Globus family of brands’ Business Development Manager, Sarah, experienced our Cosmos ‘Top End & Central Australia Explorer’ tour in early July. Designed specifically for Australians and New Zealanders travelling close to home (or at least, just across the Tasman Sea!), let’s delve into Sarah’s most memorable cultural highlights.
I recently travelled through the Northern Territory on the Cosmos ‘Top End & Central Australia Explorer’ which was an incredible experience that I am so grateful for. The hotels are clean and comfortable, and the included meals surpassed expectations. The airconditioned coach, big enough to fit 50 people, ran with a maximum of only 24, begging the question – why would you drive yourself when you can be chauffeured around in reclining seats with plenty of leg room and USB charging points throughout?
Our Tour Director and Driver, with a combined 40-plus years of experience between them, were light-hearted, fun, attentive and showed genuine care for all guests. Most importantly, they showed a passion and incredible respect for the land we were travelling through and shared this with us. Their commentary, alongside that of our local Indigenous guides, provided a depth of meaning and appreciation for the sights we saw and places we stood that we simply couldn’t have acquired from a guidebook or on our own.
We had natural wonders, changing landscapes, crocodile and bird spotting, sunset drinks, sunrise walks and visits to outback pubs like the historic Daly Waters Pub which spoke to the sometimes-quirky character of the NT itself.
However, what really struck me was the included cultural highlights and the generosity of the Aboriginal people, the traditional custodians and owners of the land. Every one of them shared with us and educated us on the cultural and spiritual connection they have to the places we visited. For me, this was both humbling and profound and I am incredibly thankful. Here are some of those cultural highlights:
Guluyambi Cultural Cruise
Guluyambi means ‘paperbark raft’. Fortunately for us the small boat used to take us up the East Alligator River on this cultural cruise was made of sturdier stuff. The East Alligator River marks the border between Kakadu National Park and Arnhem Land and this cruise was my highlight of the trip by far. Owned and operated wholly by Aboriginal people, our local guide gave us the chance to spot our first saltwater crocodiles in the wild and enjoy the natural landscape of the World Heritage Kakadu. He also taught us about his culture, local mythology, traditional bush food and survival skills. Most humbling was when he invited us to disembark the cruise and step onto Arnhem land with him. This was a special moment.
Burrungkuy (Nourlangie Rock)
Art history buff or not, the rock art sites within Kakadu National Park are impressive, not simply due to style but because of their archaeological significance and the large concentration of them. Some paintings here are thought to be up to 20,000 years old. It’s nothing to shrug at! Historical significance aside I was impressed by our visit to Burrungkuy for its representation of different art styles – including the X-ray style. It is an easy walk from the carpark to Anbangbang gallery where, sheltered by rock, you can see illustrations of creation ancestors like Namarrgon, the ‘Lightning Man’ (pictured). I was also pleased to find that the path is flat and accessible to those with disabilities.
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Not far from these ancient rock sites is the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. You are asked not to take photos inside and could very easily spend a few hours here. The space is contemporary in its curation and use of interactive displays. Artefacts, videos, photographs, and soundscapes all combine to share with you the stories of the land. It’s a fantastic educational experience where you learn about the history, creation stories, bush tucker and tools used by the Indigenous people of the area over tens of thousands of years of history. This should be a must-see for anyone in the area!
Much further south, not far from Alice Springs, is Standley Chasm. Surrounded by the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, Angkerle Atwatye (meaning ‘the Gap of Water’) was breath taking. Geologically impressive it also serves as an important cultural site for Arrente women whose people lived in this area for tens of thousands of years. Today the well-maintained 1.2-kilometre trail into the chasm hosts seats and interpretive signage.
The chasm sits in a private reserve owned by the Iwupataka Land Trust, and we were treated to an authentic and humbling guided walk with Kevin, our local Indigenous guide. He taught us about the flora and fauna and pointed out bush tucker as we walked along the creek. He also showed us how, if you press your ear up against the magnificent River Red gums, you can hear water rushing through their trunks. To finish off, he broadened my understanding of indigenous history for the aboriginal people of Australia over scones, coffee, and tea. How lucky we were to have such a personal experience in already stunning surrounds!
I’d heard of this waterhole before…but only from reading the itinerary. I knew it must be close but didn’t expect to find it in the middle of this desert landscape right at the base of Uluru! A short walk from the car park, the area surrounding the waterhole is a seemingly hidden oasis of greenery, the sandstone monolith of Uluru itself providing a protective backdrop. Maybe it was the time of day or fewer tourists due to COVID but there was something quiet and moving about this place.
One of few permanent waterholes in the area, Mutitjulu waterhole had a sense of peace to it. Here we learnt the dramatic creation stories of Uluru and the battle of Kuniya and Liru with a surprise cave showing rock art. This provided another opportunity to appreciate the stories of the first nations people who roamed this country long before us.
If you’re after an adventure in the NT, you can find more information, dates and prices for Cosmos’ Top End & Central Australia tour here.