Australia is home to the world's oldest living culture, as diverse as the land itself. Indigenous communities around Australia welcome visitors to learn about country and culture through immersive experiences that include visiting significant sites, participating in a community project, eating bush tucker, doing an Aboriginal art class and engaging with Dreamtime storytelling. Here are 10 of the best.
Trek, build and learn on the Larapinta Trail, Alice Springs
World Expeditions is offering a themed trek along one of Australia’s most spectacular walking tracks in the Red Centre: the Larapinta Trail, which stretches for 223 kilometres from Alice Springs in the east to Mount Sonder in the west.
Three days of the tour are spent with the local community working on the bush tucker garden at the Yarrenyty Arltere Learning Centre
The nine-day Larapinta Trail & Bush Tucker Garden Project is part hike, part ethical travel project. Six days involve trekking six to 16 kilometres a day. On the other three days you work with the local Indigenous community to help restore their bush tucker garden at the Yarrenyty Arltere Learning Centre. There are new garden beds to be built, native foods and medicinal plants to be cultivated and cross-cultural experiences to be savoured.
For the remaining time, visitors trek the Larapinta Trail
When the trek begins, the Larapinta Trail, with its spectacular landscapes of deep gorges, ridged mountains and waterholes, will be all yours. To ease tired legs and sore feet, you’ll rest soundly in comfortable eco-camp sites along the way.
When: By appointment for groups of eight or more; April to September
Where: Trek departs from Alice Springs
Dine under the stars in Central Australia
The Central Australian desert comes alive at night: the sunset turns rocks from red to black, the air cools, there are more stars than you can believe exist and a crackling fire encourages storytelling. It has to be one of the most remarkable places on Earth to dine.
Bob Taylor takes visitors along the West MacDonnell Ranges for a meal under the stars
Based in Alice Springs, RT Tours by Arrernte man Bob Taylor offers many Indigenous experiences but the Mbantua Dinner by the Camp Fire is an excellent taster. After being driven along the West MacDonnell Ranges, you arrive at your dinner destination in time to watch the sun set before tucking into a three-course meal prepared by Taylor – a chef for over 20 years – in a bush oven or barbecue using native mulga wood. After a leisurely meal, chatting with Taylor about food and Aboriginal culture, you can walk it off, spotting native wildlife along the way.
When: Selected evenings
Where: Tours depart from Alice Springs
Do a hip, urban Aboriginal tour in Perth
Urban Indigenous was founded by Perth local Rebecca Casey in 2009 and offers a range of experiences, including a fascinating deep dive into the language of the Noongar people, traditionally from the south-western corner of Western Australia. The classes at Urban Indigenous detail the language’s history, as well as teaching students practical phrases, words and sayings.
When: By appointment for private groups of 25 or more
Where: Perth, WA
SEE ALSO: Five Things You Must Do in the Kimberley
Climb the “mother mountain” in NSW
When European settlers arrived in the New South Wales South Coast area of Narooma, they named the imposing mountain that looms over the town of Central Tilba “Mount Dromedary” for its resemblance to a camel’s hump. It has since reverted to the name that the local Indigenous people have always called it: Gulaga. This mountain in Gulaga National Park is an important place to the Yuin people as it symbolises the mother.
The view out over Wallaga Lake to Gulaga
It’s now possible to climb Gulaga as part of a two-night Gulaga Creation Tour run by Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness. Local Yuin guides offer a traditional welcome to country before dinner on the first night. An early night is followed by a sunrise beach ceremony and breakfast before a guided tour of the sacred mountain. The second night’s Indigenous-flavoured dinner is followed by a yarning circle led by the Indigenous custodians.
When: Tours operate in spring, summer and autumn
Where: Gulaga National Park, NSW
Explore ancient lands in South Australia
Adjahdura man Quenten Agius showcases the lands his ancestors trod in South Australia on his award-winning Aboriginal Cultural Tours.
The ancient lands of the Adjahdura and Ngadjuri people range from the Yorke Peninsula to the Flinders Ranges. On the coastal tours, which take in Adjahdura land around the Yorke Peninsula, explore the Aboriginal township of Bookyanna (Point Pearce), witness cultural ceremonies, learn about ancient sites, such as ochre and tool quarries, and gather shellfish from the rocks.
The Flinders Ranges
The outbush tours are Ngadjuri-focused, sharing Dreaming stories and taking in landscapes where giant kangaroos once bounded and huge wombat-like marsupials roamed.
There are one-, two-, and three-day coastal or outbush tours available or a combination of both. Overnight tours include camping and pick-up from Adelaide.
When: Departure dates vary
Where: Most tours depart from Adelaide
Enjoy a bush tucker lunch in Victoria
The Gunditjmara nation of south-western Victoria are lake and river people who engineered an extensive aquaculture system in the area known as the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape.
Join a full-day tour with Budj Bim Tours to view the remnants of traditional stone dwellings and take a scenic drive to Mount Eccles (Budj Bim) National Park. The tour includes a stop at the Convincing Ground where, in the 19th century, the Gunditjmara people and European whalers clashed in a bloody dispute over the ownership of a beached whale.
Any questions? Discuss them over a traditional bush tucker lunch. The elements of the meal are seasonal but often include smoked eel, kangaroo, water parsnip, warrigal greens, wattle seed damper and native greens.
When: Monday, Wednesday, Friday (and selected Saturdays and Sundays with 48 hours notice)
Where: Tours operate out of Heywood, 335 kilometres from Melbourne
Forage for food in Western Australia
Western Australia’s Wadandi community forage, hunt and harvest according to six – not four – distinct seasons. On the Aboriginal Food Cave and Didge Tour, members will learn about this 50,000-year-old seasonal rotation from Wadandi man and passionate chef Josh Whiteland, while gathering the produce for meals that could include native ingredients such kangaroo, emu, quandong or salt bush. Participants will also be treated to a didjeridu performance inside the vast Ngilgi Cave where the Karst-created acoustics amplify this ancient instrument. It’s a perfectly unique soundtrack to your experience.
When: Tour dates vary
Where: Yallingup, WA
Garma Festival in Arnhem Land
An annual gathering of 2500 leaders from the political, business, academic and society spheres, Garma Festival is a leading forum for cultural celebration, education and dialogue. Lively lectures discussing the economic ambitions of Yolngu (Aboriginal people of north east Arnhem Land) are punctuated with cultural markers of heritage and history – a ceremonial dance, or bunggul, is performed every evening as a way of preserving and celebrating one of the oldest musical traditions in the world.
Activities across the three days are broad and varied, from poetry recitals, guided bushwalks, language lessons and fireside dinners under the stars.
When: 3-6 August, 2018
Where: Gulkula, NT
Mix sport and art in the Tiwi Islands
AFL is sacred in the Tiwi Islands. And that makes Grand Final Day one of the biggest celebrations on the calendar of the small Bathurst Island community of Wurrumiyanga. Although a visit to the islands generally requires a permit, grand final weekend is a welcome exception. You’ll be joined by a mass of excited locals, barracking with passion in their local team’s colours. On the same weekend, the island also hosts an art sale, showcasing discounted pieces from renowned art centres around the island. If you’re on the hunt for your next masterpiece, pick up a trail map that will lead you through the highlights. SeaLink packages the day perfectly with a ferry across and back, as well as catered lunches and a shaded seat at the grounds for the big game.
When: 18 March, 2018
Where: Wurrumiyanga, Bathurst Island
SEE ALSO: Herb Smith's Dreamtime Tuka