The Indigenous-owned tours that are making waves across Australia

Delve deeper beneath the aesthetic beauty of this vast and wild continent and you’ll find an ancient culture, steeped in storytelling…

Karen Edwards
26 January 2024

Sprawling white-sand beaches, verdant inland rainforests, colourful coral reefs… and one of the oldest living cultures in the world – when it comes to distinct landscapes and diverse ways of life, Australia does it best. However, despite being home to such rich history, the country’s Indigenous communities here have long-struggled with the generational impacts of colonisation.

It’s been over 250 years since explorer, Captain James Cook, first arrived in Gamay (Botany Bay), and almost 246 years since the continent was officially settled by the British – yet, after all this time, Aboriginal communities continue to fight for equality in everyday life. It is why we continue to champion the respect, preservation and investment in First Nations’ cultures, especially when we find Indigenous-owned experiences being celebrated within the tourism sector.

The good news is that, gradually, Aboriginal-owned businesses are starting to bloom across the country – allowing visitors to get to know this unique and wonderful ancient heritage as a part of their Australian holiday experience. To help inspire you, we have put together a selection of Indigenous-owned and run tours that you simply can’t miss when visiting Australia…

Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, Victoria

Learn about the history of Indigenous people who lived along the banks of Melbourne’s Yarra River, and the Aboriginal activist who fought for peace with the Koorie Heritage Trust (Shutterstock)

While many of Australia’s Indigenous experiences take place against a backdrop of red dirt or sweeping coastlines, this particular tour takes place in the thick of Narrm’s (Melbourne) modern metropolis. The one-hour Birrarung Wilam Walk heads from Federation Square to the banks of the Yarra River, all the while sharing the history of Aboriginal people who have long-lived along the banks of this waterway. Indigenous tour guides lead the conversation about the traditional landscape of the region, as well as the impact of colonisation. The longer Scar Tree Walk (90 minutes to two hours) continues to the William Barak Bridge, which was named after the 19th Century activist from Wurundjeri clan, who strived to bridge the divide between Aboriginal inhabitants and European settlers.

Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours, Northern Territory

Enjoy the peace of the Corroboree Billabong and take a bush tucker ‘walk and talk’ with Pudakul, in the Northern Coastal Wetlands (Shutterstock)

Guided by the Traditional Owners of the Northern Coastal Wetlands, this full-day experience with Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours transports you to the tranquillity of the Corroboree Billabong, where you can explore the natural history of this remote Australian region, while looking out for crocodiles and birds. Take part in a bush tucker ‘walk and talk’ and learn about the traditions surrounding 65,000 years of First Nations life in the region. Pudakul also offer immersive tours to the famous Kakadu National Park, to explore and interpret the ancient rock art with an Indigenous guide. As Pudakul is an Indigenous family-owned business, readings of the rock art sites come from inter-generational knowledge that only First Nations communities can offer making this excursion all the more special.

Walkabout Cultural Adventures, Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

Go bushwalking and learn about Australia’s biodiversity through the eyes of the continent’s ancient gatekeepers, with Walkabout Cultural Tours, in the Daintree Rainforest (Shutterstock)

Strolling along waterfall-laden paths in the lush Daintree Rainforest, Queensland-based Walkabout Cultural Adventures shows visitors one of the most biodiverse regions of Australia. Female travellers are privy to getting to know what is known as ‘secret women’s business’ in Aboriginal culture – as only women can enter the cascades – a wonderful natural backdrop to learn about the state’s deep-rooted culture.

Laundry Gallery, Darwin, Northern Territory

Take part in cultural workshops, watch artists at work and get to know Darwin’s Indigenous creatives at the Laundry Gallery (Shutterstock)

This 70s-era laundromat in Parap Village has been transformed into an Aboriginal-owned creative hub, overflowing with modern Indigenous arts and depictions. At the Laundry Gallery, visitors are invited to learn about the region’s heritage through cultural workshops – which not only showcase artworks from local communities, but also share stories of living on Larrakia Land (where the laundromat is located).

Wilpena Pound Resort, Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Go in search of ancient rock art dating back up to 40,000 years old with Wilpena Pound Resort in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia (Karen Edwards)

A short (in Australian terms) 275 miles north of Adelaide, take a tour with former archaeologist Mick McKenzie – an Adnyamathanha elder and guide who leads walking tours around Wilpena Pound. This natural ring of mountains covers over 19,770 acres of the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park; along its walls, ancient depictions dating back up to 40,000 years, are etched into the rock. Mick’s job, of course, is to point out the art that – to the untrained eye – might blend into the natural swirls and patterns of the backdrop. He has been working with Wilpena Pound Resort since 2016 – one of only a handful of Indigenous-owned and operated accommodation options in South Australia.

Girri Girra, New South Wales

Booking cultural tours with 100% Aboriginal-owned operators such as Girri Girra means every penny goes to Indigenous communities (Shutterstock)

This wonderful family-run east-coast business is 100% Aboriginal-owned, meaning every penny spent goes to the local Indigenous community. Tours by Girri Girra are steeped in storytelling through the ages, cultural song and dance that are designed to involve and educate visitors. Their purpose? To respect and value the ancient lore of the community. One of the most immersive Girri Girra experiences takes place in under the stars in the vast Ourimbah State Forest. Here, nature-loving guests are invited to camp out in canvas tents (known as ‘swags’) and take part in a traditional ‘welcome to country’ smoking ceremony, before the storytelling gets underway around the fire.

Wukalina Walk, Tasmania

Learn the stories of the palawa people on an four-day Indigenous led hike, known as the Wukalina Walk, in Tasmania (Shutterstock)

The first Aboriginal-owned tour in Iutruwita (Tasmania), the Wukalina Walk – led by local palawa woman, Carleeta Thomas, takes you on an outdoor adventure spanning three nights and four days, across wukalina (Mount William National Park) and larapuna (Bay of Fires). The tour is designed to walk in the footsteps of Palawa ancestors, spotting local wildlife such as the yellow-tailed black cockatoos and the kaylarunya black swan – each of which are totems for ancient leaders of the Palawa community. When it comes to setting up camp, guests are invited to sleep in tourist huts, and join the storytelling around the fire, while enjoying smoked scallops cooked in the shell, and damper [bush bread].

Saltwater Cultural Tours Darwin, Northern Territory

Delve into Larrakia life by learning the language, how to make fires and throw spears with Saltwater Cultural Tours in Darwin (Saltwater Cultural Tours)

Led by Larrakia descendant, Trent Lee, a full-day tour with Saltwater Cultural Tours takes travellers into the humble dwellings of local communities, where you’ll be taught the essence of Aboriginal life. Learn key words in the Larrakia language, receive lessons in fire-making, string-creation and spear-throwing – before settling down around the fire to listen to traditional Larrakia stories of survival and connection to the land. Unlike some tours that sweep over the intricate details of the local way of life, this is an experience packed with insight and education.

Camping with Custodians, Western Australia

The Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, is home to the Camping With Custodians’ Djarindjin campsite, where Bardi community tour guides share millennia-old tales of tradition (Shutterstock)

Tucked away among the isolated outback routes of Western Australia, Camping with Custodians welcomes travellers to minimal impact campgrounds which are owned and/or run by Indigenous communities, to learn about landscape and ancient history under the starry night sky. There are six Camping with Custodians locations Imintji, Mimbi, Violet Valley, Doon Doon Roadhouse, Djarindjin and Peedamulla – each one unique in backdrop and storytelling. For example, on the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome, the Djarindjin campsite runs in conjunction with the Bardi people of the Lombadina community. Here, tour leaders sharing tales of millennia-old hunting techniques and traditions invite visitors to share their way of life – while surrounded by the quintessential Australian landscapes of red dirt, white sand and turquoise waters.

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