dige­nous art gallery – ochre paint­ings of bar­ra­mundi, tur­tles, dugongs and more. It was a spe­cial place to visit, with re­spect, and re­flect on a land well off the beaten track.


Guide ‘Johnno’ Eddy with a queen­fish caught on a trip from Groote Eylandt. FLY­ING FIN­ISH

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