Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours

So by this point, a native contraceptive pill isn’t a total surprise. But the sheer extent of the knowledge beneath Victor’s wiry black hair is jaw-dropping.

But that shouldn’t be surprising either. After all, the Mandingalbay (pronounced mun-ding-al-pie) Yidinji have lived in and cared for the land to the east of Cairns for 60,000 years, a claim recognized by native title since 2006. The Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours rangers aren’t just touring guides – they’re intimately involved in caring for the country and remediating wetlands acidified by a disastrous attempt to establish sugarcane agriculture in the 1970s.

Boat cruise with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
Boat cruise with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours

The knowledge and experience show: on the 10-minute boat ride from Cairns Marina, executive director Dale Mundraby alternates between jokes about the Cairns skyline and Yidinji creation stories as the skeletal roots of mangroves slide by. According to lore, Dumari, an ancient ancestor, was attacked by a crocodile as he crossed Trinity Inlet – his body forms the Whitfield Ranges to the west, while the crocodile can be seen in the rainforest-covered hills we’re heading towards.

Back on land, we jump into a bus which whisks us down a dirt road, past cane fields, and into the rainforest, where the khaki-clad Victor is waiting. He welcomes us with a smile and a smoking ceremony: we walk through the aromatic eucalyptus smoke up the hill towards the track. It’s not a long tour, but Victor manages to cram a lot in. Not just his dizzying traditional knowledge, but the fruits of the Mandingalbay Yidinji’s collaboration with scientists from around Australia, who regularly visit to work with the rangers.

“This is when you need an entomologist in the group. They seem to be finding new stuff all the time,” he quips as a huge black and turquoise butterfly hovers nearby.

The Mandingalbay Yidinji have lived and cared for the land east of Cairns for 60,000 years
The Mandingalbay Yidinji have lived and cared for the land east of Cairns for 60,000 years

Victor describes the tour as a “touch, smell, taste experience” and underlines the point by offering me an ant to eat near the end of the walk. I couldn’t say there’s a whole lot of meat to it, but Victor is right: it has a bright, lemony flavor.

The rest of the group declines the six-legged snack, but that’s okay – there’s coconut damper, tea, and Davidson plum jam waiting at the trailhead. There’s nothing wrong with snacking twice, right?


  • Though the walk isn’t long, it’s best to wear closed shoes, pants, sunscreen and bug spray: the creepy-crawlies can come out in the bush.
  • You’ll be sweaty post-walk and boat ride: best to cool off by the pool at the Crystalbrook Flynn in Cairns.
  • The Hands on Country eco tour costs $139 per adult and lasts three hours. Your ticket includes the boat and bus rides from Cairns and back.
The Hands On Country Eco Tour with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
The Hands On Country Eco Tour with Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours

The writer travelled as a guest of Crystalbrook Collection. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of

About the author


Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.


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