The Indigenous cultures of Australia, its First Nations, are the oldest living cultures in the world, dating to at least 65,000 years ago. The continent is home to over 250 language groups, representing distinct nations whose lands range from red-sand desert to tropical rainforests, coral-fringed islands to snowy mountains, urban centers to agricultural plains.
Australia has two distinct Indigenous cultures. The Aboriginal people of the mainland and southern islands, and the Melanesian Torres Strait Islanders, whose territory is the islands and waters of the Torres Strait between the northern tip of Queensland and Papua New Guinea.
There are many opportunities for visitors to experience Australia’s First Nations cultures in person. Here we round up 10 amazing experiences hosted by Indigenous people, though there are many others throughout the country.
But first, get your hands on "Welcome to Country," a guide to travelling Indigenous Australia by First Nations academic and author Professor Marcia Langton. The book covers essential information like etiquette for visitors, as well as Indigenous history, art, culture, and language.
Tours and experiences led by an Indigenous guide are usually the best and most respectful way to engage with Indigenous people and culture. This gives you direct experience of First Nations culture and your guide will help you navigate cross-cultural protocols and permits. Some parts of Indigenous Australia, such as Arnhemland, cannot be visited without a permit. Always ask before taking photos of Indigenous people or cultural material. And if your questions about culture aren’t answered directly, don’t press the issue. Indigenous culture relies on complex social systems and not everyone is authorized to speak on every topic.
Kakadu & Arnhemland, East of Darwin
Covering an area the size of Wales, stunning Kakadu National Park in Australia’s tropical Top End is a wilderness of breathtaking wetlands, towering escarpments, and some of the world’s most important ancient rock art galleries. The best way to experience this 20,000-year-old treasure trove is with an Aboriginal guide, such as Kakadu Cultural Tours. You can join a guided adventure by boat or 4WD, meeting Indigenous artists, dodging crocodiles, and learning about culture, mythology, and traditional survival skills. If you’re in this area over winter, don’t miss the Garma Festival, one of the most exciting expressions of Indigenous art, storytelling, music, film, dance, and ideas in the country. It’s hosted by the Yolngu people of northeast Arnhemland, who invented the yidaki (didgeridoo).
Central Desert Art Centers, Near Alice Springs
Australian Indigenous artists have made a multi-million-dollar impact on the international art scene and in the Central Desert you can visit the remote communities where world-famous artists are at work. The community of Papunya, 155 miles (250 kilometers) northwest of Alice Springs, is the birthplace of the Western Desert dot-painting movement. Visit Papunya Tula gallery in Alice, or call ahead to visit Papunya Tjupi Arts in the community. There are many other art centers in the region—check the Territory Arts Trail to research an itinerary.
If you purchase Indigenous art, make sure it is the real deal. Desart in the central desert and Arnhem, Northern & Kimberley Artists in the Top End represent small Aboriginal art communities and publish the Ethical Buying Guide.
Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, Northwest Australia
Bardi Jawi Country is a remote coastal wilderness of big tides and big sunsets in northwestern Australia. At Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, you can join Indigenous guides on walks, fishing adventures, wildlife spotting cruises, and off-roading adventures. You can also learn skills like spear-making and mud-crabbing, and sample bush tucker (native foods). Kooljaman is 129 miles (208 kilometers) north of Broome in northwest Australia, and offers off-the-grid accommodation ranging from comfortable log cabins and luxury safari tents to rustic beach camping shelters.
Walkabout Cultural Adventures, Far North Queensland
The beautiful country where the Daintree rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, 78 miles (125 kilometers) north of Cairns, is the traditional land of the Kuku Yalanji people. Walkabout Cultural Adventures offers guided rainforest walks with the chance to throw a boomerang or a spear, taste bush tucker, and catch a mud crab (if you’re lucky!).
Wilpena Pound Resort, Outback South Australia
Wilpena Pound (Ikara) is an immense natural amphitheater in the South Australian Outback. Its name means "meeting place" and Dreaming stories describe the stunning 3,281-foot (1,000-meter) ranges as the intertwining of two giant serpents, known as Akurra. Located 267 miles (430 kilometers) north of Adelaide, it’s in the traditional land of the Adnyamathanha people. The Indigenous-owned Wilpena Pound Resort offers tours and experiences, as well as luxury rooms, glamping safari tents, and a camping ground. Drive three hours’ north through the beautiful Ikara Flinders Ranges, a country of red dirt, sage vegetation, and deep-blue skies, and you’ll reach Adnyamathanha-run Iga Warta, offering tours, cultural experiences, campfire evenings, and accommodation.
Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney
Based in Sydney, Bangarra is a boundary-pushing Indigenous dance theater and one of Australia’s premier performing arts companies. Bringing powerful visual design and outstanding technique to traditional themes and stories, Bangarra’s repertoire is created in traditional country in consultation with Elders. The company tours internationally each year, but if you have the chance to catch them at home, don’t miss it.
Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness, South Coast New South Wales
The sacred Mount Gulaga is in Yuin country, 267 miles (430 kilometers) south of Sydney. Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness offers guided two-night experiences of walking, listening, and learning about the Dreaming stories of the mountain. You’ll taste bush flavors, enjoy a traditional yarning circle, and participate in a healing ceremony.
Brambuk Cultural Centre, West of Melbourne
Victoria’s Grampians National Park, originally known as Gariwerd, is a series of five stunning sandstone ridges in Jardwadjali and Djab Wurrung country. The region boasts the largest number of significant and ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings and shelters in southern Australia. Brambuk is an Aboriginal-owned cultural center offering tours, activities, backpacker accommodation, and a bushfoods cafe where you can try kangaroo, emu, and crocodile.
Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences, Perth
Australia’s westernmost city of Perth is on the traditional Whadjuk lands of the Noongar. Join a Go Cultural walking tour with Noongar Elder Walter McGuire to learn about Dreaming stories, traditional life on Derbarl Yerrigan (a.k.a. the Swan River) as well as Noongar songs, language, and ancient sites that existed long before the modern city was built.
Wukalina Walk, Tasmania
Take a four-day, three-night Aboriginal guided tour of Tasmania’s pristine Bay of Fires coast, originally known as Larapuna, with Wukalina Walk. This is the land of the Palawa people and as you walk the stunning landscape, you’ll hear creation stories, participate in cultural practices, and overnight in beautiful domed huts inspired by Palawa tradition.