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Ten First Nations-Led Activities to Experience in Tropical North Queensland

Seize the opportunity to experience Tropical North Queensland through the eyes of the Traditional Land Owners.
By Eliza Crisp and Caitlin Booth
March 11, 2022
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By Eliza Crisp and Caitlin Booth
March 11, 2022
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in partnership with

It's a great privilege to experience the homelands of Traditional Owners — and it's even more exceptional when you have a local to guide you along the way. Tropical North Queensland is blessed with many experiences that'll allow you the opportunity to connect and learn from Traditional Custodians as they generously share their art, food, dancing and customs.

We've teamed up with Tropical North Queensland to share one-of-a-kind experiences to add to your hit list if you're passionate about travelling consciously. By supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses like those mentioned below, you're helping to preserve sacred practices that have been passed down for thousands of years.

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SEEK OUT SOME OF THE BEST LOCAL INDIGENOUS ART

This year, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair will be held from July 6–10. This annual festival attracts thousands of local and international visitors to the city to celebrate Indigenous artists and their latest works. The program includes a visual feast of artwork and performances, alongside fashion shows, workshops and symposiums.

While it honours Indigenous culture and traditions, the event also provides economic and personal development opportunities for the artists. Some artworks are acquired by private collectors, while others are purchased for display across the world. Previous years have seen impressive buyers representing the Harvard University Art Museum and the National Gallery of Canada.

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TAKE A THREE-DAY 4WD TOUR THROUGH THE REGION

The team at Culture Connect prides itself on providing visitors with authentic Aboriginal cultural experiences from Cairns to Cooktown. The small tour group sizes allow for an intimate opportunity to explore the region, with local Aboriginal guides who are passionate about their homeland and history. Experiences range in length from half-day nature walks to a full-day scenic flight adventure. There's also a three-day 4WD tour on offer with meals and accommodation included. Guests have the opportunity to explore ancient rock art galleries, learn traditional coastal survival skills or or learn to paint from an acclaimed local Indigenous artist.

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Island Stars Cultural Experience

EXPLORE THE REGION WITH THE HELP OF AN INDIGENOUS GUIDE

Hundreds of islands make up the Torres Strait region and just 17 are currently inhabited. Touring this area without local knowledge is tricky, which is where Strait Experience steps in to help. This Torres Strait-owned business offers incredible opportunities to explore remote destinations such as Thursday Island and Horn Island. Strait Experience connects visitors with exclusive accommodation options, unique beachside activities and tours focusing on historical sites and ancient traditions on some of the islands in the Torres Strait. And, if you time it just right, you might even be lucky enough to observe turtles nesting on the beach.

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TAKE A BOAT TOUR TO A TRADITIONAL SMOKING CEREMONY

The traditional lands of the Mandingalbay Yidinji People cover an impressive 10,000 hectares, which allowed ancient ancestors to develop an impressive range of survival and conservation skills. Just a short river cruise with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours will transport you thousands of years back in time.

Departing from Cairns Marlin Marina, a 15-minute boat journey will take you from Trinity Inlet to Hills Creek. Once arriving at the destination, guests are welcomed with a traditional cleansing smoking ceremony. Other tour options include eco walks, overnight camping expeditions and dance performances. The famous 'Deadly Dinners' give you the opportunity to sample delicious local ingredients such as kangaroo, crocodile and mud crab.

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Tourism and Events Queensland

WANDER THROUGH THE WONDERS OF KUKU YALANJI COUNTRY

Did you know that two World Heritage-listed sites meet in Tropical North Queensland? Yep, in Kuku Yalanji Country, you'll see where the epic Daintree Rainforest juts up against the iconic Great Barrier Reef. And you can explore all the wonders of this area on a half- or full-day tour with Walkabout Cultural Adventures.

This 100-percent First Nations-owned and operated cultural tour company offers you the opportunity to learn about this unique environment and the foods and medicines that are produced here. You'll get to sample bush tucker, swim in freshwater streams and maybe even try spear and boomerang throwing. Your tour guide takes care of everything — all you need to do is wear comfy shoes.

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Tourism and Events Queensland

PLUNGE INTO THE DEEP BLUE

Experiencing the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef is an irrefutable addition to any TNQ itinerary. But doing so with Dreamtime Dive and Snorkel will leave you with an even greater understanding and appreciation of this natural beauty and the connection that local First Nations people have with it. Across a five-hour tour, you'll get to hear the creation story of the Great Barrier Reef, snorkel or dive in two outer reef sites, sample native bush food and be entertained by a traditional dance. The tours are run by First Nations sea rangers whose passion for reef preservation and sustainable tourism is evident.

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TAKE A DIP IN AN OUTBACK POOL

Update: Talaroo Hot Springs 2022 season will run from April 1-October 31.

It may take about 4.5 hours to drive from Cairns to this outback pool in the heart of Ewamian Country. But boy, oh, boy is it worth it. The hot springs here formed millions of years ago with the water seeping from underground and heated by granite rocks along the way. When it reaches the pools, it's a whopping 68 degrees celsius and cools as it flows across the rippled travertine terraces. You can't directly enter the natural hot springs, but you can take a dip in one of the site's private soaking pools which can be accessed via a timber boardwalk on a First Nations-led tour. Talaroo Hot Springs also has an outback caravan park and campground if you'd like to stay a little longer (and we wouldn't blame you if you did).

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Tourism Tropical North Queensland

GET A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE OF THE TROPICS

Located in Burketown, Yagurli Tours is a First Nations-owned and operated tour company. With local Gangalidda and Garawa guides, these experiences offer a unique opportunity to learn about Gulf Savannah country from the Traditional Custodians of the land.

Yagurli Tours offer five different immersive adventures, like Yaliya's Stories (Stargazing) on Australia's largest salt pans and the Gambumanda Sunset Cruise with dinner and drinks. Also on offer is the Marrija 4WD Cultural Tour and Aloft Hot Air Balloon flights showcasing the Albert River, salts pans and the Arafura Sea in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

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Tourism Tropical North Queensland

DISCOVER HISTORY THROUGH MAGNIFICENT ROCK ART

Jarramali Rock Art Tours are perfect for those wanting to avoid the crowds and experience an intimate and rugged adventure. This authentic Aboriginal cultural experience will commence with either a 4WD drive with a Traditional Owner or a scenic helicopter flight depending on if you want a day trip or would rather embark on an overnight stay. We suggest an overnight stay where you will camp in an exclusive location, only accessible to Jarramali guests.

Discover the history of the Kuku Yalanji people through magnificent Quinkan Rock Art. Traditional Owners will guide you through the 20,000 year old art found among sandstone escarpments near Laura in North Queensland. You will gain a deeper understanding of Australia's Indigenous history while soaking in the beauty of the remote wilderness - making this definitely, a once in a lifetime experience.

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Tourism Tropical North Queensland

FLEX YOUR CREATIVE MUSCLES WITH AN INDIGENOUS PAINTING WORKSHOP

Owned by renowned First Nations artist Brian 'Binna' Swindley, Janbal Gallery offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about Aboriginal culture through art and storytelling experiences. Binna is a local Kuku Yalanji man from Mossman and the gallery is lovingly named after his late mother.

Binna hosts painting workshops on weekdays, with morning and afternoon sessions available. Choose from either a small boomerang or canvas to paint, with all paints and tools supplied. An impressive range of Aboriginal artwork is on display at the gallery, with items available for purchase, too.

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Ready to plan a trip to the tropics? For more information visit the Tropical North Queensland website.

Published on March 11, 2022 by Eliza Crisp

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