The Nine Best Aboriginal Experiences in Australia

Learning to spear fish at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque

Indigenous tourism is flourishing all over Australia as visitors and locals alike are keen to learn more about the ancient wisdom and cultural traditions of the world’s oldest living culture.  Here is a sampling of intriguing offerings that range from short bush tucker walks, didgeridoo lessons and guided rock-art tours to multi-day cultural immersions.  For more information, check out Aboriginal Tourism Australia.

Nitmiluk Tours, Northern Territory

Indigenous-guide-at-Nitmilik-Gorge

Indigenous guide showing rock art at Nitmilik Gorge

Take any one of a number of cruises, canoe rentals, bush tucker tours or helicopter rides to rock art sites with Nitmiluk Tours in Nitmiluk National Park, which surrounds a series of 13 spectacular gorges carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River, not far from the town of Katherine. Nitmiluk Tours are 100% owned by the Jawoyn Aboriginal people under the philosophy to ‘share our country’.

In Jawoyn, Nitmiluk means Place of the Cicada Dreaming and you can certainly see why when you hear the constant rattle of cicadas during the heat of the day. The gorges and the surrounding landscape have great ceremonial significance and there are numerous rock art sites throughout the park.

The most popular flat-bottomed boat tour is the sunset dinner cruise where you enjoy champagne and canapés and listen to Jawoyn stories as the setting sun highlights the sandstone rocks. You also take a short walk between the first two gorges and guides explain some of the fascinating rock art en route. It is followed by a three-course gourmet meal, which might include grilled emu and barramundi, under the Southern Hemisphere stars.

Northern Territory Indigenous Tours, Litchfield National Park

Learn about indigenous culture on a fascinating day trip (via air-conditioned four wheel drive Land Cruiser) from Darwin to Litchfield National Park and surrounds with experienced indigenous wilderness guide, Tess Atie of Northern Territory Indigenous Tours. Tess is a Marrathiel Aboriginal woman who grew up where Litchfield National Park now lies. She reveals some of its hidden wonders as well as offering exclusive access to her family’s land at Woolaning Spring where you enjoy a gourmet lunch of wild-caught barramundi, crocodile and kangaroo. You see spiritually important waterfalls and stone country, ancient rainforest and unspoilt woodland and learn the roles they play in Aboriginal culture and you’ll take away a deeper understanding of Aboriginal life and the importance of country to indigenous culture.

Tess Atie at Wangi Falls

Tess Atie at Northern Territory Indigenous Tours

Highlights include: visits and swimming (depending on the season) at Wangi Falls, Woolaning Spring, Tolmer Creek, and pools around Florence Falls; learning how to make string and utilize termite mounds among many other bush skills; exploring the heritage-listed Blyth Homestead.

 

RT Tours Australia, Alice Springs, Northern Territory

Enjoy a Mbantua (local Arrente word for Alice Springs) dinner tour at Simpson’s Gap with chef and indigenous guide, Bob (Pernuka) Taylor who owns RT Tours Australia. After a 26-year career in hospitality, Bob decided to combine his indigenous heritage, chef’s training, and love of the Red Centre to offer insights into local Aboriginal culture through feasts of bush-tucker-inspired meals. He picks you up in his 4WD at your Alice Springs hotel in the late afternoon and heads out to Simpson’s Gap in the striking red-rock West MacDonnell Ranges. As dusk falls, birds and animals, like rare black-footed rock wallabies, come to drink at the waterholes. While you take a short walk up the hill to watch a spectacular Red Centre sunset Bob prepares a three-course feast on his barbecue.

Under the brilliant constellations of the Southern Hemisphere feast on dishes like: freshly baked damper bread with wild-seed dukkah and infused oils, bush tomatoes and native herbs, macadamia nuts, and mulga-wood barbecued kangaroo fillet; outback beef stew with bush chutney, yam fritters and stir-fry vegetables; and for dessert, quondong (bush peach), white chocolate, apricot and wattle-seed steamed pudding topped with caramel and coconut sauce.

 

Guda Nyinda Aboriginal Eco Adventures, Monkey Mia, Western Australia.

Capes Capewell showing guests his ancestral lands at Shark Bay

Capes Capewell showing guests his ancestral lands at Shark Bay

Go on an Aboriginal Eco Adventure tour with  Darren “Capes” Capewell to explore Gutharraguda, which means Two Waters and is the indigenous name for Shark Bay. You learn about the deep spiritual connection that the Nhanda and Malgana people have with this ancient land, where the red sands of the desert meet the white sands bordering the Indian Ocean. Capes teaches visitors how to understand “the way country talks to you” including animal tracking, tasting bush tucker and traditionally caught local seafood, identifying medicine plants and uses. Along the way, he also gives an insider’s view of local aboriginal culture, stories and traditions. Tours include: daytime dreaming, didgeridoo dreaming night tour and saltwater dreaming kayak adventures.
 

Kooljaman on Cape Leveque and Dampier Peninsula indigenous tours, Western Australia

Chill out at the multi-award-winning eco beach camp of Kooljaman at Cape Leveque set on striking cliffs of red ironstone on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, surrounded by the aquamarine waters of the Timor Sea. Jointly owned by the Djarindjin and One Arm Point aboriginal communities, Kooljaman is the Bardi or local dialect name for Cape Leveque. You can stay in a wide range of accommodation from luxury safari tents on wooden platforms on the hill to log cabins and palm-frond shelters. The brand new Hub building offers an al fresco restaurant, shop and tour guide desk.

There are loads of activities including swimming and fishing, self-guided explorations of the boardwalk where signs identify and explain the uses of local flora in both Bardi and Latin, exploring the sea-life in a glass-bottom boat, and learning spear-making and throwing from an indigenous guide from the Djarindjin community. A range of other fascinating informal cultural tours and nature-based adventures with local Bardi guides are available on a day-to-day basis through the Kooljaman office. They may include bush tucker walks, mud crabbing, cultural walks, 4WD scenic tag-a-long tours, kayaking trips and even tours to see dinosaur footprints near the pretty indigenous township of Lombadina.

 

Koomal Dreaming, Dunsborough, Western Australia

Exploring Ngilgi Cave on a Koomal Dreaming Tour

Exploring Ngilgi Cave on a Koomal Dreaming Tour

Koomal Dreaming is your opportunity to experience the Noongar culture of the Southwest of Western Australia.

You’ll taste bush tucker, learn bush medicine, enjoy Didgeridoo experiences, and meet the animals, plants and Dreaming spirits that have enriched the lives of Wardandi and Bibbulman people who have walked this ancient land for almost 50,000 years.

There are two tours: the shorter twilight didgeridoo cave tour includes a short bush walk identifying traditional bush tucker and medicines before heading into Ngilgi Cave where the good spirit Ngilgi dwells, to hear Dreamtime legends and enjoy a mesmerizing didgeridoo performance.  The longer Ngilgi Cave Cultural Tour also includes lessons in traditional fire lighting, tool making and learning how to play the didgeridoo.

 

Brambuk Cultural Centre, Grampians National Park, Victoria

This cultural centre celebrates the Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung culture of South-western Victoria in an architect-designed facility at the gateway to Gariwerd, the indigenous name for the Grampians National Park, three hours’ drive west of Melbourne.  Brambuk also manages all information and bookings for overnight hiking in the park. Buy artefacts, study the six seasons of the Gariwerd calendar through informative displays and, in the Dreaming Theatre, watch two informative presentations, one on the Gariwerd Creation Story and the other illustrating the geology, flora and fauna plus Indigenous and European history of the region.

You can also choose from a host of terrific cultural experiences including didgeridoo workshops, bush-food tasting, boomerang painting and throwing, and rock art tours. Enjoy bush tucker-influenced fare at the Bushfoods café too. Brambuk Backpackers also offers smart budget accommodation.

 

Aboriginal Blue Mountains Walkabout

Traditionally going walkabout was a holistic journey of transformation which involved gaining a greater understanding and respect for yourself, the land, its people and the Dreamtime. Evan Yanna Muru of the Darug language group and owner of Aboriginal Blue Mountains Walkabout offers an authentic experience that helps you reach a deeper level of spiritual connection to the land.

The walkabout follows a Songline (via an adventure-grade seven-kilometer off-track walk) and explores a variety of Aboriginal sites in lush rainforest and sandstone caves. You hear Dreamtime stories, visit ceremonial sites, see rock art, learn about bush tucker and medicine, try ochre bark and body painting, explore a waterfall and swim in a billabong. This challenging experience offers an authentic and non-touristy immersion in the way indigenous cultures lived in the bush. Evan relates how ancient Darug practices relate to modern life.

 The Bama Way

Learning to spear fish with Brandon Walker

Brandon Walker gives hunting tips on the Bama Way tour

The Bama Way is an Aboriginal journey from Cairns to north of Cooktown, linking three Aboriginal-owned tours that follow the story-lines of the two Aboriginal nations of the Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimithirr peoples. It one of the most well-conceived indigenous adventures in Australia and offers the opportunity to experience tropical North Queensland through the eyes of the people who have been its custodians for tens of thousands of years.There is a great deal of flexibility: you can go on one, two or all of the tours. You can self-drive or take a guided tour with a knowledgeable driver/guide. Each tour provides a unique experience which will teach you about different facets of Aboriginal culture.

On the coast not far from the southern entrance to the Daintree National Park, enjoy a Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat tour of the traditional fishing grounds at Cooya Beach. Linc and Brandon Walker of the Kubirri Warra clan take visitors across three diverse ecosystems – beach, mangroves and coastal reef – which are connected by mudflats and tidal lagoons.The brothers teach how to throw spears and use woomeras (spear throwers), and show how to track and hunt seafood. Catch blue swimmer crabs, mangrove jack fish, and pearl fish, and dig mud crabs out of, well, the mud. The brothers also explain the intricacies of the mangrove mudflats and share their knowledge of local plants, wildlife and country. Afterwards, at the family home across the road from the beach, enjoy freshly baked damper and tastes of the just-cooked seafood delicacies.

At Wujal Wujal, a coastal indigenous community 380km north of Cairns, visit Bloomfield Falls with the Walker sisters, also of the Kuku Yalanji nation, whose traditional lands encompass this World Heritage rainforest area. They share some of their knowledge of the 40-metre-high falls, of great cultural significance to the Yalanji people, and give insights into their clan as well as showing the many different uses of plant species for food, medicine and ceremonial purposes.

High in the hills above Hope Vale outside Cooktown, walk amongst ancestral rock art sites with Nugal-warra Elder and award-winning story-teller, Willie Gordon of Guurrbi Tours. He describes the meanings – both practical and spiritual – behind the art, offering an unforgettable insight into Aboriginal society and culture. With his infectious laugh, Willie explains how the paintings speak of the essence of life and the Law of his people. He also shares bush survival techniques, including the eating of one or two green ants!

 

Bardi aboriginal calendar at aboriginal-owned Cape Leveque

Bardi aboriginal calendar at Cape Leveque

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Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

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