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Turtle Tracks Tour

Home > Darwin > Animals and Wildlife | Escape the City | Tours | Unusual Things to do
by Amanda I (subscribe)
I'm a freelance travel writer living in Brisbane. Visit my blog at
Published November 3rd 2018
Witness the majesty
As I flew across the rough green water on Snubfin, Sea Darwin's open boat, I was grateful for the breeze which provided much needed relief from Darwin's imposing humidity.

As Darwin faded from view, my excitement grew as I eagerly awaited our destination - Njulbitjilk Island. I was participating in Sea Darwin's Turtle Tracks tour. This tour provides a rare opportunity to observe turtles laying a clutch of eggs or hatching, depending on the season.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
The Boat - Snubfin

The Northern Territory waters are teeming with turtles and the remote Njulbitjilk Island, otherwise known as Bare Sand Island is a popular nesting destination for turtles due to lack of predators. Flatback and Olive Ridley turtles nest on this island.

Departing from Stokes Hill Wharf at 4pm, we zipped across the Timor Sea for 1.5 hours before arriving at this incredible island.

With the permission of the Kenbi Traditional Owners, we were allowed ashore. Once we set foot on this untouched beach, our guide and turtle researcher, provided us with turtle etiquette.This is an eco-tour and turtle etiquette is treated seriously. All guides are trained with permits in accordance with Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory's Marine Turtle Watching Policy.

Our passionate guides were informative providing us with surprising facts like, approximately only one in 2500 hatchlings survive to adulthood. Many of the threats to these animals remain offshore.

Although this island is small and remote, it has a rich and colourful history. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the air force used the island as a practice target range. It has since been cleared of ammunition, however, we were advised to be wary of any shiny objects that the wind might uncover.

The island is stunning with the most amazing shells.

Arriving in time for sunset, we had time to observe the red, pink and orange hues filling the sky, before scanning the water for bobbing turtles.

It wasn't long before we spotted one. The waves broke gently over her shell as she waited for just the right moment to come ashore.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
Turtle bobbing in water

Our guides decided that it might be a while before she came ashore so we all boarded the boat again for dinner. Dinner exceeded my expectations. We were provided with a bento box which included a bread roll, coleslaw, garden salad, chocolate and a choice of prawns, chicken or vegetarian. One drink was also included in the tour price.

On the boat, regular messages from one of the guides on the island was received via two-way radio. A turtle was building her egg chamber. The whole process could take between 40 minutes and one and a half hours so we quickly alighted and made our way back to the sand dunes.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
Turtle tracks

This huge animal with her low domed shell with upturned edges was in a trace-like state, silently dropping ping-pong ball sized eggs into her chamber.

We huddled behind his large turtle as she filled her nest with approximately 40 eggs. It was breathtaking! Our guide placed a red light near the chamber so we could observe these glistening eggs more clearly.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
Turtle laying eggs

Permits have been granted to Turtle Tracks guides which allows them to touch the eggs while the turtles are laying. I was awed when a delicate egg was gently passed around the group. We had to act fast as the egg needed to be replaced before the turtle began filling her chamber with sand.

Slowly, the ancient creature moving her paddle-like flippers, methodically filled her chamber. Once she ensured all the sand was patted down firmly, she turned around, hauling herself back to the sea.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
Turtle covering her eggs

On her slow journey back to the shoreline, our guides measured her and recorded the nest location to provide ongoing support to AusTurtle. We were told that she should be back in a few weeks to lay another clutch of eggs.

Turtle Tracks, Darwin, Turtle, Tour, hatching, laying, boat, Sea Darwin, cruise
Turtle being measured

This tour all depends on nature. Sightings are not guaranteed, however, tours are run based on tides and the lunar calendar so sightings are more likely. As guests may be waiting an hour or two before a turtle appears, the timing of the turtle watching, dinner and departure back to Darwin varies. The Snubfin returns to Darwin approximately 11.30pm. Bookings are essential as numbers are limited.

The Snubfin is a fast boat exposed to the elements so Sea Darwin does not recommend this tour to people who are pregnant or who have existing neck or back injuries.

This tour is expensive, but it is worth every cent.
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Why? To witness the turtle breeding season
When: Tours operate seasonally and depart at either 4pm or 4am
Phone: 1300065022
Where: Dock 2, Stokes Hill Wharf, Darwin, 0800
Cost: $320 for an adult
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