Explore working cattle stations, outback gorges, ancient rock art galleries and waterholes with an Aboriginal guide.
Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris
Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris is located at Mount Borradaile (a 50-minute flight east of Darwin). This iconic eco-lodge, and its accompanying suite of activities are sanctioned by the area’s traditional owners, whose link to the area dates back 50,000 years. Tailored tours capitalise on the immense splendour and tranquillity of this pocket of Arnhem Land, especially its water-filled features such as the billabong beneath Mount Borradaile and nearby wetlands, alive with crocodiles and long-legged water birds. Your stay includes all meals, tours and activities, as well as permit fees (this land cannot be accessed publicly, so all visitors must have a permit). The lodge serves fine-dining fare in a relaxed communal space fringed by a serene pool.
Kakadu Cultural Tours
Kakadu Cultural Tours specialise in the broader Ubirr region, including one of the most sacred and stunning sites at Kakadu National Park, Ubirr itself. In the company of predominantly Aboriginal guides, guests can take a cultural cruise along Alligator River; embark on a one-day 4WD culture and heritage tour of Arnhem Land and Northern Kakadu; or take a two- or three-day stay at Hawk Dreaming Wilderness Lodge, paired with meals and two atmosphere-laden cruises through a landscape believed to have been ‘sung’ into existence by the rainbow serpent during the Dreamtime. This company offers guests the ability to travel beyond the main ‘galleries’ (large conglomerations of outdoor rock art) to restricted-access billabongs, secret art sites and living floodplains.
Brimming with thunderous waterfalls, verdant wetlands and ochre-toned escarpments, Kakadu is the world’s largest terrestrial national park, equal in size to the nation of Switzerland. Amplifying the power of Kakadu’s natural beauty are its Aboriginal culture and traditions, as nurtured by traditional owners. Kakadu Tourism, a collective of accommodation and tour offerings including two excellently positioned hotels and several tour options, offers guests the ability to tap into these twin features of the park. The signature experience is Kakadu’s must-do Yellow Waters Billabong cruise. Led by Bininj Aboriginal guides, this experience puts you face-to-face with the magnificent wetlands, home to 60 species of birds and a plethora of buffaloes and crocodiles.
Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Tour
The breathtaking Kings Canyon, located in Australia’s Red Centre, provides the ultimate backdrop for the one-hour Aboriginal Cultural Tour by Karrke. Learn about the history of dot painting, tools, weapons, bush tucker and medicinal plants used by the Central Australia desert people during this hands-on experience; be introduced to native foods such as bush tomato, discover the significance of dot painting, and see how mulga wood is shaped into tools such as spears, hunting clubs and boomerangs. There is also opportunity to ask as many questions as you can about Luritja and Pertame (Southern Arrernte) language and culture, and how people have thrived in this extreme but often bountiful landscape for tens of thousands of years.
Lords Kakadu and Arnhemland Safaris
Swim in clear pools serenaded by waterfalls, trek through ancient rock art galleries, and uncover Aboriginal cultural stories of the Northern Territory’s Top End, alongside one of the state’s most lauded and experienced guides. Among many other sites, Lords Kakadu and Arnhemland Safaris takes in Arnhem Land, gems within Kakadu including the lesser-known Koolpin Gorge, and indulgent retreats such as Bamurru Plains, Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris’ eco lodge and the 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned and operated Cicada Lodge in Nitmiluk National Park. Lords also incorporates its own accommodation into trips with an exclusive ‘bush camp’ for 12 guests set within Kakadu. It’s furnished with comfortable beds and a fire pit for night-time meals and tale-telling.
Uluru-based art collective Maruku Arts runs gallery spaces and outdoor painting workshops in one of Australia’s most iconic landscapes. Participate in a dot painting or punu-making workshop (punu is a woodcarving practice, involving decoration with lines created through a burn technique), during which you’ll discover a suite of art-making tools, learn a handful of words in the artist’s Aboriginal language and be invited to represent something of personal significance within your own artwork. Classes are run by established, knowledgeable and warm Aboriginal artists, with the aide of an interpreter. Alternatively, view the organisation’s impressive array of art and wooden sculpture in the nearby Maruku Arts Gallery. The organisation also performs ‘inma’ – meaning ceremonial dance and song.
Three hours south-east of Darwin lies a network of 13 towering gorges, through which snakes the Katherine River. This is Nitmiluk National Park: home to the Jawoyn people and a riot of rugged beauty. Nitmiluk Tours, a 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned company, lets you enjoy the best of Jawoyn country and culture via its smorgasbord of cruises, hikes, cave tours, swims, canoeing trips and scenic helicopter flights – not to mention its accommodation offerings, which include everything from a camping ground and chalets, through to luxury lodge Cicada. Be sure to walk to the first gorge lookout point for sunset or sunrise – or, if you find yourself closer to Katherine, join one of Nitmiluk Tours’ guided walks through the fascinating Cutta Cutta Caves.
Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours
Focused entirely on introducing you to the traditional Aboriginal way of life, Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours’ signature two-hour immersion journey offers intimate lessons in local bush tucker and medicine, making baskets and bags, throwing spears and playing instruments such as the clap sticks and didgeridoo, a short drive from Darwin. The family-run business enjoys strong ancestral ties to the area. Afterwards, relax and chat over shared damper (traditional bush bread, cooked on an open fire) and a cup of tea. Further deepen your experience with a trip to the Northern Coastal Wetlands, where you’ll learn about the family’s connection to the water and its animal inhabitants, while also absorbing the scenic, fertile surrounds.
RT Tours Australia
Step away from the mainstream tourist scene and embark on a richer, quieter journey through Central Australia on a lunch or dinner experience with RT Tours Australia, both of which whisk you beyond the township of Alice Springs through to the grand, red cliffs of the MacDonnell Ranges. It’s here that Aboriginal Australian man Bob Taylor – founder of RT Tours Australia, and a member of the Aboriginal Arrernte nation – sets up his bush barbecue and invites you for a relaxed chat about his culture. Your host also leads extended tours with an art, birdwatching and bushwalking focus. In addition to homing in on the Alice Springs region, Bob’s longer journeys travel through Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park.
SEIT Outback Australia
Uluru’s traditional owners, the Aboriginal Anangu, have called the park home for 60,000 years. SEIT – which stands for Spirit, Emotion, Intellect and Task – serves to share this heritage with visitors via small group tours and off-the-beaten-path experiences. In particular, SEIT’s Cave Hill day tour, led by an Aboriginal guide, shines a spotlight on the Songlines (stories) of creation ancestors, as well as the cave paintings that bring them to life. Equally powerful is the Patji tour, which takes you beyond the main park’s boundaries to the homelands of Uluru’s traditional family. Over afternoon tea, sit with Aboriginal people to hear stories of their epic fight for land rights in Central Australia, plus other intimate accounts of Aboriginal life in the region.
Top Didj Cultural Experience and Art Gallery
Take in the plentiful art, didgeridoos, artefacts, gifts and books in the Top Didj art gallery, before joining a morning or afternoon Aboriginal artist-led cultural experience. Located in the town of Katherine, three hours south of Darwin, the organisation runs the popular Top Didj cultural experience, a two-and-a-half hour session led by charismatic Aboriginal artist, Manuel Pamkal. Enrich your practical understanding of local customs, hunting practices and art-making over the course of this uplifting morning or afternoon – and return home having painted your own work of art. Alternatively, browse the outstanding array of Jawoyn and Dagoman work, as well as that from Arnhem Land, the Kimberley and the Central Western Desert.
Venture North Australia
Design a private trip, or join a four- or five-day safari in luxury 4WD vehicles: Venture North offers multi-award-winning luxury 4WD safaris, which travel to Arnhem Land, Kakadu and Garig Gunak Barlu National Park from Darwin. Take in a visit to the art-mad Aboriginal community of Gunbalanya, where you’ll embark on a moving rock art tour with an Aboriginal guide, traverse the stone country and wetlands of Kakadu, and stay at Venture North’s exclusive bush bungalow campsite, which features views across the clear waters of Cobourg Marine Park, plus rustic, comfortable rooms dotted among native foliage.
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia – Ayers Rock Resort
In the sand dunes beside Uluṟu, rests Ayers Rock Resort, an accommodation and cultural experience collective comprising five different stays and more than 65 tours. The resort offers a restful base from which to explore the awe-inspiring Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park and its famous monoliths (both 860-metre high Uluru and the lofty domes of Kata Tjuta), as well as to connect you more fervently with the rich Aboriginal culture and landscape of the Red Centre. Take a camel ride into the sunset; meander through the lush greenery at Uluru’s base – viewing rock art illustrating the site’s creation stories as you walk; or dine under a canopy of stars at a Sounds of Silence dinner, an atmosphere-laden evening of food, culture and astronomy, held amid sand dunes and silent surrounds.
Learn generational knowledge and ancient stories of Broome’s saltwater Yawuru people through the fascinating daily tours with Narlijia Cultural Tours. Sample bush tucker, visit significant sites such Didirrgun, see a massive shell midden or trail 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints; founder (and local Yawuru man) Bart Pigram has created a range of unique experiences that offer fascinating insight into the past and present of this beautiful outback beach town. Sail a 42-foot catamaran at sunset, explore a mangrove forest or take a comfortable walking tour through the town centre as Bart recreates a timeline of Aboriginal way of life, the pearling industry and Broome’s morphosis from a lively frontier settlement to the diverse and multicultural town it is today.
Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures
Wula Gura Ninda Eco Cultural Adventures offers a terrific array of tours ranging from two-hour to multi-day experiences in the Shark Bay World Heritage-listed area. Owner Darren ‘Capes’ Capewell offers an insider’s view of local Aboriginal culture through animal tracking, tasting bush tucker and traditionally caught seafood, and identifying the uses of various medicinal plants, as well as didgeridoo lessons and Dreamtime stories. More active experiences include bush-tucker walks, kayaking and snorkelling adventures, stand-up paddleboard tours, camping safaris and fly/drive expeditions.
Worn Gundidj @ Tower Hill
Ever wanted to try your hand at throwing a spear or a returning boomerang? These are just some of the skills you may pick up on a 90-minute walking tour at Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve, run by local Aboriginal cooperative, WG Enterprises. Found along Australia’s most scenic drive, the Great Ocean Road (near Melbourne), the reserve is known as a wonderful place to get up close with local wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, emus, echidnas, possums and sugar gliders, as well as approximately 160 different species of bird. Examine artefacts from axe handles to possum cloaks and perhaps enjoy a didgeridoo performance, as well as getting an introduction to local bush foods. There will also be the opportunity to learn more about the area’s many histories, from the turbulent forces that shaped its geology to the Aboriginal era, right through to European settlement.
Wilpena Pound Resort
If you want to understand the outback, Wilpena Pound Resort in the dramatic Flinders Ranges is a good place to start. The only accommodation within the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, the resort is owned and operated by the Adnyamathanha people, offering a range of activities from fossil hunting in the area’s canyons to visiting ancient rock art sites. Found 430 kilometres (six hours’ drive) north of Adelaide, this is the dramatic home of Wilpena Pound, an extraordinary 800 million-year-old natural amphitheatre that is part of the homeland of the Adnyamathanha, or Yura, people. Choose from a range of accommodation options, from hotel rooms and safari-style tents to no-frills powered or unpowered campsites.