The cultural experiences and tours on offer in the Northern Territory have been 65,000 years in the making, and promise a connection through new experiences on country.
Boasting the oldest continuous culture in the world means Australia is something of a mecca for culture vultures. The significant history and learnings from Indigenous culture is writ large across the Australian landscape, possibly nowhere more so than in the Northern Territory. Here you will find myriad tours and experiences on offer generously sharing insights and stories.
A good rule of thumb when deciding which tours to book is to do some research and choose ones that are Indigenous owned or operated (or both). Hearing tales of the Dreamtime, learning about bush tucker, and seeing the landscape through the eyes of the people who have been nourished by it, literally and spiritually, for millennia is a singular experience that is totally unique to Australia.
Another thing to look into before heading out on tour is whether you require an access permit. Many tour operators include this in the ticket so remember to check when travelling outside Darwin, Alice Springs and Uluru. Most art centres located within Aboriginal communities have restricted access; you can find out where permits are required and lodge an application by contacting the Northern Land Council (which oversees the Top End and covers Arnhem Land and the Katherine region) and the Central Land Council (Tennant Creek and regional Red Centre). Also double check when art centres or tours are open and available before departing as some have seasonal and cultural closures during the year.
And with the privilege of experiencing Indigenous culture first-hand comes responsibility; there are a number of sacred sites that, due to cultural beliefs, traditional owners would prefer were not photographed or explored, including parts of Uluru and Kakadu. So be respectful to the land and the people when visiting, always ask if it is acceptable to take photos, and always take out exactly what you took in (along with an art purchase or two, of course, which you can be assured are authentic and ethically traded when buying direct from the artists and their communities at Indigenous-owned and operated art centres).
Cultural tours to try
Located at Uluru, Maruku Arts is owned and operated by Anangu, with some 900 Aboriginal artists from more than 20 remote communities in the Central and Western Deserts represented in the collective. Here, you can take part in a dot painting experience under the tutelage of a local artist, try your hand at panu (woodcarving) or walk to Mutitjulu Waterhole at the base of Uluru with an artist to hear about the connection between art and the land, before taking part in a painting session.
This Aboriginal-owned-and-operated family business based on the Adelaide River Flood Plains on Limilngan-Wulna Land offers a number of cultural tours including a Kakadu Rock Art tour taking in the famed Noulangie Rock Art. Its Wetlands Discovery tour explores the Northern Coastal Wetlands, spotting wildlife and learning about this unique area, and learning about the local history and culture on a bush tucker walk. You can even try your hand at spear throwing.
Owned and managed by the traditional owners of the country it visits, Kakadu Cultural Tours Arnhemlander Cultural and Heritage 4WD Tour journeys across Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River into the fascinating landscape of Arnhem Land, visiting the famed Injalak Arts and Craft centre in Gunbalanya to see local artists at work, viewing rock art sites, and spending time in the Mikkinj Valley’s peaceful billabongs and soaring escarpments.
As one of the original intake of trainee rangers when Kakadu National Park was declared in 1979, Victor Cooper set up Ayal Aboriginal Tours in 2008 in the country of his mother’s father and uncles in the South Alligator district in order to share his passion for this exquisite location. The Kakadu Historical Buffalo Camp and Wildlife Tour takes in a rarely seen area of the park around Gabarlgu Billabong and South Alligator mangrove forest to find out about the local wildlife, traditional bush foods and hear tales of his family’s ancestral connection to the country.
Located on the southeast edges of the Watarrka National Park, which takes in the stunning Kings Canyon, Karrke (the name of the western bowerbird in the Aranda language) is owned and operated by Christine Breaden, a Luritja woman and traditional owner of the Wanmarra Community located here, and her husband Peter Abbott, a Western Aranda/Pertame (Southern Aranda) man. The Aboriginal Cultural Tour is a fascinating deep dive into Aboriginal culture, detailing everything from the effectiveness of bush medicines, to the traditions and practices of dot painting to how to capture and cook (and eat) witchetty grubs.