Wijingarra Tours guide Naomi welcomes visitors

Indigenous tour operators face tough times without cruise passengers in the Kimberley

Indigenous operator, Wijingarra Tours on the Kimberley coast, is struggling to survive with 70 per cent of its bookings cancelled – thanks to the international cruise ship ban and the pandemic.

“Its been really tough on us. Nothing happened last year with no tours – all our tours did not operate. This year, we have taken a wait-and-see approach. We had a few bumpy starts and stops. Just when we managed to operate a handful of tours, about seven this year, we now had to cancel some because of the recent outbreak,” traditional owner Isobel Peters told Cruise Passenger.

Traditional owner Isobel Peters (left) and Naomi explain rock art

Small luxury cruise line, Ponant, is one of her biggest clients. But since the government banned all international cruise ships sailing in Australian waters, Wijingarra Tours had to cancel over 70 per cent of its bookings.

“We had to second-guess what is going to happen and it is simply exhausting. Financially, it is really a struggle to operate right now. We have been lucky to get some Tourism WA grant funding to help with the start-up this year but if don’t get some tours continuing this year, starting next year will be tough again. We are lucky that we have a good relationship with our cruise clients and we will work together to keep this type of tourism open.

“We managed to get seven tours in so far this year – though the next few weeks all tours have been cancelled.

“A lot of small business throughout the Kimberley are suffering too. Some tours might be alright if they near roads and local WA tourists can get there but for us, most of our customers are from the Eastern States and some overseas visitors when borders are fully open, so its difficult for businesses like us right now,” Ms Peters said.

Wijingarra Tours runs immersion tours at Freshwater Cove on the Kimberley coast servicing cruise ships, like Ponant, which sail to the Kimberley region.

Neil of Wijingarra Tours explains rock art to visitors

“We provide visits inside my traditional country including seeing rock art. Our tours are special in that we are direct descendants of the people who lived here for what current archaeology dates as 50,000 years ago.

“We only work in my family traditional areas of Raft Point, Langgi and Wijingarra Butt Butt. We tell guests stories of our culture, my people and what rock art means to us and how we feel about the country. It is a beautiful country inside the Lalang-Garram marine park, full of wildlife so people often get to see birds, animals, whales, insects and lots of other things when they visit us and spend some time on the country. It is a special place and we are proud of it.

Bart of Wijingarra Tours on a walking tour

“When you come on a Wijingarra Tour, you are getting in touch with the story of the country you see from your ship window. Not the geology, the history of the land and its people – the Worrora tribe.

“We are working with operators to be available but being available is very expensive, so the loss of revenue is hitting our business hard but we are keeping on going. Its not just the money, it is about working. Tourism helps us protect our country and show people the right way to visit and learn from Aboriginal people,”she added.

Wijingarra Tours have some bookings later in the season with Australian ships that are operating in the Kimberley including Coral Expeditions and APT.

For more information see https://www.australiasnorthwest.com/business/tour/wijingarra-tours