Biology Camp – 7 Days

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 In Aboriginal Culture, Biology, Cairns & The Great Barrier Reef, Community Service, Ecosystems, Environmental Studies, Marine Science, STEM, Sustainability, Tours

Biology Camp – 7 Days

For students studying biology, there is no better place to explore biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life than in Far North Queensland. The Wet Tropics and The Great Barrier Reef attract biologists from all over the world, and both sites boast endemic species found nowhere else on the planet. What we traditionally define as a “biology camp” actually transforms to a biology excursion.

Students travel to and evaluate five different ecosystems:  lowland tropical rainforest, dry sclerophyll forest, highland tropical rainforest, mangrove systems and coral reefs. On this tour of Australia’s unique and biodiverse places, students discover endemic and endangered species, perform field techniques biologists do, and meet with researchers and scientists who are making a difference in the world. Bring your students on a biology program that brings them out of the classroom and engages them in the natural world.

7 Days/6 Nights
Cairns, Australia
Minimum 10 paying participants
$1798 per person (including GST)
for 15 or more students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)
$1887 per person (including GST)
for 10-14 students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)


  • Participate in Eye on The Reef service project at The Great Barrier Reef
  • Ascend over the Daintree Rainforest in JCU’s canopy crane
  • Encounter endemic species in both the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics
  • Learn from an expert entomologist about bizarre bug behaviour
  • Perform water quality testing in three different ecosystems
  • Discover mangrove systems and their link to the reef
  • Tour James Cook University’s marine labs and herbarium
  • Look for nocturnal and crepuscular creatures during a spotlighting activity
  • Learn to fashion insect traps that allow observation of entomological diversity
  • Evaluate ecosystems using biologist’s tools

  • Risk assessment
  • All activities as described in the itinerary
  • Cairns airport transfers
  • All transportation
  • Small World Journeys guide on Days 1,2, 3, 4 and 6
  • Marine Biologist on Day 5
  • University researchers and scientist talks
  • 1 night highlands camping at campground
  • 1 night bush camping
  • Tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads
  • 2 nights at a central Cairns hostel (6- share rooms)*
  • 1 night JCU Research Station cabins (4-share single gender rooms)
  • All breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • 101 Animals of the Wet Tropics field guide for each student
  • 101 Plants of the Wet Tropics field guide for each student
  • 101 Animals of the Great Barrier Reef field guide for each student
  • Coral adoption through Reef Restoration Foundation with updates on the progress of the coral
  • Mask, fins, snorkel and wetsuit hire
  • A Small World Journeys reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag
  • 5 metres square of Daintree rainforest adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue
  • Marine park taxes and levies


*Two teacher rooms (private twin or triple share rooms) are included in the trip price for groups of 15 students or more. For trips with low numbers (10-14), one teacher room is included. A supplement of $225 AUD is charged if an additional private room is required for the trip. If teachers are happy to share a room, no additional costs are incurred.

Small World Journeys reserves the right to change the order of activities for logistical reasons. Prices are valid for travel until 31 March, 2024.

  • Airfare to Cairns
  • Travel insurance (highly recommended)
  • Personal expenses (souvenirs, laundry, etc.)


Arrival in Cairns: Welcome to Cairns! You are met at the airport by one of our staff and have an orientation and safety briefing. (Plan to arrive before 11 am)

World Heritage Wet Tropics–Intro to Biodiversity:  Before you encounter the rainforest, you first learn from an expert at the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WETMA) just what makes this region so special. Researchers, scientists and tourists alike come from all over the world to discover the supreme biodiversity in this World Heritage area, a region that came to be against all odds. You learn why this corner of Australia–with its jade mountains and lush emerald rainforests—is a geographical anomaly. By luck of shifting tectonic plates, the Wet Tropics earned the longest continually growing rainforest in the world.  Plants that ruled alongside dinosaurs still stand today. More than 100 animals are rare or threatened here and dozens of species live nowhere else in the world. Your expert discusses climate change protected area management and how different methods are used in the Wet Tropics.  You leave with insight about and appreciation of this globally significant area you are about to visit.   

Crater Lakes National Park: Later you visit Lake Eacham at Crater Lakes National Park, an ancient volcanic crater—or maar—now protected in a national park. You’ll look for Boyd’s Forest Dragons, turtles and birds of paradise, after which you can take a plunge in the cool clear waters of the crater.

Accommodation: You ascend to the Cairns Highlands where you arrive at your campground for the night in a peaceful park with a sparkling swimming pool.

Accommodation: Highlands Camping
Meals included: Lunch and Dinner

Ecosystem Evaluation Mabi Rainforest: During this trip you perform three ecosystem evaluations to compare vegetation structure, health, ecological function and biodiversity. This morning you travel to one of the last remaining sections of endangered rainforest and duplicate field work that “normal” biologists do.

Field Guides: Field guides, 101 Animals of the Wet Tropics and 101 Plants of the Wet Tropics are yours to keep and give you a background about regional and endemic species.

Transects and Vegetation Profiles: Within this ecosystem you evaluate biodiversity along a transect using quadrats. You learn how to assess vegetation composition, structural complexity, canopy structure, and ground cover. You then sketch a vegetation profile after using field tools like a clinometer.

Leaf Classification: The next activity is designed to give you the skills to identify aspects of leaves and to determine dominant leaf categories and thus rainforest type. Being able to know what type of leaf you are looking at while in the field is vital to identify the species of tree and it can also be used to classify the type of rainforest that you’re in.

Biodiversity Site:  Next you ascend to 164 acres of private property that boasts a mosaic of ecosystems including riparian rainforest, open eucalyptus woodlands, melaleuca wetlands, billabongs and complex ecotones, and used as film location site by the BBC. This site is perfect for biology studies and for comparing ecosystem structures within a very short radius. Hosting you is an expert entomologist who has discovered five new species of glowworm and worked with famed naturalist David Attenborough.

Accommodation: You camp on the property 60 metres away from the gentle Rifle Creek. Although this is Aussie bush camping, creature comforts are available: toilets, showers, fire circle, a refreshing swimming hole and an abundance of fresh locally grown food for delicious meals prepared on site. Tents and sleeping pads are provided.

Insect Activity and Making Light Traps: With your entomologist you review basic insect biology, see some examples of local insects, and reflect on the adaptations that help these animals to survive in their environment. Then you learn how to easily fashion an insect light trap as a way to catch and study the insects.

Accommodation: Bush Camping on Private Property
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Ecosystem Evaluation Woodlands: This morning you continue your ecosystem evaluations, but the woodlands environment stands in stark contrast to the rainforest you evaluated yesterday.

Water Quality Measurements: With your guide you discover the language of water and what it says about the creatures that can survive in it. You take water quality measurements involving indicators like Ph, nitrate and phosphate levels. Testing for these elements may reveal the presence of fertilizers or biological extremes, which will also aid in your discussion about species survival rate and eutrophication.

Daintree Rainforest and Swim: Then you cross into the incomparable Daintree Rainforest, the jewel in the crown of the Wet Tropics. For biology students, this is 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. You enjoy a refreshing swim in a clear “croc-free” rainforest swimming hole.

Daintree Rainforest Observatory & Research Station: Next you arrive at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory, an eco-monitoring site and research station with wet and dry labs. It lies in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, and claims the highest biodiversity of anywhere in Australia! You get a safety orientation and then a presentation about the significance of this rainforest and about the important research happening here.

Environmental Debate: Later you participate in a debate which focuses on issues of development and effects on biodiversity. Students are given background information and a summary of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about a major resort development proposed for Cairns and then given different roles to play of community members. This requires evaluating projected economic, social and environmental impacts as well as proposed sustainability efforts and then arguing for or against the development. This is a fun way for you to get involved with all sides of an environmental debate with a real-life example that has gained significant national media attention.

Accommodation: Your lodging for the night is in the brand-new facilities at the station. Rooms are single gender, four- and six-bed rooms.  These have access to a communal industrial kitchen, and an amenities block nearby provides laundry, bathroom and shower facilities.

Nocturnal Wildlife Spotlighting Activity: Tonight with your guide you can roam the rainforest to spot the Daintree’s elusive crepuscular and nocturnal creatures as they come to life as the sun sets. Your guide knows what signs to look for during this spotlighting exercise, and you may have a chance to meet the Northern Brown Bandicoot, Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo, or the striped possum as it leaps onto the rainforest’s giant fan palms.

Accommodation: Daintree Research Station
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner


JCU Canopy Crane: The James Cook University research station is also home to a tower canopy crane. After a safety orientation, you climb into a suspended gondola with the crane operator. The crane then ascends over the rainforest canopy, and can swing 360 degrees, surveying 1 hectare of the incredible biodiversity that has earned the Daintree UNESCO World Heritage status. This research station is only 1 of 3 of its kind existing in the tropics. (Students must be at least 16 years old. Activity runs Monday-Friday only).

Ecosystem Evaluation Daintree Rainforest: While you wait your turn in the crane, you also divide into small groups and conduct an ecosystem evaluation of tropical lowland rainforest. Surrounding the research station, several trails traverse various elevations and rainforest growth at various stages of succession. These trails provide avenues for you to experience primary and secondary rainforest, rainforest reforestation, as well as a dynamic creek.

Water Quality Measurements: In the creek you continue with your water quality measurements, with which you can discover the presence of toxicants such as insecticides, herbicides and metals. These measurements provide you with information on what may be impacting freshwater systems.

Mangrove Biome and Boardwalk: Next you travel to a raised walkway which takes you through a natural and critical mangrove ecosystem which is the breeding ground for many important aquatic species. You learn how mangroves deal with a lot of salt in their diet, how they act as the baby nurseries of the marine world and why both humans and the reef rely on these complex systems.

Future of The Reef Talk: In the evening back in Cairns you attend a unique presentation on the future of the Great Barrier Reef.  Your marine naturalist teaches you the facts about the state of the reef, dispelling myths about bleaching and climate change, and relays the good, the bad and the ugly about reef tourism. During this talk, you learn the four key threats to the reef and how scientists are trying “assisted evolution” by breeding corals that are resistant to bleaching under higher temperatures.  Perhaps most importantly, you gain ten tips on how you yourselves can help save the reef and continue campaigning when you return home.

Accommodation: Your accommodation is at a comfortable hostel in the centre of Cairns’ restaurant and shopping district, and only a few blocks from the waterfront. The hostel is committed to sustainability and even has their own herb garden for guests use! A lush swimming pool and spa, and large common areas, the hostel also features free internet in common areas and air conditioning in each room.

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Boat Ride to Reef: Your day begins with an air-conditioned catamaran ride to the outer Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World-Heritage site and one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet.  Your marine biologist presents what you are likely to see at the reef and introduces the Eye on the Reef program, which involves instruction on how to complete the Rapid Monitoring Survey.

Snorkelling and Data Collection: Upon arrival, you dock at a floating pontoon, and an underwater universe greets you. During a guided snorkel tour with your marine biologist, you can expect to see a rainbow of hard and soft corals, turtles, and a variety of fish species including butterfly fish, giant Maori Wrasse, parrot fish, and the ever-popular clown fish, also known as “Nemo”.

Data Collection & Service: Next you receive in-water training on how to conduct the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Rapid Monitoring Survey for the Eye on the Reef program. Your marine guide points out key features of the reef ecosystem, answer any questions, and conduct a practice survey with group. Then during a timed snorkel session, you record your underwater findings.  Your guide and waterproof slates help you identify a host of marine life and calculate benthic zone coverage. Most importantly, you look for signs of coral bleaching and coral predators which greatly affect the health of the reef.  Your data is then collected and contributes to the central reporting system used by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to manage the long-term sustainability of this UNESCO World Heritage area.

Other Activities: Semi-submarine and glass bottom boat tours, underwater observatory, and marine life touch tank are all available for you to enjoy. The double-storey pontoon also has something that no one else does….. a long and fun slide that finishes in the waters of the reef. Lunch today is a tropical buffet served on the boat.

Field Guide & Sightings Ap: 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand the underwater world and is yours to keep.  Before the trip, we’ll also give you information about downloading an app with which you can log in sightings of reef fauna and flora and your data is then sent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner


Biology Seminar: Today you head to James Cook University for a biology-focused workshop. JCU is Australia’s highest-ranked university in environmental science and offers marine biology studies not found anywhere else. Through a custom-designed interactive workshop today you have the opportunity to engage with world leading researchers and equipment.

Marine Labs & Aquarium:  Popular with film crews, the marine labs at JCU boast one of the world’s best sites for capturing marine creatures on camera.  Sophisticated equipment placed in the tanks allows for observing and filming animal behaviour up close. Additionally, JCU’s unique circular tank allows for a simulated current and the careful study of jellyfish. You meet staff who are on the cutting edge of marine science research, learn how they “milk” fish for venom, and about the latest findings in the development of anti-venoms.

Venomous Creatures & Mangrove Biome: Here you meet unusual and deadly creatures such as sea horses, baby crocodiles, cone shells, the lethal chironex jellyfish, and the extremely rare lung fish, found in captivity only at JCU. The cast members of Finding Nemo live here too.  You also investigate a working model of a mangrove biome, an important tool for studying effects on water quality and salinity as well as climate change mitigation.

World Class Herbarium: Books upon books of pressed and preserved plant species decorate JCU’s Tropical Herbarium, where you are invited in as privileged guests.  The Herbarium is a biologist’s delight; it boasts over 160,000 specimens, cutting edge facilities for processing and curation, as well as research. Highlights include viewing the Spirit Room, do-it-yourself area for plant enthusiasts, and the very special specimens collected by Sir Joseph Banks aboard Captain Cook’s first voyage to Australia.

Back in Cairns after dinner you have a chance to explore the Night Markets to browse for souvenirs.

Accommodation:Cairns Budget Accommodation
Meals included:
 Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Service project - hygiene packs

After breakfast this morning you have free time for last-minute shopping or souvenir purchases. If you leave later in the day, you can choose one of the following option:

Optional Community Service Project: Part of being a “sustainable” tourist is helping the community in which you are travelling.  This morning you exemplify sustainable tourists by participating in a service project for people that come to Cairns from remote Indigenous communities. These people come to Cairns for medical reasons, and often do not have anything with them. You learn to make special bags using upcycled materials, and then create packs with hygiene items they most need. No worries if you aren’t the best at arts and crafts – the bags are easy to make, and you’ll feel good doing it too. (An hour and fifteen minutes in duration)

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

Meals included: Breakfast

Check out this tour's educational outcomes
All our students enjoyed the activities and not only was there a variety of them but they learnt so many new things without even realising. It is a credit to you all there that you were able to put together such a camp that had to cater for such a variance in ages.. A special thank you must be given to Rick [Small World Journeys guide] who, again, is so warm and genuine that the students immediately take to him. Your whole company is so professional, helpful and wonderful that I do not think we can look at any other operators and so will have to keep coming to Cairns!
–Debbie Douglass, teacher, Newman High School, Newman WA (May ’18)

How Your Trip Makes The World A Better Place

We’re not talking rainbows and unicorns. We’re talking about how we have put significant thought into how to make our student tours as safe as they possibly can be while still being fun; encouraging students to learn about and contribute to the community they are travelling in; and teaching them what “sustainability” really means.


Although we wear bras and brush our teeth, you could say we are a team of hippy tree-huggers. This is why we run our office on renewable energy, voluntarily offsetting our carbon emissions, and fulfilling our policy to give at least 5% of our annual net profits to local environmental and community organisations and charities. Here’s what else we are doing:

HELPING THE REEF: In addition to the coral tree we sponsor, we pay to “adopt” coral at Fitzroy Island through our partner. The coral propagation happening there is unprecedented and is being celebrated as a significantproject to help save the reef. Each of our groups that visit the reef receives a certificate on the tour and later receive updates on the coral.

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. In 2018-19, we purchased more than 100 square metres of rainforest adopted in our groups’ names.

CREATIVE WASTE REDUCTION: We give you your own water bottle and cloth shopping bag to eliminate the need for disposable bottles and plastic bags (and saves them from going in landfills!) We also recycle BOTH our hard plastics and soft plastics (through RedCycle) and have transitioned into NO WASTE snacks and NO WASTE lunches. Our food scraps get composted and put into our community garden, our bin liners are paper (not plastic) and we even wipe our bums with Who Gives a Crap 100% recycled toilet paper!


SUPPORTING OUR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY: It is our policy to include a talk or an activity with an Aboriginal person on every trip we offer. By taking this trip, you are supporting grassroots indigenous tourism ventures and encouraging Aboriginal pride in culture. We are proud to say that in the financial year of 2018-19, we gave over $43,000 in business to Aboriginal-owned ventures.

Additionally, our student community service project involves students in making “Moon Sick Care Bags” which supply re-usable sanitary products to Aboriginal women in remote communities — this helps both Indigenous women AND the environment! (Ask us how your group can do this on their tour)

SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES: It is our policy to use locally owned suppliers and businesses unless their standards are not up to par (for example, if they have a bad environmental record). In 2018-19, three quarters of our expenses were paid back into the local economy.

VOLUNTEERING IN OUR COMMUNITY: Small World staff are incentivised to volunteer in the community, and are given time to do so during work hours. As a team, we also clean up our local mangroves once a quarter, recognising their importance at the nursery to the Great Barrier Reef.


SUPERB SAFETY RECORD: We’ve had thousands of students travel with us, and our safety record is excellent. Ask us for teacher references specifically regarding safety.

RISK ASSESSMENT FOR EVERY TRIP: We do a risk assessment for every student tour we run, and is sent to your organising teacher. We have safety protocols for our activities and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) Manual that documents these protocols. We also have a complete Crisis Management Plan. In addition, students are given a safety briefing during orientation that addresses hazards and risks for this region.

SAFE BUSES: All of our buses are equipped with seatbelts for every seat. While this is not a Queensland law to have them, we feel your safety is a priority. Our guides do safety checks at the start of each day of the trip. In addition, vehicles go through a Department of Transport safety inspection every six months.

SAFE GUIDES: Small World Journeys’ guides hold current Senior First Aid and CPR certificates, along with government-issued Driver’s Authority (if driving) and Working With Children cards (also known as a Blue Card) after passing a thorough background check. For more information on our guides, see About Us.

We do custom trips!

Still haven’t found exactly what you are looking for? All our tours are fully customisable and can be catered to suit your time-frame, student interests and budget. A geography excursion to the Great Barrier Reef? A biology excursion to the Daintree Rainforest? An Aboriginal culture excursion? Our educational trips in Queensland and New South Wales are hand-crafted for those who cannot find exactly what they want from the inflexible set itineraries of large tour operators.

If you are looking for a science trip, ecology trip, Aboriginal culture, or just a sample of the best of Australia – we can help.

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