The land bordering the Gulf is generally flat and low-lying. To the west is Arnhem Land and the Top End of the Northern Territory. To the east is the Cape York Peninsula. The area to the south (like the Cape York Peninsula, part of Queensland) is known as the Gulf Country or simply "the Gulf."
The climate is hot and humid with two seasons per year. The dry season lasts from about April until November and is characterized by very dry southeast to east winds, generated by migratory winter high pressure systems to the south. The wet season lasts from December to March. Most of a year's rainfall is compressed into these months, and during this period, many low-lying areas are flooded. The Gulf is also a breeding ground for cyclones during the period between November and April.
In many other parts of Australia, there are dramatic climatic transitions over fairly short distances. The Great Dividing Range, which parallels the entire east and south-east coast, is responsible for the typical pattern of a well-watered coastal strip, a fairly narrow band of mountains, and then a vast, inward-draining plain that receives little rainfall. In the Gulf Country, however, there are no mountains to restrict rainfall to the coastal band and the transition from the profuse tropical growth of the seaside areas to the arid scrubs of central Australia is gradual.
The first known European explorer to visit the region was the Dutch Willem Janszoon (whose name is also written as Jansz) in his 1606 voyage. His fellow countryman Jan Carstenszoon (or Carstensz.) visited in 1623 and named the gulf in honor of Pieter de Carpentier, at that time Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. Abel Tasman also explored the coast in 1644. The region was later explored and charted by Matthew Flinders in 1802 and 1803.