Ecosystems at Risk: Reefs and Rainforests

Geography Studies at The Earth’s Biodiversity Hot Spots

Far North Queensland is blessed with two UNESCO World Heritage areas — The Wet Tropics (of which the Daintree Rainforest is a part) and The Great Barrier Reef–both of which contain some of the planet’s best biodiversity. On this excursion, you learn about traditional land management from Aboriginal guides in the lush Daintree rainforest, and about contemporary land management from a marine biologist at the Great Barrier Reef. You see first hand the impacts of both natural and human activity on these two ecosystems, and you meet people who are striving to protect both flora and fauna in these special areas. This is perhaps the best way to get your students involved in hands-on activities with two case studies: two exceptional tropical biomes.


  • Snorkel the inner and outer Great Barrier Reef with a marine biologist
  • Soar high above the Daintree rainforest in JCU’s canopy crane
  • Contribute to reef health data collection at Fitzroy Island
  • Learn about sustainability and conservation of crocodiles at a croc farm
  • Discuss traditional land uses with Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal guides
  • Visit a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre run by volunteers


All accommodation is included. In Cairns, you stay at a breezy award-winning hostel in the centre of the restaurant and shopping district. Students like the tropical swimming pool, lounging in the hammock and playing billiards at the free pool table, while group leaders love the private ensuite rooms, air conditioning, laundry facilities and free internet/WiFi. In the Daintree Rainforest, students and group leaders stay separately in single-gender dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms –this is the perfect spot to enjoy the life and chatter of the jungle.


All meals are included. You have a combination of catered and restaurant meals. A typical breakfast is a selection of cereals, toast, juice and fruits; lunches are combinations of sandwiches and salads with fruit and a sweet, and dinners are a sample of BBQs, all-you-can-eat pasta and pizza, seafood treats and local favourites. Ask us about vegetarian, kosher and halal options.

Day 1: Arrive and Educational Marine Biologist Presentation

Day 1: Arrive and Educational Marine Biologist Presentation

Arrival: Welcome to the tropics! You arrive in Cairns and are warmly greeted by one of our staff members at the airport. (Please plan to arrive no later than 4 pm)

Accommodation: You stay at a breezy award-winning hostel in the centre of Cairns’ restaurant and shopping district, and only a few blocks from the waterfront. Well shaded by tropical trees and plants, the hostel features an outdoor pool and free internet and WiFi. Student rooms are 6-share with ensuites while teachers stay in private ensuite rooms.

Marine Biologist Reef Presentation: During this unique presentation taught be a marine biologist, you learn more about biodiversity and the significance of the Great Barrier Reef. From colourful corals that take whimsical shapes like broccoli, brains and baskets to a host of fish such as the chocolate-dipped damsel, the Picasso triggerfish and the giant Maori wrasse, you learn how to identify the most common creatures at the reef. You find out about threatened species and coral predators–such as the Crown of Thorns—and the consequences of climate change and human activity on the reef. More importantly, you learn about the real hazards at the reef (like the innocent-looking cone shell) versus the imagined ones (like scary sharks) fueled by Hollywood myths. This is a good introduction to the Barrier Reef biome you are about to experience.

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Included Meals:

Day 2: Fitzroy Island and Marine Science at The Great Barrier Reef

Day 2: Fitzroy Island and Marine Science at The Great Barrier Reef

Ferry Ride: This morning you are ferried to the pristine Fitzroy Island – a green gem in a turquoise sea. A fringing coral reef surrounds the island, part of the inner Great Barrier Reef, providing a sheltered home for a variety of fish and coral species.

Marine Biology: With your marine biologist guide you review some marine biology basics before walking directly into the water for snorkeling the reef. During the day students engage in mini-lectures and practical hands-on assignments in the water. Topics can include but are not limited to: endemic and endangered species, animal behaviour, human and natural impacts on the reef. A copy of 101 Marine Animals of the Great Barrier Reef is yours to keep and will help you identify what you are seeing underwater and help expand your knowledge of the undersea world.

Marine Science – Underwater Transect: As part of your learning you perform an underwater transect, in which you identify fish and coral populations, and check the reef for bleaching and coral predators. This is done using waterproof data collection slates that provide visual cues on what to look for. Your data is then sent to The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) non-profit organisation, Eye on The Reef. This data also contributes to Small World Journeys’ ongoing efforts with reef health monitoring at the island.

Turtle Rehabilitation Centre: During your visit you also visit the island’s Turtle Rehabilitation Centre where a collection of volunteers help save sick and injured sea turtles by looking after them until they are ready to be released back into the ocean.

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Included Meals:
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3: Snorkelling at The Outer Great Barrier Reef

Day 3: Snorkelling at The Outer Great Barrier Reef

Day Trip to the Reef: No trip to Cairns is complete without a visit to the outer Great Barrier Reef—easily one of the world’s top natural wonders. Early this morning you travel to the outer Great Barrier Reef, your captain choosing between fourteen permanent moorings (including Norman and Saxon reefs) that allows snorkelers fantastic access to this underwater universe. Your boat has been awarded an Advanced Ecotourism certification from Ecotourism Australia.

Snorkeling: Upon arrival at the reef, snorkelers will delight in viewing the incredible array of life and colors that exist just below the surface. Within reach are giant clams, angel, butterfly and parrot fish, turtles, sea stars and corals of a thousand hues. Among the 1,800 species of fish and 450 species of coral, you can expect to see Wally the giant wrasse, fan corals, sea cucumbers and just about the entire cast of “Finding Nemo”.

Great Barrier Reef Field Guide: A field guide, 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by our guide Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand the underwater world and is yours to keep.

OPTIONAL SCUBA Diving: Snorkelers can also opt to learn about SCUBA diving one-on-one from the dive instructor—an intro dive (also known as a “resort dive”) is a fantastic way to see the reef without having a certification. (Extra cost and medical restrictions apply, please see end of document).

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 4: Rainforest Walk with Aboriginal Guides and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure

Day 4: Rainforest Walk with Aboriginal Guides and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure

Crocodile Farm: Meet crocodiles in their natural habitat as well as a crocodile farm at Hartley’s. This multi-award winning eco adventure attraction is the best place to see crocodiles in Australia. You learn why saltwater crocodiles were almost hunted to extinction, and their importance in ecosystems today. Lagoon boat rides enable safe, guaranteed viewing of giant saltwater crocodiles in a natural setting. Hartley’s is famous for its crocodile feeding, snake and wildlife presentations. In the Gondwana Gateway you also meet animals of far north Queensland, like monitors, snakes and the giant endangered cassowary.

Aboriginal Guided Rainforest Walk: discover the Daintree Rainforest at Mossman Gorge, an area important to the Kuku Yalanji. Beginning with a traditional smoke ceremony, you wander rainforest paths, discovering with your guide how these Aboriginal people found their way through dense rainforest, made shelter and learned which native plants were tasty to eat. As your guide shares his stories, you learn how the seasons dictated life, what falls under men’s and women’s “business”, how to make fire in the rainforest and how to make fish very easy to catch.

While on the walk, you can go for a swim in the sparkling clear water among the boulders, and perhaps paint your faces with traditional ochre rock paint. Your walk will finish with some billy-tea and a demonstration of the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo.

Accommodation: Daintree Rainforest Accommodation
Included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 5: James Cook University Research Station & Canopy Crane

Day 5: James Cook University Research Station & Canopy Crane

JCU Research Station : Today you have the extraordinary opportunity to visit the canopy crane operated by James Cook University which is not open to the general public. The unique canopy crane in the Daintree rainforest is the only research station of its kind in the country and is an important link in an international network— from Venezuela to Malaysia—that monitors both tropical and temperate forest canopies around the world.

Rainforest Canopy Crane: After a safety orientation and a discussion about the significance of this rainforest by an on-site expert, you climb into a suspended gondola in threes with the crane operator. The crane then ascends over the rainforest canopy, and can swing 360 degrees over the rainforest canopy, surveying the incredible biodiversity that has earned this UNESCO World Heritage status. For students studying ecology and biology, this is also an important area for study: this area of the country has the highest concentration of primitive flowering plant families in the world, Australia’s rarest mammal (the Murina florious bat) and 13 species of birds found nowhere else on earth. Like the visiting researchers, students can prepare hypotheses to test whilst in the crane.(Please note students must be at least 15 years old to participate.)

Service Project and Research Methods: Whilst not in the crane, the group participates in an important service project at the research station. Hundreds of trees have been planted for re-growth on site, and students are taught how to do condition assessments of the trees as biologists and botanists do in the field. Students learn about pioneer species, herbivory, and how to use a clinometer and DBH tapes to measure tree growth. The results of the condition assessments are then contributed to the ongoing research on the success of “pioneer species” used by JCU staff. Returning students can also add to the data collection in subsequent years and compare rates of tree growth and health.

In the late afternoon you return to Cairns for a farewell group dinner.

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6: Free Time, OPTIONAL Urban Challenge and Departure

Day 6: Free Time, OPTIONAL Urban Challenge and Departure

If you have an afternoon flight, you can choose to spend the morning souvenir shopping, swimming at the lagoon or participating in Small World Journeys’ Urban Challenge! (no extra cost)  The Urban Challenge is a fun team-building exercise that allows students to learn more about the history, nature, art and culture of Cairns.  Small group teams compete against time in this treasure hunt-type activity in Cairns central business district.  This is a popular activity for students and the winning team gets a prize!

Later you are transferred to the Cairns airport for your flight home.

Included: Breakfast

Land Cost, 15 + participants: $1095 AUD

Land Cost, 10-14 participants: $1195 AUD

Trip Fees Include:

  • Cairns airport transfers
  • All activities as described in the itinerary
  • Transportation to activities
  • Marine Biologist on day 2
  • Small World Journeys naturalist guide on day 4-5
  • 4 nights central Cairns hostel (4 or 6 share single-gender rooms with ensuites)*
  • 1 night Daintree rainforest lodge (4 or 6 share single-gender cabins with ensuites)*
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • Mask, fins, snorkel hire on Fitzroy Island and reef trip
  • Stinger suit hire during the wet season
  • 101 Animals of the Wet Tropics and 101 Marine Animals of the Great Barrier Reef field guide for each student
  • Waterproof Fish and Coral ID tiles
  • Small World Journeys reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag
  • National Park and Marine Park taxes and levies
  • ClimateCare™ carbon offsetting for a carbon-neutral trip

*Teachers have single gender private rooms with ensuite in Cairns and the Daintree

Trip Fees Exclude:

  • Airfare to Cairns
  • Personal expenses (phone, souvenirs, laundry, etc.)


  • Intro SCUBA dive ($70 AUD per dive)


Small World Journeys reserves the right to change the order of activities for logistical reasons.


IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT SCUBA DIVING: In order to participate in SCUBA diving, you will be required to fill out a medical form which can be forwarded to you in advance. Some of the medical conditions that may disqualify you from diving are, but not limited to, the following: Diabetes, Asthma, Ear/Nose/Throat Conditions, Migraine Headaches, Previous Head Injuries, Epilepsy/Seizures/Convulsions, Pregnancy and/or Poor Physical Conditioning. We can forward you this medical form before the start of your trip.

*Teachers have single gender private rooms with ensuite in Cairns and the Daintree

Question 1: How do we arrange airfare?

Answer: We do not arrange airfare in house, however we do work closely with a couple of travel agents who would be happy to help:In Australia, we recommend Kim Salter, our Melbourne-based travel agent. Contact Kim at or call + 61 0433 324 455 or toll free within Australia 1 300 640 821. In the US, we recommend: Sandra Marron at Millennium Travel California. You can contact Sandra at or call  1-415-898- 7974.

Question 2: What happens when we arrive at the airport?

Answer: You will be met by a Small World Journeys staff member who will give you an orientation and then accompany you to your accommodation.

Question 3: When is the best time to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef?

Answer: Cairns is a tropical place, and outdoor activities can be enjoyed year-round. In our summer (December-February), the weather is at its warmest and wettest. You can expect hot days with occasional tropical storms, producing lush green hillsides and plenty of waterfalls. Average temperatures are 23-31 degrees Celsius/73-87 Fahrenheit.In our winter (June-August), the climate is at its most mild, with warm days, cool nights, and little rainfall. Average temperatures are 18-26 degrees Celsius/64-78 degrees Fahrenheit.Autumn (March - May) brings unpredictable weather - it can be warm and rainy or hot and sunny. Springtime (September - November) is the most predicable, and days tend to be warm to hot with little rainfall.The visbility at the Great Barrier Reef is at its best September - November, but can be enjoyed year-round. Come June - September for seasonal whale watching. 

Question 4: Do we need to worry about jellyfish?

Answer: The box jellyfish are present in the northern coastal waters from November to April/May. The jellyfish are found close to shore—they breed in estuaries and very very rarely can they make it to the outer Great Barrier Reef. Most of the swimming beaches have “stinger nets” up during this season so people can swim. However, the tiny Irukandji jellyfish has been known on occasion to slip through the nets, and this is most often where people have been stung. It is a very painful sting, but there have been only 2 confirmed deaths in Australia due to the irukandji jellyfish. Pouring vinegar on the sting will neutralize the stinging tentacles, so you’ll see swimming beaches have vinegar stations set up during the jellyfish season to help.The good news is that the jelly fish are rarely found at the outer Great Barrier Reef, where you will be snorkeling and/or diving. Most people swim on the reef without using any protection. According to the CRC Reef Research Centre, “In offshore waters around coral reefs, box jellyfish that cause Irukandji syndrome are usually well dispersed and the incidence of stings is very small.” Nonetheless, reef operators have “stinger suits” as well as wetsuits as an extra precaution.

Question 5: What happens if a student cancels?

Answer: If an individual student cancels from a trip within 30 days of the trip departure, no refunds are given. For this reason, we strongly encourage all parents to purchase trip cancellation insurance in order to protect against unforeseen circumstances which are the main cause for student cancellations.For more details, please see our Terms & Conditions.

Question 6: What is your safety record?

Answer: Our safety record is immaculate. Yes, we have had students receive minor cuts and bruises, but no injury requiring a hospital stay. We carry a first aid kit in our vehicles, as well as on the guide's person when in remote areas.Safety is absolutely our number one concern at all times. We do everything in our power to make sure each trip is as safe as it can possibly be.

Question 7: Do you do risk assessments?

Answer: Yes. We evaluate and re-evaluate the safety of each of our destinations and activities, and we always reserve the right to modify or cancel an itinerary if the guide feels that conditions are unsafe. We will gladly provide a risk management assessment specific to your trip on request. Small World Journeys' staff also adhere to a comprehensive Risk Management Strategy.

Question 8: Why should we purchase travel insurance?

Answer: We strongly recommend the purchase of travel insurance for your protection. Should a participant need to cancel their trip for any reason, our cancellation policy applies. However, travel insurance protects any loss they may experience should s/he or an immediate family member become ill or sustain an injury that prevents them from going on the trip.

Question 9: What makes Small World Journeys "eco-friendly"?

Answer: An eco tour, in our opinion, is a trip in which everyone benefits: the community, the environment, you and us. Simply by joining one of our trips, you will be supporting carbon offsetting, Rainforest Rescue's Adopt-A-Square initiative, aboriginal cultural ventures and locally-owned businesses who are working towards a more sustainable future in tourism. As our guest, you are supporting us as well. Thank you! For more information, see 10 Reasons Why We're Eco.

Question 10: How does Small World Journeys incorporate our educational objectives?

Answer: We work directly with the teacher organiser or group leader to understand the goals of the trip. Then we suggest activities and learning opportunities to match these objectives.For example, a group may be interested in learning more about marine biology. In this case we will facilitate some fun classroom time dedicated to marine science in Cairns, then a couple of days at the Great Barrier Reef with our marine biologist guide. We can include such things as waterproof fish and coral ID cards for each student, and mini-lectures after snorkel time. A SCUBA certification course may also be appropriate. Alternatively, we might suggest a few days at an island research station, during which students have classroom and snorkel time, as well as a service project monitoring coral bleaching on the reef.Whether it is marine science, aboriginal culture, rainforest ecology or another topic, we will work with each group to ensure an educational yet fun experience for all.

Educational Outcomes: NSW Stage 6 Geography

Marine Biology Presentation: H1, H2 This two hour presentation is a fantastic introduction to the Great Barrier Reef. Your entertaining marine biologist presenter will teach you loads of fun facts to make your students appreciate their time at the reef that much more!

Fitzroy Island Day Trip: H1, H2, H5 On your day trip to Fitzroy Island you will be able to closely examine the inner Great Barrier Reef and use it as a local case study. The island is a continental island that was once attached to the mainland. At the end of the last ice-age sea levels rose creating Fitzroy Island and the fringing reef that surrounds it. You can snorkel right off the beach and go in search of marine life. The island is also a national park and covered in rainforest walking tracks. You also have the opportunity to visit the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and see management strategies in action while contributing to a worthwhile cause.

Outer Reef Day Trip: H1, H2, H5 No trip to Cairns would be complete without a trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef. On this day trip you will have full access to snorkel gear to explore the outer reef system. You can look for indicators of reef health and examine the factors that place ecosystems at risk. You can also use your reef operator as an example of how management strategies are being put in place to help protect the reef.

Marine Biologist Guide: H6, H7, H8, H10 If you choose to be accompanied by our marine biologist you will have a reef expert on hand to answer your questions. Your day can also be designed to incorporate fieldwork and geographic skills including fish and coral identification, reef health and diversity through the use of different data collection techniques. The data collected can then be taken back to the class room where it can be analysed and synthesised for a geographical enquiry.

Aboriginal guided rainforest walk: H2, H5, H6 On this 1.5 hour walk students are taken into the Mossman section of the Daintree NP with a member of the Kuku-Yalanji tribe. The guide will explain the traditional uses of the rainforest and answer any questions students may have.The management of Mossman Gorge also makes a great case study of an Indigenous eco tourism venture. The Mossman Gorge Centre provides training to Indigenous Australians in areas like tourism and hospitality that equip them for jobs with other employers in the region and across Australia.

James Cook Uni Canopy Crane: H8, H7, H10, H11 Your time at the world class JCU canopy crane will be unforgettable as you are taken silently 47m above the forest floor to the rainforest canopy. Here you will get a perspective of the rainforest that is very rarely experienced and have views that extend out to the ocean and toward the Great Barrier Reef.On site there is also the opportunity to develop your fieldwork skills at the sites revegetation area. The area was replanted in the last few years and students can undertake surveys of species identification and health to determine the success of the project.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventure: H1, H2, H6, H7  This visit lets you get up close to the wildlife found in Australia’s top end. You discover two ancient keystone animal species- the crocodile and the cassowary. Your students will learn how the health of entire ecosystems depends on these highly vulnerable animals.You can also see a rather different approach to wildlife management- a crocodile farm!

Australian National Curriculum- Geography

While this trip has been designed to cater for the NSW Senior Geography course, its delivery can be tailored to geography students in junior years studying the Australian National Curriculum. The trip can also be designed to incorporate fieldwork to cover Geography Inquiry Skills outcomes.

Year 10 Unit 1: Environmental Change and Management:

  • ACHGK070: The human- induced environmental changes that challenge sustainability.
  • ACHGK071: the environmental worldviews of people and their implications for environmental management.
  • ACHGK071: The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples approaches to custodial responsibility and environmental management in different regions of Australia.
  • ACHGK073: The application of human-environment systems thinking to understanding the causes and likely consequences of the environmental change being investigated.
  • ACHGK074: The application of geographical concepts and methods to the management of the environment change being investigated.
  • ACHGK075: The application of environmental economic and social criteria in evaluating management responses to the change.

Year 8 Unit 1- Landforms and Landscapes:

  • ACHGK048: The different types of landscapes and their distinctive landform features.
  • ACHGK049: The aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value of landscapes and landforms for people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
  • ACHGK050: The geomorphic processes that produce landforms including a case study of at least one landform.
  • ACHGK051: the human causes and effects of landscape degradation.
  • ACHGK052: The ways of protecting significant landscapes.
  • ACHGK053: The causes impacts and responses to a geomorphological hazard.

How your trip supports the community

SUPPORTING LOCAL INDIGENOUS CULTURE: Your trip includes activities and interaction with local Aboriginal people, the traditional owners of the land on which you are traveling. By taking this trip, your are supporting grassroots indigenous tourism ventures and encouraging Aboriginal pride in culture.

SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES: We use locally owned accommodation, restaurants, and suppliers whenever possible to keep income in the community. This includes supporting farmers by purchasing locally-grown fruits and vegetables for you on your trip. We also give you a list of where to buy locally-made crafts and souvenirs so you can continue this support as well.

SUPPORTING LOCAL HOMELESS YOUTH: We donate to Harold’s House for homeless and disadvantaged youth in Cairns. For more information on Herald’s House and other organisations to which we donate, see Philanthropy and Partnerships.

How your trip is “Eco-friendly”

ADOPTING A RAINFOREST PLOT IN YOUR NAME: We pay to have a 5-square metre plot of rainforest is adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue. On your excursion, your group will be presented with a certificate detailing the significance of this gift to the environment.

REDUCING WASTE: We give you your own water bottle and cloth shopping bag to eliminate the need for disposable bottles and plastic bags. By reducing our need for plastic bags and bottles, we avoid having these things go into landfills or into the tummies of our native animals. For more information on how we donate to The Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and other environmental groups, see Philanthropy and Partnerships.

CARBON OFFSETTING: We calculate the total carbon footprint of your trip. Then we pay Sustainable Travel International (STI) to offset your emissions by investing in environmental and community-based projects. For more information about our carbon offsetting, see 10 Reasons Why We’re Eco.

How your trip is safety-oriented

VEHICLES: All of our vehicles are equipped with seatbelts for every seat. While this is not a Queensland law, we feel your safety is a priority.

RISK ASSESSMENT: Our safety record is immaculate. No student on any of our tours has ever sustained an injury requiring a hospital stay. We have a complete Crisis Management Plan, we assess risks of the tour and are happy to complete a risk assessment for you upon request. In addition, students are given a safety briefing during orientation, along with a card with emergency numbers, accommodation addresses and phone numbers.

GUIDES AND SAFETY: Small World Journeys’ guides hold current Senior First Aid and CPR certificates, along with government-issued Driver’s Authority and Working With Children cards (also known as a Blue Card). For more information on our guides, see The Small World Journeys Team.