Australia is home to the world's oldest living culture, dating back over 60,000 years, and although it’s not the top reason to fly down under, travellers should not miss the opportunity to learn more about the country's indigenous people and their culture. Aboriginal tours can really complete an experiential itinerary and the Northern Territory isn't the only place to do it.

“Aboriginal Australia is comprised of hundreds of separate, independent Aboriginal nations, distinguished by 250 language groups and more than 700 different dialects, meaning that the diversity of Aboriginal experiences available to travellers is truly endless.”

DENISE VON WALD, TOURISM AUSTRALIA REGIONAL GENERAL MANAGER, UK/NORTHERN EUROPE

Perfect 10

  1. Bike it: In New South Wales take a quad bike or hummer cultural tour of the dunes operated by the Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council

  2. Walk the ranges: Stay at Wilpena Pound Resort, in South Australia’s Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park and take an Aboriginal-guided walk

  3. Learn to spear fish: Remote Kooljaman Camp in Cape Leveque, WA, is run by the Bardi Jawi Communities. Spear fish, go mud crabbing, or bird/whale spotting

  4. Try bush tucker: Taste foods like kangaroo and crocodile during a three-course bush dinner at Uluru on Great Rail’s Australia & The Ghan tour

  5. Get behind the city: Take an Aboriginal Heritage Tour of The Rocks, Sydney, and learn about its pre-urban significance with Dreamtime Southern X

  6. Take a sacred-site safari: Discover rock art, billabongs and rainforest at Mt Borradile sacred site with Davidson’s Arnhemland safaris

  7. Walk on the wild side: Spend four days on the Wukalina Walk in Tasmania, sleeping in domed huts like those once used by the Palawa people

  8. Stage set: See how Aboriginal and British ways of life collided in the 19th century with dramatic reconstructions from Spirits Red Sand, Queensland

  9. Herbal high: Discover traditional uses for plants on an Aboriginal Heritage Walk at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens

  10. Meditate to music: Take part in didgeridoo campfire meditation and meal on a camping tour with Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Adventures at Shark’s Bay, WA 

Indigenous immersion

Tourism Australia’s Aussie Specialist training scheme has a dedicated Discover Aboriginal Experiences module that’s a good place for agents to learn more about Aboriginal tourism. It also promotes quality indigenous tours, activities and accommodation under the Discover Aboriginal Experiences collective.

“From experience, customers don’t tend to focus and build their Australian holiday solely around indigenous experiences, but it’s certainly something they want to include as a part of their time Down Under,” says Travel 2 Assistant Product Manager for Oceania, Will McQuade.

The operator offers culture-related day tours; Jellurgal Journey and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast is popular this year. For a more immersive experience, McQuade recommends tailor-made adventures including Kakadu.

Local interaction and giving back is part of G Adventures’ ethos: “Unique experiences, along with the knowledge that these projects generate a positive impact for the local communities is a big draw for our travellers,” says Oceania Product Coordinator Scott Fuller. Options include a visit to Café Chloe in Tully, Queensland, where travellers can paint with traditional Jirrbal artists.

Premier Holidays offers two popular Aboriginal experiences – an Uluru base walk and a visit to Tjapukai Cultural Park in Northern Queensland where age-old ceremonies are brought to life.

Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and all profits from its tourism projects and resorts, like the exclusive Longitude 131° near Uluru, are reinvested into indigenous training and development across Australia.

Uncovering Arnhem Land

Alone domino sits on a rock shelf inside this cave in the sprawling bush of the Arnhem Land. This incongruous object isn’t a bizarre piece of tourist litter –it was most likely received by Aboriginal people in a trade with Indonesian sailors.

I took a jeep and scrambled over boulders to get here, travelling from Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris’ lodge, one of the few accredited sites within this Aboriginal-owned land in the Northern Territory. Besides some flustered bats, my guide and I are the only ones here, gazing on a site of huge historical and cultural importance unmarked by museum signs and ropes.

Covering a rocky outcrop are hundreds of overlapping ochre silhouettes, created by blowing powdery earth around overstretched hands. They were left by generations of Aboriginal people who cooked, played and slept here.

Images of animals and fish show the ancient community’s food sources. There’s evidence of European contact: paintings depicting men with oversized hats and pipes – the artists having exaggerated what was strange to them.

Protruding from a rock ledge are skeletons balanced on shelves of spears. Some of the bones are wrapped in paper bark, some in traded denim – it was perhaps as recently as the 1940s before the burial site was abandoned.

What’s new

Events: The Commonwealth Games come to the Gold Coast in April. Major infrastructure projects include a Cultural Precinct, which will host festivals, concerts and more.

The Tjungu Festival returns to Ayers Rock Resort on April 26-29 with indigenous music, dance, fashion, food, sport and more. Nearby, vast art installation Field of Light Uluru by Bruce Munro has been extended until December 31 2020.

New product: North Queensland newcomers Kinrara Expeditions operate in the national park of the same name, with tailored five-day tours from MacEacherns Camp cattle station.

Great Rail Journey’s Australia & the Ghan tour is 25 years old. The 23-day adventure includes the Great Barrier Reef, Blue Mountains and Uluru. Inspiring Journeys’  new Victoria’s Hidden Gems tour includes indigenous experiences in the Grampians.

Premier’s  new three-night tour Melbourne and The Great Ocean Road also takes in Philip Island. New excursions include a Whitsunday Crocodile Safari with bush barbecue.

Airlines: The historic non-stop Perth flight from Qantas starts in March.

Airlines will resume direct flights between Kuala Lumpur and Brisbane from June 6.

Accommodation: New luxury lodge Mount Mulligan Station can host up to 24 guests in outback North Queensland while Freycinet Lodge, Tasmania, unveils new luxury pavilions this month with an environmentally-conscious design.

A 312-room W Hotel will open in Brisbane in March. Churchill Island, connectced to Philip Island,  has introduced family-friendly glamping weekends.

What the experts say

“Connecting with indigenous culture is increasingly important for UK travellers and is a vital part of any truly authentic Australian experience. In 2017, around 20% of Brits included an Indigenous experience in their Australian trip, which was a jump of more than 10% over 2016. It’s is especially important to first-time visitors, with 30% adding an Indigenous experience.

“We’ve launched our new Discover Aboriginal Experiences campaign, which captures the diversity of Aboriginal activities, tours and accommodation in every state and territory in a single online resource.

DENISE VON WALD, TOURISM AUSTRALIA REGIONAL GENERAL MANAGER, UK/NORTHERN EUROPE

Where to book it

G Adventures’ The Best of the Red Centre and Eastern Australia 25-day tour starts from £4,799pp (excluding flights). Travelling Melbourne to Sydney, indigenous experiences include painting with Jirrbal artists and an interpretive walk through Daintree Rainforest.

gadventures.co.uk

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