Ecosystems & Global Biodiversity: Rainforests

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

Ecosystems & Global Biodiversity: Rainforests

Far North Queensland is blessed with The Wet Tropics UNESCO World Heritage area. The Wet Tropics (of which the Daintree Rainforest is a part) contains some of the planet’s best biodiversity.

On this excursion, you learn about traditional land management from an Indigenous guide in the lush Daintree Rainforest, and participate in a debate about a controversial development proposed for Cairns.

You see first-hand the impacts of both natural and human activity on this ecosystem, 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 a case study on an exceptional tropical biome.

4 Days/ 3 Nights
Cairns, Australia
Minimum 10 paying participants
$1199 AUD per person (including GST)
for 15 or more students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)
$1224 AUD per person (including GST)
for 10-14 students (Add $50 per person for peak time of 15 June – 15 July)


  • Collect primary data in the rainforest
  • Investigate water quality and macro invertebrates
  • Soar high into the Daintree rainforest in JCU’s canopy crane
  • OPTIONAL: Glide over the rainforest canopy on Cairns premier eco-attraction – The Skyrail
  • Discuss traditional land uses with Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal guides
  • Give back to the community by planting native trees
  • Learn about protected area management
  • OPTIONAL: community service project on the last day for Cairns’ homeless and vulnerable people

  • All activities as described in the itinerary
  • Cairns airport transfers
  • Transportation to activities
  • Small World Journeys naturalist guide on Days 2 and 3
  • Expert speakers
  • 2 nights at Cairns 3-star hotel accommodation (2 or 3 share ensuite rooms)
  • 1 night Daintree Rainforest research station (6 or 10 dorm-style rooms)
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • 101 Animals of The Wet Tropics field guide for each student
  • Small World Journeys BPA free reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag
  • National 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 $238 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, 2025.

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


  • Community Service Project on the last day (no extra cost)
  • One-way Skyrail (add $95 pp)


Arrival: Welcome to the tropics! You arrive in Cairns and are warmly greeted by one of our staff members at the airport. (Arrive before 1 pm today).

Case Study on The UNESCO World Heritage Wet Tropics:  Before you encounter the rainforest ecosystem, you first learn just what makes this region so unique and biodiverse. 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. You discuss ecosystem management, climate change, vulnerability versus resilience and management strategies that are used for the Wet Tropics.  You leave with insight about and appreciation of this globally significant area you are about to visit.

Optional Evening Activity – Documentary Film: Documentary films can inspire discussion and action, in addition to complementing the content of your trip. Tonight you have a choice to view one of several optional documentary films that relate to the environment (no extra cost).

Accommodation: Cairns 3-star hotel
Meals Included: Dinner


Native Tree Planting Service Work: This morning with your guide you discuss loss of biodiversity and habitats for a range of species due to agriculture or development.  Then you plant native trees to moderate temperature and humidity and to create niches for other plants and animals.  This area was once rainforest, and a local not-for-profit organisation is making efforts to restore biodiversity by planting hundreds of trees here.  By working with seedlings, planting, and watering today, you get to meet some local volunteers, help revitalize the rainforest ecosystem and contribute to the community.

Rainforest Discovery with Indigenous Guide: Next you discover the Daintree Rainforest at Mossman Gorge, an area important to the Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners. Beginning with a traditional smoking ceremony, you wander rainforest paths, discovering with your guide how these Indigenous people found their way through dense rainforest, made shelter, learned which native plants were tasty to eat and generally managed country.  As your guide shares some of 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.  This is a great activity to understand the tropical rainforest through the eyes of Traditional Owners.

Field Guide: 101 Animals of The Wet Tropics, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand animal species in the region and is yours to keep.

JCU Daintree Rainforest Observatory & Research Station: Later you enter the magical Daintree Rainforest – the oldest continuously growing rainforest on earth.  You arrive at James Cook University’s 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 induction and orientation and then a presentation about the significance of this rainforest.  You learn about important research and innovations in sustainable management that are happening here, as well as how invasive species are creating ecological disturbances and how the station is managing this. (Students must be at least 16 years old to visit the station)

Accommodation: Your home for the night is in the new facilities at the station. Rooms for students are single gender, six and 10-bed rooms and teachers stay in a separate room. You have access to a communal industrial kitchen, and an amenities block nearby provides laundry, bathroom and shower facilities.

Nocturnal Wildlife Spotlighting: After dinner you explore the rainforest for abundance of wildlife that appears once the sun sets. Your guide presents a spotlighting exercise, during which you look for crepuscular and nocturnal species, focusing on endemics. This methodical observation helps students understand the diversity of life in the rainforest and the ecological roles these species play. Additionally, you investigate micro bats, which are the most diverse mammalian group of the tropical rainforest.  You learn how these creatures use sophisticated echolocation to detect both prey and predators, how they are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction, and how they play a monumental role in the health of the rainforest.

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

Environmental Debate: After a night of immersion in the rainforest, you wake to birdcalls and the chatter of the jungle.  Then you participate in a debate in which each small group takes on a role and presents their argument either for or against a proposed development in the rainforest. This is a fun way for you to get involved with all sides of an environmental debate with a real-life example that gained significant media attention.

JCU Canopy Crane: The James Cook University Daintree Rainforest Observatory station is also home to a canopy crane that is considerably important to researchers. 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 the incredible biodiversity that has earned the Daintree UNESCO World Heritage status.

Water Quality Measurements & Aquatic Invertebrate Sampling:  Whilst not in the crane, you discover the language of water and what it says about the creatures that can survive in it.  Today with nets and buckets you take water quality measurements involving indicators like pH, nitrate, dissolved oxygen and phosphate levels from both an on-site pond and a stream. Testing for these elements may reveal the presence of fertilizers or biological extremes, which will also aid in your discussion about species survival rate, influences from environmental conditions and eutrophication.  You bring your samples back to the lab to investigate under microscopes and can draw conclusions based on an easy-to-use “SIGNAL” biotic index.  You return to Cairns in the later afternoon.

Accommodation: Cairns 3-star hotel
Meals Included: 
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

OPTIONAL Farm Visit: This morning you are transferred to Mourilyan, near Innisfail for a visit to Pacific Coast Eco Bananas, the producers of the red-tipped banana.  As a shining example of fruit produced without the use of fertilizers or pesticides, the company serves as an excellent economic and sustainability case study. You have the opportunity to speak with the owners of the plantation about their “Ecoganic” farming, witness their growing techniques, and enjoy a delicious banana smoothie! (Allow a half day, ask us for pricing)

OPTIONAL Service Project: Part of being a “sustainable” tourist is helping the community in which you are travelling. If you have a later flight today, you can participate 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 may also make these special comfort packs for the homeless people in Cairns. You learn to make special bags using upcycled materials, and then create packs with hygiene items people most need, like shampoo, toothpaste and sanitary items. 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 in duration, no extra cost)

OPTIONAL Skyrail Rainforest Cableway:  This morning you experience Cairns’ premier eco-attraction and winner of numerous ecotourism awards – the Skyrail. Your guide takes you to this unique rainforest cableway for a fantastic journey over Australia’s World Heritage listed tropical rainforest canopy and deep into the forest. Spanning 7.5 kilometres over Barron Gorge National Park, the Skyrail experience includes a scenic cableway ride and stops at two rainforest mid-stations (extra cost of $95 pp)

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

Meals Included: Breakfast

Check out this tour's educational outcomes
An outstanding trip where every need and want was catered for. Left no stone unturned. All of the guides were fantastic but pay a special mention to Pablo, whose enthusiasm and expertise really rubbed off on the boys. The level of expertise that was constantly around us made the trip extremely educational and immersive.”
–Justin Verco, geography teacher, Newington College, Sydney NSW (November ’18 and ’19)

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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