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Australia 20 Day Great Barrier Reef Expedition

Australia 20 Day Great Barrier Reef Expedition

Australia 20 Day Great Barrier Reef Expedition

Dates: TBD  |  Tuition: Request A Quote Tuition Details

Group Organizer/s: 

Your contact info here.

SSA Contact: 

Morrison Mast, morrison@SmithsonianSA.com

Deadlines: TBD

Request a Quote

SAMPLE PROGRAM PAGE: This is an example of what your private program webpage and itinerary might look like, should you decide to organize a program with us. Please begin by reviewing the suggested itinerary listed under the Pre-Enrollment tab, and then feel free to read through other sections to get a sense of the in-depth information and support we provide for all programs.

Program Highlights

View Full Itinerary

Smithsonian Student Adventures was created through a collaboration of the Smithsonian Institution and Walking Tree Travel. Although this video is branded as Walking Tree Travel, it encapsulates the mission and spirit that is present in all SSA programming.

Important Program Details

Click on the sections above to learn more

Sample Itinerary

1PlaneToday we’ll depart the US and fly across the Pacific to the city of Sydney, Australia.International Flight
2PlaneThis day is lost in transit as you cross the International Date Line. Don’t worry; you’ll get it back on the way back!International Flight
3SydneyWe’ll land and meet our driver, who will take us into the city for our first day in Australia! We'll have an introduction to Australian history and culture and a guided walk in the city, including a visit to the Sydney Opera House and the famous Harbour Bridge. We will have a welcome dinner and get rested up after our long flight over.Sydney YHA
4SydneyWake up early, we are having breakfast with Koalas! Today we will introduce you to Australia’s unique fauna at Wildlife Sydney. You'll see kangaroos, wallabies, quokkas, koalas, crocodiles, Tasmanian devils, cassowaries and many other unique Australian mammals, birds and reptiles. Breakfast will be at the zoo amongst the koalas. We will have an opportunity to explore Darling Harbour and have lunch before going out on a boat to see migrating humpback whales. In the late afternoon we will participate in the Sydney Harbour Bridge Wall to get a panorama of the city and its surroundings Sydney YHA
5SydneyToday we will take a walking tour of downtown Sydney, visiting the Hyde Park Barracks to learn about how Sydney began as a penal colony with convicts from Britain. We then visit the Australian Museum and the War Memorial. After lunch, students will have the opportunity to shop for souvenirs before walking to a nearby ferry to sail for Taronga Zoo, arriving at 6pm. We will be spending a special night in one of Australia’s best zoos. After settling in and having dinner we will enjoy a night encounter with animals from Australia and the world. Learn about the conservation efforts of the zoo. Roar and Snore at Taronga Zoo
6Sydney/Brisbane/North Stradbroke IslandIn the morning after breakfast, we will take a behind the scenes tour of the zoo followed by close encounters with a variety of Australian animals. We will explore the zoo on our own until lunch. After lunch we board a coach and head to Sydney airport for a flight to Brisbane. We’ll land and meet our driver, who will take us for a 2 hour coach ride and ferry over to Moreton Bay Research Station (MBRS) on North Stradbroke Island (NSI). We'll settle in to our research station and rest up to begin our volunteer work the following day.Moreton Bay Research Station
7North Stradbroke IslandTokay we'll hike alongside members of the Island's Aboriginal community and learn about their traditional way of life. We'll then walk out into the mudflat next to the station at low tide to explore the great diversity of marine fauna that exists there, such as crabs, octopuses, snails, sea cucumbers, sea stars, fish, slugs, worms and many more critters. After lunch, we will travel to the township of Amity Point to begin our volunteer work with Koala watch, during which we will be responsible for kola surveys in the area that support the conservation of this important, genetically isolated population. We will also have the chance to visit coastal sites where there are good opportunities to see the endemic dolphin species: the Australian humpback dolphin.
Moreton Bay Research Station
8North Stradbroke IslandWake up ready for a full day in a diverse array of habitats! Today we will take a closer look at the mudflat at low tide to observe the seagrass meadows. After lunch we will continue our volunteer Koala watch work.Moreton Bay Research Station
9North Stradbroke IslandContinue seagrass and koala watch. During Koala watch, we will visit two of the islands freshwater lakes, Brown Lake (perched lake filled with rainwater) and Blue Lake (window lake filled by the water table). There will be an opportunity for swimming in the lakes. Moreton Bay Research Station
10North Stradbroke Island to Surfers ParadiseToday we will head for Point Lookout township. There will embark on the Gorge Walk, where spectacular rocky cliffs meet the Pacific Ocean. There will be opportunities to see surfing bottlenose dolphins, migrating humpback whales and sea turtles in the ocean, and wild grey kangaroos on land. We then walk along the beach to Cylinder beach, where we can spend time swimming in a safe surf beach, patrolled by lifeguards. In the late afternoon, we will embark on the coach and ferry back to the mainland and to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.Surfers Paradise YHA
11Surfers ParadiseToday we will explore Surfers Paradise, shop for souvenirs, enjoy the beach, and learn how to surf!Surfers Paradise YHA
12Gold Coast hinterlandToday we'll wake up early to travel to a river inland of the Gold Coast for our volunteering activity. We will be involved in Platypus surveys and as volunteers our eyes will be needed to spot and count these amazing animals. After platypus spotting and breakfast, we will visit the Lamington National Park, which are highlands that overlook the Gold Coast. The park has extensive rainforests with many unique plant species that are relics from a bygone geological era. We will go on a walk to experience the rainforest, see waterfalls and grand views of the area to the coast. There will be opportunities to see many forest bird species and wallabies. At one location, wild parrots may be fed with officially sanctioned birdseed.Surfers Paradise YHA
13Gold Coast Hinterland - Hervey BayYet another early morning today for the best of reasons -- more platypus spotting! After breakfast we will return to the YHA and pack up to leave. We'll spend the day driving through the stunning Australian countryside to Hervey Bay. Hervey Bay YHA
14Hervey BayAfter breakfast we will walk to the marina where a yacht will take us into Hervey Bay for some very exciting whale-watching. Humpbacks are often as curious of us as we are of them, and often make close approaches to the boats. If conditions are right, students may be able to enter the water to observe the whales from below the surface.Hervey Bay YHA
15Lady Elliot IslandToday we will depart for Lady Elliot Island, a coral cay in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. We will board aircraft at the Fraser Coast airport for a 30 minute flight to the island. On approach, you will have spectacular views of the island and the surrounding reef. We will equip ourselves with mask and snorkel to explore much of the shallow reefs, walk around reef flats during low tide. On land we can marvel at the diversity of bird species, explore the terrestrial forest , learn about the historical lighthouse on the island and about the environmental degradation by guano harvesting that the island underwent and the on-going rehabilitation. Night-time star gazing -- there is no better place!Lady Elliot Eco Resort
16Lady Elliot IslandToday we'll learn about and appreciate the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef first hand by snorkeling amongst the beautiful reefs and fishes. We may even have close encounters with multiple species of sea turtles! At low tide, your volunteer activity will be to survey the reef for ReefSearch. This activity can be carried out on snorkel or at low tide and involves the survey of coral species, their density and their health. This is vitally important information given the fact that the reef is under threat from the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. We'll cap the day with a night time reef walk to see what crawls and swims at night!
Lady Elliot Eco Resort
17Lady Elliot IslandMore snorkeling activity and ReefSearch work. Students will also be involved in weeding and planting of native species for the ongoing revegetation of the island. In the past, guano mining activity completely denuded the island of all vegetation and fertile soil. Since the 1960s, work has been undertaken to revegetate and replace non-native species with natives. Lady Elliot Eco Resort
18Lady Elliot IslandToday we'll continue snorkeling activity, our ReefSearch and weeding/planting on the island.Lady Elliot Eco Resort
19BrisbaneDepart Lady Elliot Island by aircraft and board coach for drive to Brisbane. We'll have a farewell dinner and closing activities in Brisbane.Brisbane YHA
20Brisbane and HomeMorning flight back to the USA, where we'll get our lost day back, catch up on sleep, and process our countless stories from an amazing program!Your own bed, eventually!

Philosophy Of Travel

Our mission is to inspire the next generation to become global leaders by taking an active interest in the world around them. With a dedication to learning, along with an enduring passion for exploring the world, Smithsonian Student Adventures designs transformative and meaningful travel programs that uncover the authentic culture of each destination and inspire students to take action in their local and global community.

Smithsonian Student Adventures stands for a more open, curious, and compassionate approach to travel. We partner with select schools around the world to provide memorable small-group experiences, and invest in cultivating and maintaining longterm relationships with our partner communities. If you are interested in our organization and philosophy of travel, click here to learn more about us.


In order to provide a safe and memorable experience for our participants, teachers, and staff ; Program Leaders and Country Directors follow strict guidelines when deciding on lodging, working with partner vendors,  making reservations, and assigning program participants to rooms.

Student participants will always be grouped in rooms and/or sleeping areas by gender, and will never share rooms with people who are not associated with SmithsonianSA. Group Organizers and Program Leaders will be roomed separately from each other and from student participants. SSA partners with locally-operated, three star or equivalent hotels that are centrally located, clean, safe and wifi-enabled.

Below are a few examples of our partner hotels. Although these are our preferred providers, they are subject to change based on availability. Your final itinerary will provide complete information on your accommodations in the cities you will be visiting.

Sydney YHA

Roar and Snore at Taronga Zoo

Moreton Bay Research Station

Surfers Paradise YHA

Hervey Bay YHA

Lady Elliot Eco Resort

Cairns YHA

Brisbane YHA

Cape Tribulation Beach Guest House

Catamaran at Sea

On the Wallaby Lodge


Standards of Behavior

SSA provides fun, safe, and meaningful programs for our travelers. In order to achieve this goal, it is important that we create an environment of trust, security and respect. All individuals participating in our programs are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct. Any of the following are grounds for early dismissal or in-country consequences at our discretion.


  1. Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  2. Associating with participants while they are in possession of or are consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
  3. Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.


  1. Getting a piercing or tattoo
  2. Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials
  3. Threatening with or using weapons such as firearms, knives, explosives, etc.
  4. Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle
  5. Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew
  6. Breaking group rules

These standards of behavior are essential for the successful completion of a travel program. Please take the time to review these rules as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before choosing to travel with SSA.

Tuition & Fundraising

When you travel with Smithsonian Student Adventures, your participation benefits the work of Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, national zoo, and nine research centers, helping to shape the future through science, research, and exhibitions. Tuition details are below:

Tuition Includes:
Smithsonian Custom Group Travel Tuition includes icons

Tuition Excludes:
Baggage fees, airline minor fees, personal shopping, passport or visa fees, and activities not listed on the itinerary.

Tuition is an estimate until dates and itinerary are finalized. 

We believe that cost should not prevent enthusiastic students from having the opportunity to join an SSA program. We are pleased to offer opportunities for fundraising and payment plans to help make this goal a reality. Please visit our Tuition and Funding page to find out more about tuition, fundraising, payment options, referral discounts, and more.

Visit Tuition & Funding

Passport & Visa Check

Passport must be valid for six months after the final day of your travel program, including one open visa page.
No Visa Requirements for US Citizens traveling to Australia/New Zeland.

Non US citizens should check with their country’s embassy abroad to verify vaccination and visa requirements.
US citizens traveling from a country other than the United States should check the State Department website (www.travel.state.gov) for more information regarding additional visa or vaccine requirements.

Please contact us for further information regarding vaccination and visa requirements.

Health and Safety

We strongly recommend visiting the CDC Australia website to get the most updated information on health and vaccination considerations in your destination country. In addition, we encourage you to consult with your personal family physician so you can be as informed as possible when making important decisions about vaccinations and other necessary health-related preparations before travel.

Our in-country staff prepare meticulously for all programs. SSA will register our programs and travelers with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in case of emergency. In country staff also verify the safety records of our partner organizations, vendors, and transportation providers, thoroughly vet homestay families via in depth interviews and home visits, and keep up on important current events in the region.

Program Leaders are seasoned travelers who are CPR and First Aid certified, undergo thorough training in crisis management, and participate in a multi-day leadership training retreat. We do our best to prepare for any eventuality and have detailed emergency protocols for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based staff.

We receive medical disclosures from all participants to ensure we are able to meet every students’ needs during the program. Please inform us immediately of any additional health issues that you did not list during your initial registration process. Program Leaders will also hold an online information session before your departure, as well as an arrival orientation in-country, in order to give participants important instructions on food safety, hygiene and preventing injury and illness. Leaders and in-country staff always respond immediately to any mental, physical or emotional health issues and follow comprehensive emergency protocols.


Travel Insurance

Our experience has taught us that international travel can sometimes be unpredictable. As such, SSA will purchase basic secondary travel and medical insurance for all SSA travelers via Travel Insured International. This service provides the following coverage at no additional cost to our participants:


$500 Return Airfare for Trip Interruption
$750 ($150 per day) Trip Delay of six hours or more
$500 (Three or more hours) Missed Connection
$1500 ($250 per article) Baggage/Personal Effects
$300 Baggage Delay – 24 hours
$25,000 Accident & Sickness Medical Expense
$100,000 Emergency Evacuation and Repatriation
Emergency Assistance Non-insurance Worldwide Emergency Assistance Services Included

Once you have been accepted onto your program, SSA will be in touch regarding this insurance and other additional options (see below).


The following additional optional coverage upgrades are available upon request for an additional premium charge to the traveler. For further information on the premiums associated with these optional coverage enhancements, please email your inquiry to our travel insurance program administrator, Hayashi Insurance Solutions: travelinsurance@jshinsurance.com

– Trip Cancellation Coverage – Reimburses the traveler up to the trip cost insured up to a maximum of $10,000 per person if the trip must be cancelled for unforeseeable life events including but not limited to; medical/health reasons, bereavement, etc.

– Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) – Reimburses the traveler for 75% of the non-refundable trip cost. Cancellation must be made 48 hours or more prior to scheduled departure. Must be purchased at the same time as initial plan purchase and prior to final trip payment. *This benefit is not available to residents of New York State.

The Plan is administered by Hayashi Insurance Solutions (CA DOI 0F61680) a licensed Insurance Agency authorized to transact this insurance under the express authority of Travel Insured International, Inc. and its representatives, and on behalf of Walking Tree Travel, Inc. The Plan contains insurance benefits underwritten by the United States Fire Insurance Company. Fairmont Specialty and Crum & Forster are registered trademarks of United States Fire Insurance Company. The Crum & Forster group of companies is rated A (Excellent) by AM Best Company 2015. The Plan also contains non insurance Travel Assistance Services that are provided by an independent organization, OnCall International, and not by United States Fire Insurance Company or Travel Insured International. Review the Plan Document for complete terms, including benefits, conditions, limitations and exclusions that apply. Coverages may vary and not all coverage is available in all jurisdictions.

Global Leadership Curriculum

Walking Tree Travel has developed a curriculum that helps SSA travelers mature as global leaders before, during, and after their travel program. These simple, engaging tools are meant to spark discussion, frame the experience, and prepare participants to travel ethically and effectively both on our programs and in the future.

For more information about student learning objectives and format of the curriculum, click on the ‘learn more’ button below.

Learn More About the GLC

To view and complete the Pre-Program Activities, visit Walking Tree’s online portal at the button below.

Pre-Program Activity Portal

Language Resources


Want to learn a new language and be better prepared for your travel program? Duolingo is the easiest, most entertaining way to start learning and using a new language right away! The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to communicate with locals in your host country and help your fellow travelers navigate a foreign environment.

Tap the Duolingo owl to get started, or download the app to your mobile phone.

duolingo owl logo

Group Flight Information

Program participants will meet the group organizer at the below airline check-in counter three hours before the departure flight. If you have trouble locating the group, please notify your group organizer or contact SSA.




Air travel is unpredictable. Although we can ensure that our groups arrive to the airport with ample time and follow all airline instructions, there may still be instances when a flight is delayed or cancelled due to weather, mechanical problems, labor strikes, etc. Please note that in such an event SSA is not financially responsible for unexpected costs incurred by travelers. Our programs officially begin and end in our host countries. That being said, our travelers’ well-being and safety is our number one priority, so please know that should flight delays/cancellations occur we will do everything we can to get travelers home in a timely manner and will do our best to keep family members updated on developments.

SSA is not responsible for fees associated with checked baggage. Please also make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the final day in country.

Please confirm with your air travel provider as some airlines may require that travelers under a certain age have completed an unaccompanied minor parental consent form. Please consult the airline website to confirm if this is required on your flight.

Leader Profile

SSA will send a minimum of one experienced Program Leader on every program. In addition to this Program Leader, we also have a support staff in our host countries and 24/7 support from our headquarters in Denver, Colorado that are available to the group for additional help when necessary. Below you’ll find a list of the Smithsonian Student Adventures staff involved in the planning, organizing, and leadership of your program.

Group Roster

Please have all travelers check below to ensure their name is spelled exactly how it appears on your passport. For edits, email lacey@SmithsonianSA.com.


Community & Project Details

Darling Harbor Whale Cruise

We will embark on a whale-watching cruise that begins as a cruise in the harbor and exits into the open ocean where migrating humpback whales can be seen. These animals migrate from Antarctic waters during the southern winter to the coastal waters off Queensland. Many of these wanderers stop to rest, and exhibit spectacular displays (fin and tail slapping, breaching, spy-hoping and others) associated with aggression, play and mating. On board we will learn about the successful conservation of this whale species after decades of hunting drove them to near extinction in Australian waters and beyond. This is an opportunity to climb to the top of Australia’s most famous “Coathanger” for some very remarkable views of the city and its surroundings. You will learn about the history of the how the bridge was built and the impact that it has had to the people of Sydney.

North Stradbroke Island

North Stradbroke Island (NSI) is unique, made from sand dunes deposited by wind and tides over geological times and alternating higher and lower sea levels. The island has forests, spring-fed freshwater lakes, rocky shores, mangroves, tidal mudflats, tidal seagrass beds, sheltered bay beaches and surf beaches. NSI is also the traditional land for the Quandamooka Aboriginal people who have inhabited the region for thousands of years.

Goompi Trail

We will have a session with Matt Burns, a member of the Island’s Aboriginal community, who will take us on the Goompi Trail where traditional customs, tools, foods, culture, fire-lighting and weapons of his people will be shown to you in an indoor and outdoor setting. You will have an opportunity to throw a boomerang and hope that it returns. Later, Matt will show you how to paint a boomerang you can keep, with traditional symbols and motifs.

Koala Watch

North Stradbroke Island has a genetically isolated population of koalas. These cute wild koalas all over Eastern Australia are being threatened by habitat degradation, through urban development, mining and logging. In urbanized locations, they are further threatened by cars and domestic dogs. How much can a koala bear? The local government for NSI, the Redland Shire, conducts koala surveys to establish population numbers throughout its shire, so that they may better manage the conservation of the animal and its habitat. Koala watch uses volunteers to spot and record the number and location of koalas, and our job will be to do so.

Seagrass Watch

Seagrass habitats are very important as nurseries and shelter for many fish and crustaceans. The meadows are also important as food sources for the Dugong, which is an endangered marine mammal found in Indo-Pacific coastal waters. We will be volunteers for an organization known as Seagrass watch. Our role will be to locate seagrass meadows, identify species and to make transect surveys to calculate coverage of the identified species. The information we collect will be passed onto the scientists of collaborating institutions that are researching the management and conservation of seagrass meadows.   Seagrass watch is conducted in coastal waters of over 26 countries in the world. It started in Australia in 1998 and its aim is to provide a scientific database of the world’s seagrass meadows so that the successful management and protection of these very important habitats and ecosystems can be achieved.

Platypus Survey

Although Platypus are not endangered and quite common, they are hard to spot. They are most active at dawn and dusk. Despite their good conservation status, they need clean freshwater rivers and streams, and the future of many of these waterways is under threat due to urbanization and development. We lack knowledge on location population numbers, and that information would help manage and conserve the species in areas such as the Gold Coast hinterland.

Whale Watching at Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay boasts some of the best encounters with Humpback whales during July to October. These animals migrate from Antarctic waters during the southern winter to the coastal waters off Queensland. In Hervey Bay, many of these wanderers stop to rest, and exhibit spectacular displays (fin and tail slapping, breaching, spy-hoping and others) associated with aggression, play and mating. On board we will learn about the successful conservation of this whale species after decades of hunting drove them to near extinction in Australian waters and beyond. Humpbacks are often as curious of us as we are of them, and often make close approaches to the boats. If conditions are right, students may be able to enter the water to observe the whales from below the surface.

ReefSearch at Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay, meaning that its origins were from the washed up skeletons of millions of corals over thousands of years. The development of soil and vegetation on the island is testament to the incredible story of how plants and animals got to establish on the island. The surrounding reef is home to many diverse fish, turtle and invertebrate species including corals and sponges that form the framework of the reefs.

The island also has a large population of manta rays and if you may be able to swim with these majestic animals. At low tide, your volunteer activity will be to survey the reef for ReefSearch. This activity can be carried out on snorkel or at low tide and involves the survey of coral species, their density and their health. The data collected is used by coral reef researchers for their ongoing monitoring of the health of the Great Barrier Reef. This is vitally important information given the fact that the reef is under threat from the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.


Communication & Blog

The easiest way for students to keep in touch with family and friends at home while traveling will be using Wifi (available at most hotels and some restaurants) via Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, and Wechat for free.

SSA tries to keep families and friends updated as frequently as possible with text and photo blogs. If parents would like updates regarding the group beyond these blog posts and email updates, they should direct all general inquiries to info@SmithsonianSA.com. We are always checking this email inbox and will respond promptly to inquiries. You can also reach us by dialing 303-242-8541 from the U.S.

Here is the link to your blog: -Coming Soon-

Packing List

What follows is a sample packing list, which will be updated for each program. We recommend you bring a larger piece of luggage like a roller, duffel bag, or backpack, as well as a smaller backpack that you can bring on hikes, weekend excursions and shorter activities.

Most importantly, be sure to remember your PASSPORT and STUDENT ID.

Australia Packing List


6 pairs of underwear
6 pairs of socks (a mixture of good hiking socks and casual socks)
4 t-shirts (some quick dry)
2 long sleeve shirts
1 sweater
1 warmer jacket
1 rain jacket
2-3 pairs of travel/athletic shorts that are breathable and light
2 pairs of comfortable/hiking/everyday pants (NOT all jeans)
1 nice shirt/top to be worn to more formal dinners (girls might want a skirt or something a little nicer for such occasions)
1 pair of durable athletic/hiking shoes
1 pair of sandals (optional)
1 pair of work gloves
1 hat


Sunscreen (you will use a lot)
Mosquito repellent
Band Aids and Neosporin
Hand Sanitizer
Medication in properly marked original container


Journal and pen
Camera (digital, disposable, waterproof)
Power Converter
Alarm Clock and watch
Debit card/US Dollars (we recommend about $50-$150, depending on amount of desired souvenirs, extra items etc.)
Durable water bottle
1 quick-dry towel
Deck of cards or other portable games

Tuition Details

Smith CT Icons Square Price excludes:

 Baggage fees, airline minor fees, personal shopping, passport or visa fees, and activities not listed on the itinerary.

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