Tropical North Queensland is the only region in Australia with two distinct Indigenous cultures, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Connect with these ancient cultures 60,000 years in the making.
Walkabout Cultural Adventures
Spend a day learning the traditional hunting and gathering techniques of the coastal and rainforest Kuku Yalanji people. Venture into the mangroves in search of mud crabs and collect shellfish in tidal pools at Cooya Beach north of Port Douglas. If your hunt proves fruitful, your catch will be cooked fresh for you to enjoy; hopefully with the addition of a succulent mud crab.
Continue your journey to the Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge sampling bush tucker and learning the bush medicines that have been used for thousands of years by the local Aboriginal people. Don’t forget your swimwear so you can cool off in the pristine waters of Mossman Gorge at a private swimming hole.
Jarramali Rock Art Tours
Discover true connection to country at a remote location north of Cairns exclusive to guests of Jarramali Rock Art Tours. Perched atop a sandstone escarpment overlooking steep cliff-faces, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a campsite more spectacular. Reflect on the deep history of the ancient landscape and its people as your Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner guide teaches you about the local bush foods and medicines on your way down to Magnificent Rock Art Gallery featuring approximately 450 separate paintings dating back as far as 20,000 years. Camp below a blanket of stars and let the harmonies of the bush lull you to sleep.
Guests can also choose to fly in via helicopter for a half day tour.
Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk
The Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk tour focuses on Mossman Gorge, a World Heritage listed Eden that’s hailed for its sparkling streams, cascading waterfalls, stunning rainforests and a dramatic gorge. Here, the magic and the mystery of a World-Heritage listed forest comes to life with a personal local guide who stops frequently to identify bush foods and show unusual uses for native plants. During the tour hear the traditional stories of the area, witness a smoking ceremony and come that little bit closer to understanding the sacred land.
Pamagirri Aboriginal Experience
For those shorter on time, but still wanting to dive into Australia’s history, Rainforestation Nature Park is the right experience for you. Located in the World Heritage Wet Tropics Rainforest at the top of Kuranda Range, the nature park offers a delightful insight into the Pamagirri’s culture and community. Watch a 20-minute tribal dance show in a natural rainforest setting before taking a guided Dreamtime walk modelled on the Rainbow Serpent. Try throwing a boomerang and a spear before making music with the didgeridoo.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have maintained important relationships with the land and sea for thousands of years. Add an unforgettable cultural spin on your day on the reef with Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel. Be welcomed to country by Indigenous Sea Rangers and hear the creation story of the Great Barrier Reef. Gain a deeper understanding of how they have interacted with the reef throughout the generations before exploring coral gardens below.
Flames of the Forest
Like a scene from a fairytale, be guided down a flame lit path to an enchanting marquee set in tropical rainforest surrounded by twinkling fairy lights and flickering candles. Let the sounds of the didgeridoo played by local Aboriginal brothers permeate the air and listen to the stories of their culture and land. Feast on a tropical tasting menu fusing local and native produce in a contemporary dining experience.
Flames of the Forest Aboriginal Cultural Experience is available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Paint your own boomerang or canvas
Take away a souvenir that means more than most with a hand-painted boomerang or canvas painted by yours truly under the guidance of acclaimed Aboriginal artist, Brian “Binna” Swindley. Art is an important part of Aboriginal culture and Binna will help you understand stories through painting. Browse the 100% Aboriginal owned and operated Janbal Gallery and maybe even purchase an additional piece of authentic Aboriginal art to take home.
4WD Aboriginal Rock Art & Ranger Tour
Head on country with Balnggarrawarra Traditional Owners to Normanby Station, a cultural landscape featuring historical and rock art sites rarely seen before. Listen to the stories that have been passed down through the generations and learn about how the Indigenous Ranger Program is working towards the preservation of their traditional homelands. This intimate experience is guaranteed to stay with you for life.
Both half day or full days are available from Cooktown.
Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
Take a journey across the Trinity Inlet and through the mangroves to a lesser known part of Cairns for an authentic experience with a timeless culture. Here, on Mandingalbay Yindinji land, be welcomed to country with a cleansing smoking ceremony followed by a guided walk with Indigenous Rangers discovering the bush supermarket and pharmacy. The 3 Hour Guided Eco Cultural Tour explores ancient rainforest, coastal and estuarine landscapes and the animals that call these habitats home. For something different, large groups are able to participate in a Deadly Dinner or overnight stays.
The tiny town of Burketown, population approximately 300, punches above its weight with Indigenous-owned and ran Yagurli Tours. Spend a night under the brilliant Milkyway on Australia’s largest aggregate of saltpans with Gangalidda-Garawa Traditional Owners on the Yaliya’s Stories (Stargazing) tour. Take a peek through a telescope while learning the traditional stories of the local Indigenous people and the roles the night sky played in their lives. During the day test your luck at catching a barramundi on the Malara Fishing Charter or join the Marrija 4WD Cultural Tour around Burketown finishing with a feast of bush tucker and fish cooked on the coals.
Gab Titui Cultural Centre
Contemporary art meets cultural artefacts at Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island. Showcasing sculptures, woodcarvings and paintings, traditional dhari headdresses, jewellery and intricate linocut prints that have become iconic to Torres Strait art, the gallery spaces give a deep insight into culture, history and heritage of the Torres Strait Islander people. During exhibition openings, experience traditional song and dance performances, another important part of Torres Strait Islander culture.
Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF)
One of Australia’s premier Indigenous art events is held in Tropical North Queensland with thousands of people flocking to the event each year. The main attraction, offering an ethical art marketplace, takes place across three days at the Cairns Convention Centre, however, during this time, Cairns becomes alive hosting many satellite events around town.
Purchase authentic Indigenous art, interact with artists, engage in industry talks, participate in workshops such as basket weaving and watch film screenings and traditional song and dance performances from across the region. Highlights of the fair include the famous Indigenous fashion show giving people the opportunity to interact with culture through art, textiles, performance and fashion; and the opening night featuring well known Indigenous acts with a preview of the exhibition space.
When: 13 – 16 July 2023
Where: Cairns Convention Centre, Cairns Art Gallery, Bulumba-ja Arts Centre and more
Laura Dance Festival
Every second year for three days a very special event occurs in a small town in Cape York called Laura. 500 artists, 20 Cape York communities and 5000 visitors gather for one of the largest gatherings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, with one of the most varied display of Indigenous culture in the world.
Watch as the dancers kick up the dust while learning the unique styles of song and dance of each region. Participate in cultural workshops, have your heart melted by dancers who barely look old enough to work or purchase authentic Indigenous art that has come directly from around the Cape. This unforgettable Corroborree event is not to be missed.
The dates for the next Laura Dance Festival are 7-9 July 2023.
Delve deeper into the unique ecosystem on Green Island (Wunyami) by joining an Indigenous Guide whose connection to the island spans back thousands of years and hundreds of generations. Wander through Wunyami, translating as “place of spirits” to discover an array of foliage in every shade of green and how they were utilised by Gungganji and Yidinji Traditional Owners. Learn about different animals and their spirtual significance, coral and its symbiotic relationship with its environment and more.
Feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you hear sacred stories shared in native tongue, some of which needed special permissions from elders to share. Learn how the Gungganji and Yidinji people started fires using traditional methods, the significance of ochre and more.
Not heading up to the Tip of Cape York? You can still visit the Torres Strait Islands on Strait Experience’s new day tour, “A Strait Day”. The action-packed day starts with a 1 hr 45min scenic flight from Cairns over the Great Barrier Reef and the Cape York Peninsula, before touching down in Horn Island (Ngurupai). Join a tour of the island to discover its rich cultural, mining and military history.
Head over to Thursday Island and visit the landmark Gab Titui Cultural Centre for art, dance and a traditional feasting-style lunch. Be moved by traditional Torres Strait Islander dances by Island Stars Cultural Experiences, as they dance to the soulful rhythm of the Warup (traditional drum).
Home is where the art is
Art has been an integral part of storytelling and communicating for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years. Scattered throughout Tropical North Queensland is an abundance of art galleries and art centres filled with a smorgasbord of paintings, sculpture, wearable art and ceramics. Keep an eye out for events and exhibitions by UMI Arts in Cairns; stop by Girringun Art Centre to see the artists at work if driving through Cardwell from the South – there’s also a native plant nursery just by the centre so you can pick up local fruiting trees and expand on your native garden at home.
Be blown away by the colour and diversity of style throughout the Aboriginal Art Centres across Cape York and the Gulf Savannah. From the famous sculptural dogs of Aurukun and ghost nets of Pormpuraaw to stunning contemporary textile designs from Hope Vale, there’s something out there for everyone to fall in love with.