“We call it catching up here. Not fishing!” says Trevor, grinning. I’m standing on the bow of the MV Nomad holding a three-metre-long rope with a hook at one end and what looks like a spoon while bobbing on top of the Arafura Sea, off the far north coast of Australia’s Northern Territory. I have no idea what to expect.
“Here they come,” Trevor warns. “Make sure you pull them in quick. The sharks are bloody fast up here.” I look across at my brother, who’s clutching his rope somewhat competitively, but now looks equally uneasy. In an explosive splash, his line pulls taut as a Spanish mackerel the length of a surfboard breaks the water and takes his lure. There’s no fishing rod or reel here. It is hand over hand as fast as you can – if you aren’t fast enough, as my brother soon finds out, you pull up half a fish, the other half taken by an opportunistic and rather hungry bronze whaler shark.
Within an hour of casting our spoon lures we’ve reeled in four and a half enormous Spanish mackerel, blistered both hands and screamed like little kids as we pulled our catch from the jaws of Jaws himself. We try some reef fishing and my brother snags a fish that is the size of a couch and fights with the resistance of one, too. I hook a coral trout that swims into the mouth of a shark and snaps my line. I’m out of breath from both exertion and laughter. All the while Trevor smiles broadly, almost with pride, as he fillets the mackerel. The sun is high and bright and the sky a deep endless blue. It is almost the perfect fishing trip until Trevor offers us a beer. Perfection.
We are on a “bro-cation” at Banubanu Wilderness Retreat, a dream made true by Trevor Hosie and his wife Helen. Tucked into the dunes of Bremer Island, about three hours by boat from Nhulunbuy, on northeast Arnhem Land’s Gove Peninsula, Banubanu looks as though Robinson Crusoe himself built it out of the driftwood, flotsam and jetsam washed up on the surrounding beaches. There’s a dugout canoe in the Driftwood Cafe – the central meeting and dining point – that’s made its way from Papua New Guinea, and a life ring from the Avona Jakarta hanging on the wall. God knows what happened to the Avona Jakarta, or her crew for that matter. Given the appetite of the bronze whalers we’ve encountered, I doubt many of her men would have made it this far had she gone down. Old fishing nets, giant turtle skulls and coloured buoys complete the picture.
There are wooden walkways through the sand leading to the accommodation: a series of cabins and tents almost buried in the dunes behind the Driftwood Cafe, all with luxury bedding and bathrooms. Trevor has also built the ultimate beach shack here, its sundowner deck looking over the northern beach. It is his crowning glory and where we sit après catching, cold beer in hand, watching a golden Northern Territory sunset over the far rocky point after which Banubanu was named.
Trevor’s dream began decades earlier while he was surveying the area for a previous job. Bremer Island, in particular, stayed with him. Ironically, Trevor was part of the team that classified the island a protected area and, as such, it remained isolated until 2003 when he returned to build Banubanu. Lak Lak, the local Yolngu landowner, remembered Trevor from his surveying days and granted him permission to build. In return, Trevor employs local youths and pays a royalty to the community. The arrangement gives guests a unique opportunity to meet the Yolngu people and gain an understanding of how they live. Unfortunately we don’t get a chance to meet Lak Lak, but we’re told she is a regular visitor.
Trevor and Helen’s respect and affection for her is obvious. There are quite strict rules regarding the environment, and alcohol can only be preordered and brought in with guests.
We spend a morning circumnavigating the island in Trevor’s beaten-up old Toyota. It doesn’t take long, yet around each bend is a breathtaking view of another isolated beach just begging for a set of footprints. Trevor takes us inland to some crab holes, but we pass on trying to catch their inhabitants when he mentions the area also “has a few crocs”. As beautiful as it is in this part of the world, it is important not to forget just how wild it is too.
And that is what makes Banubanu so special. There’s no TV or phone coverage (unless you climb the highest dune and get lucky), so you find yourself immersed in the nature surrounding you. Trevor talks us through the bird life and I imagine twitchers fumbling with their binoculars in excitement. We’re lucky enough to spot some sea eagles darting in the distance. Turtle watching here is world class with new nests appearing weekly during the nesting season, and while they are off-limits to guests, the locals can track down larger turtles for an up-close and environmentally friendly experience.
The easy option for Trevor and Helen would have been to set up a simple campsite and let guests look after themselves, but the beauty of Banubanu is that they haven’t. Helen tells us they have tried to make everything they can control five star. The food she prepares is exquisite. On our first evening we start with sashimi from a fish Trevor filleted on the boat that afternoon. Dessert is a Heston Blumenthal-inspired pop rock pudding. The Driftwood Cafe, lit by candles and catching the sea breeze, is the ideal location. The food, the bedding and the service are on par with a top-priced resort. The beach, the sunset and especially the fishing are even better.
But for me, it is the escape that is the allure of Banubanu. After only a couple of days I feel like a genuine castaway, as though I’ve been washed up on the beach clutching the Avona Jakarta life ring. Three days feels like three weeks. The rest of the world is so far away it is forgotten. Large beach resorts try hard to replicate the “shipwreck experience” travellers seek. Banubanu doesn’t have to try. It is the real deal, garnished with luxury. We have a perfect half-moon beach to ourselves and time is told by the sun’s position in the sky. On our our final evening it puts on another spectacular closing number. My brother and I toast the moon and gaze up as the stars come out. From this vantage point Banubanu is far more than five stars.
Airnorth has daily flights to Gove (Nhulunbuy) from Darwin and Cairns.
Trevor from Banubanu Wilderness Retreat will meet you at the airport to transfer to the MV Nomad. He can also arrange a charter flight to Banubanu.
Packages that include breakfast and return transfers start from about AU$430 per person a night for four nights.