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Escape: A rare chance to spend time with Aborigines

Dream catch: You will fish for barramundi as part of the trip PICTURE: SHAANA MCNAUGHT

CROWNING Australia’s sparsely populated Northern Territory sits East Arnhem Land, a wild region where Aboriginal communities lie scattered among virgin islands, sandbars and mangrove creeks.

Antipodean firm Crooked Compass has launched an adventure cruise around the region on board the small M/Y Iron Lady. There are just two departures, each limited to eight people, as only a handful of visitor permits are available. This partly explains the trip’s cost.

After you fly from Darwin via Gove Peninsula, the seven-night tour begins with a traditional smoke-ceremony welcome from the local Yolngu people, accompanied by some unleavened bread and home-made jam.

Next up are visits to a remote pearl farm and pearl-carving studio, hikes along pristine beaches and cruises along rust-red cliffs. You’ll get to feed lemon sharks and sail up mangrove-tangled tidal rivers. There’s also a chance to spearfish for Australian mud crabs and to try to hook the fearsome barramundi.

‘Barramundi fishing isn’t difficult with the right equipment and crew,’ says Crooked Compass’s Lisa Pagotto. ‘Travellers are usually blown away both by how many “barra” are caught and their sheer size. Most are released, with only a few kept for meals.’

You’ll then spend two days with the Yolngu people in their homelands, learning about their ancient ways of life. Visitors can participate in gentle activities such as weaving with pandanus trees or shell-beading and if you’re after more adventure there’s hunting in mangroves. Information about Yolngu avoidance relationships, such as between a son and mother-in-law, sign language and more is provided, plus reflections on their troubled history. You’ll also hear about ‘songlines’ — musical maps of walking routes across the landscape, which are said to originate from a period of deep history known as the Dreamtime.

‘While the sunsets, fishing and general East Arnhem landscape are all mind-blowing, the privilege of learning about the Yolngu culture is easily my highlight,’ says Pagotto.

‘Being immersed in traditions and lifestyles unchanged for more than 40,000 years is something unique to this time-frozen part of Australia.’

The tour finishes the next day at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka, a respected Aboriginal art centre.

Departs Jul 29 and Aug 7. From £6,025pp full board, incl air transfers to/from Darwin and all permits, drinks, guiding, excursions and fishing equipment, crooked-compass.com