ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIA Fascinating but now threatened, Aboriginalpeople trod lightly on the land for 40,000 years,nomadic communities speaking a rainbow ofdifferent languages, few of which have everbeen recorded or researched. Their liveschanged forever 200 years ago with the arrivalof European settlers. In Tasmania they werevirtually wiped out, while in the major citiestoday - despite many possibly well-meaningattempts at integration - Aboriginalcommunities remain largely marginalised. Onlyin the past few years has recognition of their artand culture begun to surface in Australia.BELIEFSAboriginal beliefs are tied to the land, with theconcept of 'Dreaming' linked to when AncestralBeings created the world, infusing every hillockand dip, every animal and plant with a spiritualsignificance. The spirits that created the landinfuse the present, and the stories from the pastdictate the rules and social practices that carrythrough to the present day. The Aboriginal wayof life was ill-equipped to survive the strongmaterialist values of the convicts and economicmigrants who flooded into the country, and youhave to search to discover Australia's trueAboriginal heritage. Pockets of Aboriginalculture do remain in the cities, but most stronglyin the Outback, in lands too remote to bereached by the tarmac tentacles of modernAustralia, and we take every opportunity tocarefully and sensitively introduce our travellersto this ancient culture.12EXPERIENCE ABORIGINALCULTUREA third of the people of the Northern Territoryare Aboriginal and we have chosen to workprimarily with guides and Aboriginal groupswho take small numbers of visitors into areasthat would otherwise be inaccessible, wherelearning of their values and creation stories willadd another layer to this already remarkableterritory. The most astounding rock art sites inArnhem Land are protected by the regionalAboriginal Elders and our local partner, Sab LordSafaris (page 39), is granted exclusive access tomany of them. At the Red Centre, you can visitthe Gunya Titjikala Community (page 43), whoallow small groups of visitors to stay and enjoytraditional food, dancing and storytelling, givingan authentic experience. Aboriginal culture canalso be experienced in other parts of Australiaand again, where possible, we use Aboriginalguides such as Arthur at Angorichina Station(page 63) or Willie at Mungumby Lodge (page29) who will introduce you to sacred sites, rockart and give you an insight in to this ancientculture. At Cape Leveque in Western Australiayou can stay at Aboriginal-owned Kooljamancamp (page 53) and we can even offer thechance to travel back in time to the untouchedislands of the Torres Straits (page 29), wherefew visitors are permitted and the lifestyle of theislanders survives relatively unchanged.Throughout our operations in Australia, we takecare to include the continent's originalinhabitants and use operators who supportorganisations such as the Mutitjulu Foundation,which works to relieve poverty and enhancehealthcare amongst Aboriginal communities. Inthe national parks we are aware of theDreamtime beliefs that permeate every featureof the landscape, and sensitively search out therare sites of Aboriginal art that remain.Garma festival, Arnhem LandAboriginal rock art
KakaduNATURAL AUSTRALIAAustralia's landscapes include a huge variety ofhabitats, including tropical rainforests, deserts,rivers, mountain ranges and marine systems.Having followed their own evolutionary pathsduring 50 million years of isolation, anoverwhelming variety of strange, unique plantand animal life throngs the continent, especiallyin the country's 500 national parks and 16UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while spectaculargeological formations shape the terrain.WETLANDSArnhem Land, Kakadu and Litchfield NationalParks in the Northern Territory's 'Top End' (page38) are wetland landscapes filled with redescarpment cliffs, waterfalls, crocodile-filledbillabongs and flood plains. They encompassdramatic scenery and wildlife as well as greatgalleries of Aboriginal rock art. The area is bestvisited between April and November to avoidthe rains and humidity.RAINFORESTSAustralia's rainforests are amongst the oldest inthe world and Northern Queensland is one ofthe last great untouched wilderness areas,covering an area the size of Britain. The DaintreeRainforest (page 28) is home to half ofAustralia's extravagant birdlife and around 30percent of its marsupial species. This marvelloustree canopy can be experienced by cable car orthrough a range of day or night walks. The areais best visited from May to November, avoidingthe rain and humidity. Visitors who wish toexperience rainforest outside of these monthscan visit Lamington National Park (page 23),famous for its wonderful birdlife, or Fraser Island(page 23) with its abundant wildlife.EXPERIENCE AUSTRALIA13THE OUTBACK & DESERTThough they teem with a multitude of snakesand reptiles such as the thorny devil, theOutback's ancient landscapes may not see rainfor years on end, creating red rock monoliths,ochre plains and endless horizons. Uluru, KataTjuta and Kings Canyon lie in the Red Centre,while to the north is the red sandstone ofKatherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park, theNullarbor Plain extends to the west and to thesouth is the opal capital of Coober Pedy, all ofwhich you may visit by The Ghan or IndianPacific trains (page 56). Western Australia'sOutback is home to 8,000 species of wildflowerblooming from July to November, and the coolermonths from March to November are the besttime to visit Purnululu National Park (BungleBungle) and the Aboriginal rock art of the northwest's Kimberley region (page 55). TEMPERATE WILDERNESSVast swathes of wild temperate forests areperhaps not one of the first images that cometo mind in Australia, but it is certainly one ofthe most stunning and rewarding for the visitor.Endless miles of eucalypt trees are found inTasmania (page 74) and the Blue Mountains(page 16) of New South Wales, both WorldHeritage Sites. Kangaroo Island's (page 60)woodland is less dense, but here too you willfind a plethora of wildlife, from wallabies andkangaroos to echidnas and platypus tocockatoos - the variety is overwhelming. With arather north European climate, Tasmania is bestvisited in the warmer months from October toApril. The Blue Mountains of New South Wales,however, can be comfortably visited at any timeof year and the winter months are likely to givebetter visibility for extensive views.REEFS & OCEANSThe kaleidoscopic colours of the fish and coralsthat inhabit the world's largest offshore reef, theGreat Barrier Reef (page 30) to the east, and theworld's largest fringing reef, Ningaloo Reef(page 51) to the west are a must-see. Off mostAustralian shores you can meet dolphins face toface at Shark Bay (page 50) and some of thebest locations for whale watching include NewSouth Wales, Victoria's Shipwreck Coast (page70) and Western Australia's Albany (page 48)between May and November. The country'ssouthern coast looks from rugged cliffs andsweeping beaches over the crystal-clear watersof the Southern Ocean, playground to sealions(page 65) and more. Diving is superbthroughout Australia (page 34 & 35), withoperators maintaining the highest standards ofprofessionalism and safety.