For decades, millions of Australians have soared high above the Red Centre on their way to explore Europe, the US or Asia. But what if we were to actually change our flight path for the cultural gems awaiting us in the Northern Territory?
With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, Australians are being encouraged to Holiday Here This Year – and where better to start than at the Top End.
For many of us, the idea of venturing into the desert plains to witness the magnificent awe of Uluru is something that’s on our bucket list, but not our to-do list. Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia CEO Matthew Cameron-Smith is aiming to change our way of thinking.
“We do have an embarrassment of riches that we’ve all ignored and flown over for so long,” he says. “You’ll never feel more welcome anywhere in regional Australia right now as a traveller because they need you so badly.”
Before the pandemic hit, the Northern Territory welcomed 33 flights each week. That number since dropped to zero but is slowly increasing as state borders reopen.
“We’re not as much a drive-to experience as we are a fly-to experience – aviation is critical,” the CEO explains. “I have to top my hat to Jetstar who have been fantastic partners to us.”
With seven properties and a variety of experiences, Voyages offers a unique destination for people to experience Indigenous culture firsthand.
“The Voyages product is all built on experiences,” Matt says. “Our goal and mission are to enrich people’s lives through Indigenous tourism and give them meaningful experiences they’ll remember for a lifetime.”
The smiling faces behind the unique cultural experiences are often graduates of the National Indigenous Training Academy. Early December, 46 students graduated from the program with Certificate III level qualifications in hospitality, tourism, retail and horticulture – bringing the total number to 526 graduates since its inception in 2011.
“Currently, 44 per cent of employment at Ayers Rock Resort is Indigenous Australians, the highest level in two,” the CEO shares.
A silver lining of the pandemic was the time given to Voyages for improving the envy-inducing experiences. Sails in the Desert has completed its US$8.9 million (A$12 million) refurbishment while the grounds have been spruced up to warmly welcome back guests.
“This is the time to see your own backyard.” – Matthew Cameron
Just 18 months ago, the average length of stay was 1.75 nights. Today, it’s increased to 3.1 nights.
Boosted by a number of factors including the Tourism Australia campaign and increased demand, it’s a welcome response for one of the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19.
“This is the time to see your own backyard,” Matthew says. “It’s so encouraging to see Australians falling in love with their country again.
“Holiday Here This Year is just the beginning. It’s a program I think can go for a long time.
As the region continues to open to domestic travellers, Matthew hopes it will encourage people to rethink what it means to truly explore Down Under.
“We’ve got so much to offer, and we’ve just scratched the surface,” he says. “There’s so much more to do – go for a drive.”
Top experiences in the Northern Territory
Sails in the Desert
Described as being the jewel in the crown of the Northern Territory, Sails in the Desert is one of the most luxurious places to lay your head.
From the gumtree-shaded swimming pool and Indigenous-inspired cuisine at Walpa Lobby Bar to the breathtaking Mulgara Gallery, which shares the stories of local art, the experience is truly unlike any other.
Nestled under the soaring white sails are 228 beautiful rooms and suites – superior room, terrace room and deluxe suite – where five-star service comes to life. And all of this is just a five-minute walk to the Uluru lookout.
Under the magical stars experience something truly tantalising at Tali Wiru.
Meaning ‘beautiful dune’ in local Anangu language, the fine dining restaurant offers an exclusive four-course gastronomic affair under the Southern Desert Sky.
With every dish crafted to shine a light on Indigenous ingredients, the four-hour experience is an idyllic celebration of local expertise.
“Our premium dining experience is now delivered 100 per cent by our Indigenous team – from the chefs to the wait staff to the whole piece,” Matthew says. “It’s really about immersing yourself in the culture.”
Available from 1 April 2021
Field of Lights
One of the most iconic attractions of the Top End is the stunning Field of Light, or Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku.
The beautiful exhibition lights up the desert as far as the eye can see with 50,000 spindles of light, which covers more than seven football fields in size.
Whether you want to witness the illumination with your family or enjoy an exclusive dining experience with the award-winning Sounds of Silence, the ways to enjoy the unique offering are endless.