From treks in the Outback to Maori arts and crafts, Chloe Cann rounds up the varied indigenous cultural experiences on offer for clients travelling to Australia and New Zealand.
It’s a popular misconception that indigenous experiences can only be found in Australia’s Red Centre, requiring long journeys into Australasia’s most remote corners.
In fact, there’s a growing list of products across the region, offering everything from active adventures, a guided walk through the forest or the chance to learn from locals face to face.
After all, it would be a shame to fly to the other side of the planet and not experience the legacy of the Maori people or the Dreamtime stories of Aboriginal Australians – the world’s oldest living culture.
Arguably the biggest jewel in the crown of Australia’s Outback is the iconic rock Uluru, which is considered sacred to indigenous Australians.
There are myriad ways to see this Unesco World Heritage Site, but for clients seeking luxury and the option to dip in and out of Aboriginal-inspired activities, send them to Sails in the Desert.
The resort prides itself on social responsibility and working with local communities, with an indigenous employment rate of 37% and a National Indigenous Training Academy.
Guests can choose from more than 60 tours offered by the resort, plus free daily indigenous activities such as guided walks through native gardens and traditional theatre performances.
The resort recently launched Bush Tucker Journeys – a broad programme that includes the Uluru Feastival (a quarterly weekend culinary event celebrating Australia's native flavours), plus a revamp of the 10 on-site restaurants’ menus to include native ingredients.
Book it: Abercrombie & Kent offers 14 nights’ B&B at Sails in the Desert from £5,060pp, including international and internal flights, plus additional tours. abercrombiekent.co.uk
The rugged region of East Arnhem Land is one of Australia’s last great wildernesses. The wider region of Arnhem Land still belongs to traditional landowners, which means most visits require a permit, making it unique and exceptionally untouched.
Intrepid Travel has worked with the local Yolngu people to launch a new community-based trip.
Under the guidance of clan leaders, guests will venture to remote coastal communities to learn how to hunt, fish and forage, as well as listen to Dreamtime stories by the campfire.
There’s also a chance to visit one of Australia’s most famous indigenous arts hubs – the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Yirrkala, which exhibits and sells artworks such as yidaki, the didgeridoo, which is said to have originated here.
With no phone coverage and access to basic facilities, this trip is best suited to younger or wild-at-heart clients.
Book it: Intrepid Travel’s seven-day Journey into East Arnhem Land starts at £3,585pp, including most meals, accommodation and local transport and excluding flights. Departures from July 2018. intrepidtravel.com
As the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, the Daintree deserves more airtime than it gets. A landscape that bristles with ferns, frogs and fast-flowing streams, it’s long been home to the Kuku Yalanji people, who now offer tours of their ancestral land.
The Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks allow guests to journey deep into the Mossman Gorge area of this Unesco World Heritage-listed forest, estimated to be 180 million years old.
The tour starts with a traditional smoking ceremony, involving burning native plants to ward off bad spirits, before following a winding path under the forest’s canopy.
The guide will pluck at leaves and fruits along the way, revealing their uses as ancient medicines, food and paints, and the walk is laced with stories of this rugged land. The tour ends with a bush tea and damper (Australian soda bread).
Book it: Trafalgar offers a 10-day Sydney, Reef and Rainforest trip from £2,695pp including accommodation, land-only transport, most meals and the Ngadiku walk. trafalgar.com
If your clients are first-time visitors to Australia, their hit list will likely be restricted to Sydney, the rock and the reef, but that won’t have time to fit in Aboriginal culture.
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden and the Australian Museum both offer tours and exhibitions based around the Aboriginal experience, and less than an hour’s drive from the city lies a vast national park with an incredibly rich history.
Ku-Ring-Gai Chase shelters more than 350 Aboriginal sites, and on a tour with Sydney OutBack guests will traverse the park on foot and by boat to reach Aboriginal rock art sites only accessible by water.
There are also petroglyphs and burial sites revealing the vast history of the Indigenous Guringai people, who once lived here.
Book it: Austravel offers a 12-day Sydney, Rock and Reef itinerary, based on four-star accommodation, from £1,405pp, excluding flights. Sydney OutBack’s full-day Wilderness & Aboriginal Explorer Tour & Cruise leads in at £130 for adults and £94 for concessions. austravel.com; sydneyoutback.com.au
If your clients are adrenalin junkies, an indigenous-guided 4WD tour could be just the ticket, enabling them to tick off two experiences in one go.
One of the newest Aboriginal cultural tours to hit the market, Dharwra, was launched by Tyronne Bell, a descendant of the Ngunawal people.
Dharwra, which means “land” or “country”, is the first business of its kind to operate out of Australian capital Canberra.
At nearby Namadgi national park, the area’s Aboriginal custodians can be traced back some 21,000 years, with vestiges of their life here still visible, from quarry sites where stone was gathered for tool making, to ceremonial stone arrangements on the high peaks.
Book it: Travel 2’s seven-day Capital & Coast self-drive starts from £1,459pp, including flights from London, car hire and a self-drive kit. Price based on a March 19, 2018 departure. Dharwra’s Namadgi National Park 4WD Tour costs £106 per adult and £94 per child (12-plus only). travel2.com; thunderstone.net.au
Add a side of culture to your client’s dinner in New Zealand, with a traditionally cooked feast plus folk song performances at Tamaki Maori Village.
The Rotorua attraction is included on numerous antipodean itineraries, such as Anzcro’s 25-day Grand Explorer.
After an ancient welcoming ceremony, guests can learn the art of the haka, get involved in warrior training or simply admire the arts weaving and wood carving taking place amid the Tawa forest.
Even the outfits of the Maori guides are authentic, with women and men sporting rain capes, kneelength kilt-like garments called piupiu, and beautifully carved pendants made from greenstone (New Zealand jade).
But perhaps best of all, guests will fill their bellies with a three-course banquet, cooked in an oven pit for hours under the ground called a hangi. The result is tender hunks of meat and vegetables steeped with a smoky, earthy flavour.
Book it: Anzcro’s 25-day Grand Explorer itinerary leads in from £3,095pp and includes the Maori cultural experience with traditional hangi. anzcro.co.uk