5 of the best Aboriginal experiences in Tropical North Queensland

By Fiona Harper 16 March 2017
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Immerse yourself in the stories and legends of Australia’s ancient past with one of these authentic indigenous encounters.

TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND has a rich history and is represented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have different and distinct languages, histories and cultures.

Visitors to the region are encouraged to learn, participate in and experience these ways. During your visit, you can join a tour that’ll take you deep into the Wet Tropics rainforest near Tully or to the traditional fishing ground of the Kuku Yalanji people near Cooya Beach, or learn about the traditional arts and dance of the Torres Strait Island people.

Here are five of the best Aboriginal experiences the region has to offer:

1.  A night and day experience at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a celebration of Australia’s ancient Aboriginal culture. Located in the northern suburbs of Cairns (next door to Skyrail Rainforest Cableway), you can watch Aboriginal performers bring the world’s oldest living culture to life through traditional dance, art and interactive demonstrations.

Tjapukai by Day is a hands-on opportunity to gain an authentic insight into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Witness the ancient Dreamtime story of the Tjapukai people, gain an understanding of the impacts of the stolen generation, participate in the cooking of bush foods and learn about the medicinal values of native plants before throwing a spear and learning firsthand from a warrior about traditional hunting methods and tribal law. Visit after dark for a Nightfire corroboree incorporating music, dance and storytelling accompanied by the gentle flicker of flames beneath a star-filled sky. Either way, you’ll be mesmerised.

Visit: www.tjapukai.com.au

2. Waterfalls and rainforest trails with Ingan Tours

Meet guide Sonya Jeffrey, Ingan Tours, Tully Gorge. (Credit: Tourism Events Queensland)

Experience the ways of the rainforest Aboriginal people with the Grant family, who run the Aboriginal-owned Ingan Tours. The Janbanbarra Jirrbal Rainforest people, who hail from the Davidson Valley (about 45 mins drive south-west of Mission Beach), have a deep connection with the land. Their ancestors walked the rainforest across mountains, creeks and rivers via Aboriginal trading routes to hunt and gather for ceremonial rituals and marriages with neighbouring tribal communities. Experience a traditional welcome ceremony to Jirrbal country, walk traditional rainforest trails enjoying Aboriginal stories along the way to Echo Creek Falls. Cool off in crystal clear water while absorbing ancestral spirits of the forest.

Visit: www.ingan.com.au

3. Hunting and gathering at Cooya Beach with the Walker Brothers

tropical north queensland aboriginal experience

Brandon Walker of Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours teaches guests to catch mud crabs along Cooya Beach. (Image: Tourism Events Queensland)

Cooya Beach is a beautiful coastal community north of Port Douglas. A stunning spot that many Cairns locals have been retreating to for years, Cooya Beach is also rich in cultural history and is the traditional fishing ground of the Kuku Yalanji people. This unique place has three diverse ecosystems – beach, mangroves and coastal reef – that are connected to each other by the ever-changing mudflats and tidal lagoons. And no-one knows it better than the Kubirri Warra brothers Linc and Brandon Walker. A cultural smoking ceremony is performed before an introduction to traditional Aboriginal fishing and gathering techniques with Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tours. Learn about spear throwing as you wander beautiful Cooya Beach, through mudflats and mangroves teeming with mud crabs, mussels and small fish. The best part – you get to cook your catch and enjoy it for lunch.

Visit: www.bamaway.com.au/kuku-yalanji-cultural-habitat-tours

4. Dreamtime walks through the Wet Tropics Rainforest in Mossman Gorge

tropical north queensland aboriginal experience

South of the Daintree River is famed Mossman Gorge. (Image: Andrew Gregory)

Mossman Gorge is the best place to cool down on a warm tropical day and is visited by thousands of people, lured to the gorge by its lush rainforest setting and crystal clear waters. Get to know the Wet Tropics Rainforest of this area by joining a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk at Mossman Gorge with Kuku Yalanji people. Ngadiku (Nar-di-gul) means stories and legends from a long time ago in the traditional language. Be welcomed into the area at a traditional smoking ceremony that cleanses and wards off bad spirits before ‘taking a walk’ with an Aboriginal guide. Walks of various lengths meander through the rainforest, visiting special places and culturally significant sites, past traditional bark shelters and over rainforest streams peppered with granite boulders. It’s a stunning environment – linger a while and soak it all in.

Visit: www.mossmangorge.com.au

5. Rock-art galleries at Laura, near Cooktown

tropical north queensland aboriginal experience

Image: TTNQ

Laura is a small Aboriginal community approximately two hours west of Cooktown, along the Peninsula Development Road. Located on Quinkan Country, Laura is home to one of the most significant rock art sites in the world with experts identifying the galleries as being between 15,000 and 30,000 years old.

There are four sites including Split Rock, Mushroom Rock and the Giant Horse Gallery – but none more spectacular than the Quinkan Galleries.

Guided tours can be booked between late March and early December at the Quinkan Regional Cultural Centre (QRCC) which is owned and operated by the local town and region. Should you plan to visit from April to early May, please check with with the Quinkan Centre for available access after wet season. 

The QRCC showcases all aspects of Quinkan Country including Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage and the natural environment.

Visit: www.quinkancc.com.au