1. So you think you can dance?

5-day road trip to Laura: The heart of Aboriginal culture

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If you’re the type of traveller who loves to mingle with the locals, learn about the culture and immerse yourself in the rich history of a destination, here’s the perfect road trip for you.

Leaving from Cairns, you’ll trek your way north-west to uncover Tropical North Queensland’s lesser-known township of Laura which hosts the biggest biennial Aboriginal festival in Queensland.

Along the way, you’ll discover the natural and scenic beauty of the north and be rewarded with local and cultural history.

Psst! Scroll to the bottom of this blog to find the interactive map which plots out the full journey.

DAY 1: CAIRNS TO COOKTOWN

Tjapukai Cultural Centre

Embarking from Cairns, you’ll start your journey with an interactive tour at the Tjapukai Cultural Centre. Learn about the Aboriginal dreamtime creation story through an intensive performance, meet local Indigenous dancers and discover the different kinds of traditional bush tucker.

Wangetti Beach

Wangetti Beach by @kristaeppelstun

Continue your journey north along the Great Inland Way and as you reach the edge of Palm Cove, you’ll discover a popular tourist beach called Wangetti. Here you’ll find rock formations of all heights on display. It’s the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and take some happy snaps.

Psst! If you’re blown away by the beauty of Palm Cove and wish to stay the night (or two), here’s how you can do it in style.

Mossman Gorge | The best day trips from Cairns

Take a short drive to the Mossman Gorge Centre which is tucked away on the fringe of the Daintree Rainforest. If you arrive in time for afternoon tea, enjoy a light snack at the Mayi Café and then walk off the calories when you explore the pristine rainforest with a local Aboriginal guide. Be sure to dip your feet in the Mossman River because the freshness of the water is unforgettable.

Get back on the Great Inland Way for another 2.5 hours until you stumble upon Lakeland where you can top up on refreshments and fuel before you reach Cooktown.

When you arrive in Cooktown, check in for the night at the Cooktown Holiday Park, the River of Gold Motel or the Cooktown Orchid Travellers Park.

DAY 2: COOKTOWN TO LAURA

Dine at the popular Capers Café for brekkie and enjoy waterfront views before you visit the James Cook Museum. Not only is it a historical site, it was once a convent school until the 1930s and it was later occupied by the US military during World War II. This landmark has survived over the years and is now a temple for artefacts collected in the region.

Your 3.5 hour drive to Laura will follow the Cooktown Discovery Route which actually forms part of the Great Tropical Drive.

Psst! Before you hit the road, stock up on food and water for your camp stay in Laura.

Isabella Falls Laura TNQ

Isabella Falls by @wildmanphoto

With changing landscapes and picturesque scenery along the way, there’s so much to see. You can stop for lunch and a swim at Isabella Falls and then take your time exploring the iconic Old Laura Homestead.

Arrive in Laura and make your way to the Ang-Gnarra Festival Camp Ground. It’s the heart of Tropical North Queensland’s Aboriginal Culture and the official campsite for the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. In fact, the best time to visit Laura is during the festival because the whole town comes to life when Aboriginal communities travel from far and wide to participate.

You’ll feel the cultural energy as you soon enter the camp ground. As eager crowds set up camp, traditional performers are practicing alongside their elders who are passing on their song and dance knowledge. It’s the ultimate behind the scenes preview of what’s to come over the next three days.

So pick your camp spot and unpack in time to relax and enjoy the open night sky. With campfires alight and stretched across the grounds, you’ll feel transported back to the classic times in Aboriginal history when they would camp under the stars.

Psst! If you’re not a fan of camping, you can stay in town at the Laura Motel or the Laura Roadhouse.

DAYS 3 – 5: THE LAURA ABORIGINAL DANCE FESTIVAL

This year the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival and includes up to 1,000 performers from 20 different Aboriginal communities. The previous festival attracted over 5,000 people so you can imagine the extraordinary atmosphere it creates amongst punters.

The event is a cultural force that draws you in with positive energy, love and openness. By day you’ll hear dreamtime stories, watch artists weave and create cultural masterpieces and, you’ll witness Australia’s most authentic Indigenous dance competition. By night you’ll be entertained with more traditional dancing and live contemporary music by Indigenous artists.

The festival is all about the preservation and celebration of Aboriginal culture and you’ll see this from the opening ceremony through to the closing ceremony.

Aboriginal Quinkan Rock Art in Laura

Psst! A must-do while you’re in Laura is the Quinkan Ancient Rock Art Trail. It’s one of the top 10 rock art sites in the world and when you see it, you’ll know why.

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

  • The Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is a dry event. Please do not bring alcohol onto the campground. If you like, you can grab a beer at the Local Pub instead.
  • Although there are some food stalls at the festival, it’s always best to prepare/bring your own food as well.
  • Remember to bring your own drinking water. The festival only uses bore water.
  • There are shower and toilet facilities on the camp ground.
  • There’s NO EFTPOS in Laura, so remember to bring cash.
  • If you need access to the Internet, there is Hi-Speed ADSL available at the Quinkan Hotel.
  • There is limited mobile phone reception in Laura. Use this as your excuse to get off the grid.

WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE:

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival Welcome Ceremony

The opening ceremony of the festival is a powerful ‘Welcome to Country’.

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival - Dancing

Performers of all ages express their culture through dance. The festival is hosted on sacred bora ground (ceremony site) where families meet kin – new and old – and pass on their ancectors’ rich history.

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival - Torres Strait Performer

Communities travel from far and wide to proudly showcase their heritage. In the past, performers have travelled from remote areas such as Aurukun, Bamaga, Coen and the Torres Strait.

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival - Body Paint

The body paint of clay and ochre communicate traditions, stories and cultural laws, just like the performances themselves.

How to do this road trip:

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO THE CULTURAL HEART OF TROPICAL NORTH QUEENSLAND?