Delve deeper into the iconic landscapes of Tropical North Queensland by visiting with Traditional Custodians.
If you haven’t yet sampled the delicious zesty zing of a green ant’s abdomen; if you want to learn where to find turkey bush to ward off mosquito’s, or want to know the best time to catch kudi kudi (barramundi) – it’s time you spent some time on country with Tropical North Queensland’s Traditional Custodians.
Not only does Tropical North Queensland merge two natural World Heritage-listed wonders – the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics Rainforest – but uniquely, Traditional Custodians representing both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultures meet here too. With an intrinsic connection to country and sea spanning over 50,000 years, both cultures have an incredible depth of knowledge and thousands of stories to share.
Here’s how to explore the incredible land and seascapes with Traditional Custodians.
Great Barrier Reef
Join the energetic crew of Indigenous Sea Rangers on Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel for a day exploring the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll learn creation stories that have shaped both land and sea country, along with a chance to immerse in cultural dance, song and ceremony as shared by Gunggandji, Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji, Yirrganydji and Mandingalbay crew represented onboard.
Departing from Cairns, you’ll make your way to the outer reef and within 90 minutes will be snorkelling the first of two patch reefs you’ll visit on your full day tour. Joined in the water by Sea Rangers and Marine Biologists, hover over vibrant coral reefs, be introduced to some curious sea life and learn the significance many marine creatures hold as both totems and tucker in Indigenous culture. A delicious buffet lunch is served onboard and there’s a chance to give diving a go too.
Nestled within the world’s oldest and most bio-diverse tropical rainforest, be guided by custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture. After a welcome-to-country smoking ceremony, you’ll head deep into the heart of Kuku Yalanji rainforest country to hear some of its ancient stories on a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk.
On the walk, you’ll learn about bush tucker and the medicinal use of rainforest plants with both male and female guides, so men and women’s business can be openly shared. This region boasts over 3000 plant species, 12,000 insects and as many as 30% of Australia’s bird and mammal species so there’s a lot to uncover. Discover how to spot the shy Boyd’s Forest Dragon, make bush soap from leaves and learn the unique cultural traditions of the Kuku Yalanji rainforest people. Bush Damper and morning tea is shared under a sun-dappled canopy afterwards so you can soak in the sublime serenity of this special place before returning to explore Mossman Gorge.
If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a hunter-gatherer type, and quite like the idea of catching mud crab for lunch, join the expert crew at Walkabout Cultural Adventures to scour the coast, rivers, mangroves and rainforest to gather your own bush tucker. As a small group, this tour is nimble, with guides sharing stories of creation, heritage and lore en route but also stopping regularly to spot wildlife like crocodiles, point out important creation landmarks and sample bush tucker.
You’ll have the opportunity to taste the zesty vitamin C hit of a green ant and marvel at its sinus-clearing aroma when crushed. After a spear-throwing lesson on Cooya Beach, join the Kuku Yalanji guides to scan the mudflats and mangroves for mud crabs, periwinkles and butterfly shells for lunch. If the crabs are elusive, there’s a plan B so no one goes hungry, sampling the seafood stir fry you helped gather, plus a platter of freshly plucked tropical fruits and homemade bush damper while listening to stories in the shade of a giant cathedral fig tree.
A thrilling arrival in a giant mine-spec truck after tackling part of Cape York’s iconic Old Coach Road is just the beginning of this immersive two-night and four-day adventure with Jarramali Rock Art Tours. Pin-dropped 1.5 hours west of Laura, camp is etched amidst the dramatic escarpments of Quinkan Country. You’ll be surrounded by scrubby bush, nestled in tents around a central shelter and campfire. And while hovering atop a sweeping sandstone bluff, underneath you’ll find Magnificent Gallery spanning 40 metres, with over 450 exquisite Quinkan rock art paintings layered over 20,000 years. UNESCO regards the rock art sites in this region as one of the top 10 most significant collections of Indigenous art in the world.
Explore galleries learning first hand from Kuku Yalanjj man Johnny Murison, as he shares insights into language, lore and connection to country as passed down by his elders. You’ll also swim in crystal clear waterfalls, taste bush tucker and discover the many uses for plants, including the Turkey Bush with its unique mosquito-repelling aroma and soothing flower balm to stop any itch. At night, and after a hearty home-cooked camp meal by the campfire, listen to the soul-stirring sounds of the didgeridoo drift across the escarpment while the skies fill with the twinkle of a trillion stars, experience the powerful feeling of being on country beside a Traditional Custodian imbues.
An ancient geological wonder, and one of only two natural mound springs found in Australia, Talaroo Hot Springs is a place of cultural, ecological and geological significance to the Ewamian People and a special place of spiritual and physical healing.
Joining a tour with Traditional Custodians will reveal the secrets and wonder of this unique landscape. You’ll learn that rain falling on nearby ranges seeps deep into the earth’s crusts where for thousands of years it is mineralised and heated, returning to the surface via the spring at a temperature of up to 68 degrees.
You’ll see the hottest part of the springs from the safety of a boardwalk and afterwards have the opportunity to experience the thermal springs for yourself by either dipping in the cooled communal pool or booking one of the private pools as an optional extra. A caravan park and cafe welcomes visitors to linger longer and on sunset, join the yarning circle where a Ewamian custodian welcomes everyone to share their stories.
Moungibi (Burketown) is a remote outback outpost surrounded by one of the largest wetlands left intact on the planet in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Its name translates as ‘island’ by its Gangalidda Garawa Traditional Custodians, which is in reference to the seasonal ebb and flow of waters that inundate the country, but also shape a tapestry of river and creek systems, mangroves, estuaries and golden savannah grasslands.
To learn about the region’s rich indigenous culture, join Yagurli Tours’ Gangalidda guides on a tag-along Marrija 4WD tour to explore significant sites before gliding across Australia’s largest salt pans. You’ll sample bush tucker en route, learn about land and wildlife management and share the importance of traditional ceremonial burning of country before sharing bush tea in the shade beside the Nicholson River. You can also take to the skies in a hot air balloon (Aloft runs July-September) to see the art like textures of the land merging with sea country, hunt for Yagurli (fish) on the Malara fishing charter, cruise the Gambumanda (Albert) River on sunset or stargaze beside Traditional Custodians, who share Yaliya’s stories under a blanket of a million stars.
Torres Strait Islands
When it comes to experiencing and immersing yourself in rich Indigenous culture, there’s no better place to start than the Torres Strait Islands. Steeped in tens of thousands of years of history, here you’ll find everything from museums and historical landmarks to traditional art.
Even if you’re not travelling right to the tip of Cape York, you can still visit the islands on one of Strait Experience’s tours departing from Cairns. Led by expert local guides, your tour will take you on an exciting journey to the islands, where you’ll learn about the history of the area and gain an insight into traditional art, culture, and food.
From Cairns, Cooktown, Cape York and beyond, join Culture Connect’s Balngarrawarra guides for an immersive adventure deep into their homelands. You’ll discover the lifeblood of country through the lens of Traditional Custodians sharing stories of cultural heritage and hardship, but also the connection to the sandstone and woodland savannah county of their birth.
Learn culture and lore passed down via art and stories found in ancient rock art galleries at Normanby station approximately seventy kilometres from Cooktown. Here, historic sites merge with the diversity of nature and you’ll learn about the wealth of water, bush tucker and medicine that was critical to survival. You’ll also see first-hand and hear about the vital work Indigenous rangers do caring for country. Tours range from half-day to multi-day immersions and depart from both Cairns and Cooktown.