The Aboriginal and Maori Tour of Australia and New Zealand

A 16 day trip to Australia & New Zealand 
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Aboriginal and Maori culture reach far beyond the exported cliches. On this unique tour, you travel with guides from different Aboriginal regions, exploring the heartbeat of ancient tradition. Then fly to New Zealand for a week of showcasing how Maori heritage continues to shape the future of the islands. Authentic and intimate, this tour takes you beyond typical narratives, taking you on a journey into the cultures and mysteries behind iconic names.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Sydney, The Rocks, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Darwin, Kakadu National Park, Nourlangie, Cooinda, Wangi Falls, Cairns, Daintree Rainforest, Auckland, Rotorua, Bay of Islands, Taiamai, Waitangi

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Sydney – Welcome to Australia

A relaxed day in the sun, a chance to reenergize after the flight and adjust your body clock to the time difference. Australia is a big island cast adrift in the South Pacific, far from anywhere. You'll be picked up at the airport and transferred to a boutique hotel in The Rocks, a waterfront residence within walking distance of famous sights like the Syndey Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The day is free for you to relax, soak up the welcoming atmosphere around the harbor, and take in your first impressions of the country.

What's Included: accommodation, airport transfer

Day 2: Sydney – The Rocks Dream of Aboriginal Heritage

Sydney Harbour and The Rocks provide a unique narrative that's been morphed and warped over the centuries. This was where the Europeans first landed to create a settlement, and there's a redolent tale of how they clashed and negotiated with indigenous people over the centuries. A Kuring-gai local is your guide for the day, teaching the indigenous names for Sydney's natural landmarks as you explore the stories of centuries past. Visit rock carvings along the coast then wander through the Botanical Gardens for an easy insight into some of the bush tucker found across the country.

But wait. Kuring-gai? Aren't you supposed to have an Aboriginal guide? Australia was once a land of around 250 countries, each home to an indigenous tribe with their own distinct language. Amalgamating them as Aborigines was a settler simplicity. Each tribe is unique to their land, intimately understanding how to coexist with nature and benefit from its harvest. Throughout your time in Australia, you'll explore with guides from different countries, discovering the complexities of life before the settlers arrived. Today provides an easy introduction and the Botanical Gardens enable you to tour Australia's many regions in a short walk. The evening is at your leisure.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 3: Uluru – Mystery and Stars at Kata Tjuta

Before visiting Australia, many people laugh at the absurdity of flying three hours into the desert for a rock. But it's not just one rock. While burning red, Uluru dominates the landscape when you come into land, there are another 36 resplendent sandstone peaks just 40 miles away. Kata Tjuta is bathed in mystery, each rock cryptically changing color as the sun slowly sets. This collection of rocks is higher and more aesthetically impressive than the nearby monolith. It's also a very sacred place for indigenous people, one that continues to be used for ceremonies and remains mostly off bounds to visitors. A local guide unveils some of the stories of what goes on within the scorched red valleys. Not all the stories of course; certain parts of their ancient culture remain deeply hidden, fiercely protected as a mark of respect.

You fly direct from Sydney to Uluru and spend the afternoon on a tour of Kata Tjuta. One of the valleys between the peaks is open to tourists, and the walk takes you past towering cliff faces and kaleidoscopic tones of desert red. It's never just one hue here, the landscape blurring from copper to rustic red, burning orange to glowing cherry. You're in the heart of the wilderness, 400 miles from the next town and over 1000 miles to the nearest city. The only light pollution is from the small cluster of hotels that provide your accommodation and the night sky illuminates like a dream. On a two-hour tour with an astronomer, you admire the patchwork of stars, picking out the individual twinkles amidst the lucid blur of the Milky Way.

What's Included: accommodation, airport transfer, domestic flight, guided tour, breakfast

Day 4: Uluru to Darwin – The Sacred Red Rock of Uluru

Now Uluru, the world's biggest rock standing proudly in the heart of nowhere. Mystery seems etched into its walls, the colors glowing and blurring as the sun rises beside what the settlers named Ayer's Rock. While some tourists continue to climb to the rock's summit, there's a wonderfully provocative sign at its base: “is this a place to conquer – or a place to connect with?” There's a real poignancy to the Aboriginal perspective as you walk beside the base of the rock, admiring the stories that are carved into the rock and discovering the heritage that lies behind Uluru's inspiring aesthetic. It only takes one glance at the monolith to understand that this is a deeply spiritual place. Following the tour, you're transferred straight to the airport for a domestic flight to Darwin. Touch down and the afternoon is free in this northern riverside city, offering some relaxed time before tomorrow's adventure to Kakadu.

What's Included: accommodation, domestic flight, guided tour, airport transfer, breakfast

Days 5 – 6: Kakadu National Park – Exploring the Final Remaining Aboriginal Realm

Kakadu National Park stretches out across the Northern Territory, a vast expanse of wilderness that's crowded with waterfalls, lush swamps, scorched canyons, tangled forest, and the Bininj people. So much is untouched and untamed, frozen by the spell of nature cast millions of years ago. Inaccessibility has been the Bininjs' great saving grace. Nature hasn't been conquered, and the entwined knot of forests and valleys remains the heartland of indigenous practices. Only a four-wheel drive vehicle can penetrate away from the tourist trail, and even then, the itinerary for the next three days is entirely dependent on the month you visit.

To a backdrop of resonant chanting, you spin around a smoldering fire and set off. Roll down steep escarpments as tropical birds look on. Weave through a web of ancient roots as a spiritual call to the ancestors echoes through the landscape. Discover the trees used for shelter building and the leaves that create soap. Stand on the edge of towering canyons and gaze into a maze of exotic colors and the odd crocodile-filled swamp. Kakadu is an exquisite portrayal of Australia's wilderness and perhaps the last true stronghold of any Aboriginal tribe. Your tour is provided by a Bininj-owned company with a local guide who's an expert at uncovering this remarkable landscape. You'll be going off road, intimately experiencing the culture of these nomadic people and the bounty that can be discovered in Kakadu. You'll be miles from anywhere, but discreet accommodation has been set up in the national park, offering luxury after a day bumping around an evocative wilderness.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour, breakfast

Day 7: Kakadu to Darwin to Cairns – First Impressions of the Coast

Through a labyrinth of mangroves, across a cliff that burns red with the morning sun, now down a dramatic slope to the base of a hidden waterfall. Keep traveling, stopping for an hour with some Bininj people then winding a path towards the outskirts of Kakadu. Much of this national park is off bounds to regular tourism, and your four-wheel drive tour offers exclusive access to some of the rarely seen places. Today you drive back to Darwin for an evening flight to Cairns, the tropical town on Australia's northeastern coast. It's a late arrival, and you'll be picked up and transferred to a central hotel with views over the ocean.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour, domestic flight, transfer, breakfast

Day 8: Cairns – Learning How to Paint With a Local Artist

Artwork narrates the knowledge of Aboriginal land and heritage, unique paintings telling a remarkable story with dots and lines. There's a wonderful simplicity to the techniques; using a bamboo stick, you leave drops on the canvas, selecting from the only three colors that are available. Each paint is taken from the earth and mixed with water. Yet there's an unfathomable complexity to it all, the canvases stretching across entire walls and the dots leaving a riddle of indigenous stories. You spend today with a deaf local artist just north of Cairns. He introduces you to the techniques and encourages you to paint something from your own imagination. Throughout history, this style of painting was the written record passed down from the ancestors. Return to Cairns at mid afternoon and the rest of the day is at your leisure.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast

Day 9: Cairns – Busk Tucker and Fishing in The Daintree

Another day in Australia and another tribe of locals. Today you're with the Kuku Yalanji mob, rainforest dwellers and fishing experts that inhabit the ancient landscape of Daintree. For thousands of years, different tribes would trade between themselves, each bringing the unique bounty of their own land. The Kuku Yalanji enjoy an exotic mix of resources. Start by heading deep into the trees of Mossman Gorge and discovering that there's a use for everything; roots to weave ingenious baskets, specific leaves for the optimum shelter, rocks for men's business, nuts with poison for hunting arrows. Follow the guide's instruction, and you squeeze the legs of a tiny green bug, before chomping down on the body and feeling the powerful rush of antiseptic that numbs the tongue.

You'll spend two hours in the rainforest before watching how the trees drip into the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean. A new guide becomes your lead, taking you along deserted beaches to vast mangrove swamps and coves. With a traditional wooden spear, you're on the hunt for the ocean's food, seeking out mud crabs, strange snails, and slimy crawling shells. At the market, the mud crab sells for around $100 a pound. After the spear fishing, you're likely to be boiling up some $1000 of rare white meat. This is Kuku Yalanji land, so your guide can use traditional methods to hunt the edible bounty. But no other Aboriginal tribe would be allowed to do the same. After the feast, you return to Cairns for another leisurely evening wandering the boardwalk and taking in the town's charms.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 10: Auckland – Welcome to New Zealand

New Zealand awaits across the water, the volcanic North Island your base for the final half of the itinerary. There's a direct flight from Cairns, and you're greeted at the airport upon your arrival. Transfer to the heart of the city and the day is at your leisure, a chance to settle into the gentle rhythm of the country and admire the thousands of sailboats that fill the harbor. You'll immediately notice the change in tempo. Australians might joke that when you touch down in New Zealand, you must put your watch back 20 years. The locals on this side of the water would probably take it as a compliment. They prefer things slower and more relaxed.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, breakfast

Day 11: Auckland – Introductions to Maori Culture

When famous Dutch pirate hunters were the first to lay eyes on New Zealand, they sounded their horn and waited out at sea. To the Maori, that was a war cry. The locals jumped in their wakas (canoes) and paddled out to meet the cannons, protecting their land with ferocious enthusiasm. The Dutch ships backed off, and the land wasn't colonialized until many decades after Australia.  Perhaps it's this history that has helped preserve Maori culture more respectfully than Aboriginal Australia. Today's tour of Auckland is similar to the one you had in Sydney. With a local guide, you're introduced to the tenets of Maori culture and tradition. Explore different parts of the city and discover the local names and customs associated with the land. Learn the stories behind tribal tattoos and the ancestral origins of these great people, all while exploring the intricacies of the city and the modern face of ancient customs.

What's Included: accommodation, guided tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 12: Rotorua – The Haka and a Hangi Dinner

Rotorua spills steam into the sky, its exploding geysers visible for miles around. Pools of mud slurp and bubble while volcanic rocks reveal unusual colors. The town's thermals and waterways have been integral to Maori life for centuries and the evening tour of Te Puia reveals all the evocative markers of local custom. You'll drive to Rotorua from Auckland, a two-hour journey through the heart of Hobbiton and the North Island's strange landscape. Spend the afternoon lounging in the thermal pools before a Maori chief comes out with a flourish of trumpets and chants. It's wonderfully resonant, a traditional greeting for peace that inspiringly showcases the tribe's strength and power.

Pick up the single leaf and you accept the welcome, confirming that you come in peace. Te Puia offers a rare opportunity for a non-Maori visitor to be invited into the traditional Maori meeting place. Once inside, the stories begin, tales told through music and dance. Among them is the haka, a spine-tingling war dance that creates goosebumps when seen from close quarters. Throughout the cultural immersion, your dinner has been cooking underground, a hangi of meat slowly cooked on rocks heated by the underground thermals. It's a feast; thick cuts of lamb, slow-roasted vegetables, then a steaming mug of hot chocolate to accompany a return to the geyser. Every evening it explodes, sending flumes of water through the moonlit sky.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, guided tour, breakfast, lunch

Day 13: Rotorua to Bay of Islands – Exploding Geysers and a Journey Through the Volcanoes

On a relaxed morning, you return to the exploding geysers, this time exploring another set of thermal baths around Rotorua. The whole town is volcanic, and there's a vast network of pools to bathe in. After lunch, it's a four to five-hour drive north, heading across wonderful impressions of New Zealand's rural landscape. A scenic drive through the North Island offers so many panoramas; tumbling green hills that hide serene lakes, stark rock occasionally dappled with snow, pristine turquoise pools lost along the coast, and then the Bay of Islands that wait evocatively in the Pacific. This drive through the north of New Zealand is an integral experience, a chance to explore the natural bounty of a famed island.

What's Included: accommodation, transfer, guided tour, breakfast, lunch

Days 14 – 15: Bay of Islands – Unique Waka Experiences with the Ngapuhi Tribe

Paddle out in a waka taua, a war canoe that glides through the tidal estuaries of the Waitangi River. Some people travel to the Bay of Islands by speedboat, but these traditional canoes are far more atmospheric, built in the same style that first brought the Maori from Polynesia. You journey into a tropical landscape that quickly imbues a sense of the wild, paddling further into the heartland of the Ngapuhi, New Zealand's largest Maori group. The chief emerges to welcome you with a Maori challenge, asking you to connect with the customs of a village that's hidden along the riverside. The unique welcome is followed by two days of immersion in a small traditional community. Share legendary stories, explore traditional knowledge, fish with the locals, and take the time to understand who and what the Ngapuhu really are. This is a very rare experience to spend the night in a Maori community and gain insight into the customs and rituals that remain an integral part of local life. It's an experience that's often hard to leave.

What's Included: accommodation, all meals

Day 16: Bay of Islands to Auckland – Departure

Leave these lost Pacific islands behind this morning as you first fly to Auckland and then connect onto your international flight. You leave with so many stories, so many tales that unwrap the heritage behind the evocative names of Aborigine and Maori.

What's Included: airport transfer, breakfast

Price

Starting Price 

$3,995
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.