Based at Mount Borradaile, this iconic eco lodge and its accompanying suite of activities is sanctioned by the area’s traditional owners, whose link to Arnhem Land dates back 50,000 years. Their vision for the land includes visits to this magical site by small groups under the stewardship of the Davidson’s team. One of the most special aspects of this partnership is access to a myriad of sacred rock art displays, which regularly wow guests with their spiritual potency.
A 50-minute flight from Darwin, the lodge – decorated in a litany of eco-tourism awards – serves fine- dining fare in a relaxed communal space fringed by a serene pool. Simultaneously, tailored tours capitalise on the immense splendour and tranquillity of this pocket of Arnhem Land, especially its water-filled features such as the billabong beneath Mount Borradaile and nearby wetlands alive with crocodiles and long-legged water birds.
Kakadu is the world’s largest terrestrial national park, equal in size to the nation of Switzerland. Amplifying the power of Kakadu’s natural beauty is its Aboriginal culture and traditions, as nurtured by traditional owners.
Kakadu National Park is World Heritage-listed and home to one of the world’s largest collections of Aboriginal rock art. Tour the incredible outdoor galleries of Nourlangie, Naguluwur and Ubirr for a distinctive and unique view into Dreamtime creation stories, spiritual life, and early records of European contact.
Visit the Warradjan Cultural Centre which explores the heritage and experiences of the Bininj people; or either a cruise or fishing expedition along the arresting, yet overwhelmingly peaceful Yellow Waters Billabong – here, crocodile bask on mud plains, sea eagles nest in trees and elegant jabirus drift across the skyline.
With a passion for the Top End’s most remote and undisturbed parks, as well as Aboriginal culture and small groups, Venture North is run by nature-loving brothers Hugh and Aaron Gange and a swathe of exuberant guides. Showered in national tourism awards, this safari outfit travels to Arnhem Land, Kakadu and the Cobourg Peninsula in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. The latter is virtually uninhabited and features a rippling sequence of beaches with deeply cut cliffs, a profusion of marine life and a profound connection to the area’s Aboriginal descendants. Importantly, Cobourg also hosts Venture North’s exclusive bush bungalow campsite with views across the clear-water sea, plus rustic, comfortable rooms dotted among native foliage.
Design a private trip, or join a four- or five-day safari in luxury 4WD vehicles. The shorter journey whisks you Arnhem Land for a visit to the art-mad Aboriginal community of Gunbalanya, where you’ll embark on a moving rock art tour with an Aboriginal guide. Next, choose a hammock at the Cobourg campsite and explore the nearby marine park, before returning to Kakadu to traverse its stone country and wetlands. The longer five-day journey lets you linger longer in Kakadu, allowing time for a plunge into fantasy-like waterholes in the southern part of the park.
Three-hours southeast of Darwin lies a network of 13 gorges, through which snakes the Katherine River flanked by sheer, towering cliffs. This is Nitmiluk National Park: home to the Jawoyn people and a riot of rugged beauty. Here, rainbow bee-eaters dip between trees, black cockatoos call from the air, and lacewing butterflies float beside shaded rocks. Nitimiluk Tours, a 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned company, lets you enjoy the best of Jawoyn country and culture via its smorgasbord of cruises, hikes, cave tours, swims, canoeing trips and scenic helicopter flights – not to mention its accommodation offerings, which include everything from a camping ground and chalets, through to luxury lodge Cicada.
As with its more famous cousin Kakadu, Nitmiluk National Park also features a swathe of Aboriginal rock art sites, some of which you can view on a gorge cruise, while others lie in more tucked-away locations, such as at the end of the ‘Southern Walks’ circuit – where scenery is so dramatic you may think you’ve entered the Game of Thrones set. Explore these art sites and more on a multi-day walk; a sequence of campsites dotted along the trail will see you sleeping above cavernous gorges and beside pristine waterholes.
Travelling en route to Nitmiluk, you’ll know you’re almost there when the surrounding landscape starts to rise, and the bush – littered with ochre-coloured boulders and termite mounds – morphs into lofty escarpments.
Your choice of activities is even more abundant. Standouts include cultural cruises that focus on Jawoyn customs, beliefs, and rock art sites, as well as the helicopter flight, dinner cruise and canoe trips. Also be sure to walk to the first gorge lookout point for sunset or sunrise – or, if you find yourself closer to Katherine, Nitmiluk Tours also conducts guided walks through the fascinating Cutta Cutta Caves.
Maruku means “belonging to black”, which goes part way in explaining the pride inherent in this Uluru-based art collective, which runs painting workshops and gallery spaces amid one of the most iconic Australian landscapes.
Maruku Arts offers cultural lessons via its dot-painting and punu- making workshops (punu is a woodcarving practice, involving decoration with lines created through a burn technique). It also performs ‘inma’ – meaning ceremonial dance and song.
Participate in one of Maruku’s creative workshops, run by established, knowledgeable and warm Aboriginal artists. Next, view its impressive array of art and wooden sculpture in either the Maruku Arts Gallery inside the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre, or at its market stall inside Yulara Village, the main accommodation and restaurant hub for travellers to Uluru.
With a paintbrush in hand, sit down and create your own artwork at a 1.5-hour Maruku Arts dot- painting workshop. Your Aboriginal artist guide, aided by an interpreter, will lead you through the beliefs guiding his or her art practice, including the origins and meanings of recurring symbols (the logo for Maruku Arts, for instance, denotes sand dunes). During the workshop, you’ll also discover a suite of art-making tools, learn a handful of words in the artist’s Aboriginal language and be invited to represent something of personal significance within your own artwork – while you paint alongside your host.
Workshops run all year round and take place in the green and serene outdoor surrounds of Yulara Village. These sessions are suited to all ages, especially to kids and curious adults.
Maruku also invites visitors to book tailored tours or programs, made up of offerings such as dance ceremonies, bush medicine
Soaking up the views from the top of Kings Canyon is the main reason most people visit Watarrka National Park. But visitors can also get an eye-opening view of a different kind, with insight into local lore and knowledge through a one-hour Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Tour.
You’ll learn about the significance of dot painting, tools, weapons, bush tucker and medicinal plants in a fascinating experience. The experience is very hands-on, with the chance to touch and experience plants and artefacts for yourself, as well as ask as many questions as you like about how people have thrived for tens of thousands of years in this extreme but often bountiful Central Australian landscape.
This is an experience not to be missed when visiting Kings Canyon.