Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience, Cairns, Queensland © Tourism Australia
Experience Aboriginal culture in Cairns
Cairns is not only the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s also a great place to connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Welcome to reef and rainforest Country.
By Amy Fraser and Katrina Lobley
Dreamtime stories are woven through both land and sea for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have inhabited the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region for tens of thousands of years. Learn more about these two thriving, distinct cultures and the people’s spiritual connection to their ancestral lands while exploring this tropical north Queensland city and its surrounds.
Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
An authentic Aboriginal experience is just a short boat ride away from central Cairns. On a three-hour eco-cultural tour with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours, you’ll journey into the ancestral lands of the local Mandingalbay Yidinji Aboriginal people. Your experience begins with a traditional Welcome to Country in the form of a smoking ceremony. Then it’s time for a guided walk in Grey Peaks National Park where you’ll learn how to forage for edible and medicinal plants that the Mandingalbay Yidinji people have used for thousands of years. Afterwards, your tour concludes with a delicious coconut damper (a traditional Australian bread cooked over an open fire) and tea, before taking the boat back to Cairns.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel
Discover the spiritual connection between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of North Queensland on a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel tour. Get to know the crew of Aboriginal and Torres Strait sea rangers as you cruise from Cairns out onto the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. They’ll tell you how they practise their ancient culture in a modern world and share a creation story about how the reef was formed. You’ll also experience traditional dances and didgeridoo playing, and see how clap sticks are used as percussion instruments. As well as enjoying an Aboriginal cultural experience, you will get plenty of time to dive or snorkel on the reef and explore this natural living masterpiece.
Immerse yourself in Indigenous artworks
If you’re looking to lay your eyes on Aboriginal art, you’ve come to the right place. Often referred to as ‘Australia’s Indigenous art capital’, there’s no shortage of vibrant artwork to peruse in Cairns and surrounds. At the award-winning Cairns Art Gallery, you can learn about the rich heritage of Indigenous art, take a botanical drawing class and meander through pieces by highly regarded Aboriginal artists such as Danie Mellor and Rosella Namok. Local Indigenous artwork is also on display at UMI Arts, an organisation dedicated to preserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity. In central Cairns, Doongal on the Esplanade gallery specialises in lush rainforest paintings by local and Central Australian Aboriginal artists. Browse their extensive collection of locally-made didgeridoos and boomerangs – great souvenirs for your Australian holiday.
Further north in Mossman, get creative at a hands-on painting workshop and storytelling experience. Janbal Gallery is an immersive Aboriginal Art Gallery, offering interactive workshops, a gorgeous gallery and a unique insight into the world’s oldest living culture.
Flames of the forest
Did you know?
Torres Strait Islanders are indigenous to the Torres Strait Islands off far north Queensland. They’re a distinct group from the Aboriginal peoples of mainland Australia and Tasmania.
Indigenous flavours, storytelling and spiritual ceremonies all come together under the rainforest canopy at Flames of the Forest – the ultimate Aboriginal dining experience near Port Douglas. Take a seat under the deep-green canopy of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics for a delicious degustation blending modern Australian cuisine with bush tucker and seasonal ingredients. Between courses, unwind to the sounds of the rainforest, enjoy musical performances and immerse yourself in ancient stories. You’ll go back to Port Douglas (or Cairns) with a full belly and a newfound appreciation for the Kuku Yalanji people and the land they call home.
Ngana Julaymba Dungay Tour
Venture through the Daintree Rainforest with Walkabout Cultural Adventures’ guide, Juan Walker, whose family – the Kuku Yalanji people – have called this region home for thousands of years. Join Juan on a full-day Ngana Julaymba Dungay Tour through the Daintree to learn about the rich Aboriginal culture that encompasses this Word Heritage-listed rainforest. Taste bush tucker, learn about nature-based ancient medicines and even try your hand at boomerang throwing.
Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk
Mossman Gorge is one of the Daintree Rainforest’s most significant sites. It’s a place where nature, community and culture meet, creating one of the region’s most profound Indigenous experiences. Join a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk to delve into the culture of the local Kuku Yalanji people. “Ngadiku” means “stories and legends from long ago” in the local language – a nod towards the tales you’ll uncover during your 90-minute walk. The tour begins with a traditional cleansing smoking ceremony. Afterwards, you’ll traverse the tranquil stream to reach significant cultural sites, listen to ancient tales and experience the benefits of bush tucker. Towards the end of the tour you’ll be served delicious bush tea and damper; wash it down with a dip into the cool water or simply sit and let the surroundings soak in.
Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience
The World Heritage rainforest that envelops Kuranda is abundant with magnificent flora and fauna, and ancient Aboriginal culture. On a Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience at the Rainforestation Nature Park, local Pamagirri guides welcome you to immerse yourself in their fascinating way of life. From boomerang and didgeridoo throwing to spiritual dances and Dreamtime walks, this authentic tour (just a 30-minute drive from Cairns) both educates and excites. Take a walk inspired by the Rainbow Serpent, get to know cultural tools and instruments such as the didgeridoo, and watch ancient stories come to life through spiritual dance.