Aboriginal Culture Discovery – 5 Day Adventure

Introducing Australia’s Indigenous People & Culture

Far North Queensland is rich with indigenous traditions, and a confluence of cultures brings together a striking blend of art, language, dance, food and ceremony. On this educational excursion, you discover similarities in Aboriginal culture as well as vast differences among the Tjapukai, Kuku Yalanji and Mandingalbay Yidinji through talks, walks and fun activities. Authentic interactions with Aboriginal people reveal their respect for land and reverence for traditions long forgotten by indigenous people in other parts of the world. Share in the discovery of a 40,000 year old culture while enjoying gorgeous natural places of the tropics.

Areas of Learning:

  • Aboriginal Culture
  • Aboriginal Art
  • Aboriginal Language
  • Traditional Hunting & Gathering


  • Learn basics of the Djabugay language
  • Create your own dot painting under the tutelage of an Aboriginal artist
  • Search the mangroves with Kuku Yalanji guides for “bush tucker”
  • Discover Indigenous story places on an overnight camping trip
  • Understand rainforest plants used for food and medicine
  • Learn to throw a spear to catch your own food and then cook it
  • See how tradition and modernity combine in Aboriginal peoples’ lives

Benefits & Bonuses:

  • All accommodation, meals, guides and transport to activities included
  • Risk assessment provided
  • Price Guarantee: price will not change once you sign up for your trip
  • Expert guides – not “bus drivers”
  • We cater to student special diets and swimming levels
  • Goodies! Water bottle, field guide, cloth shopping bag and rainforest plot adopted in your name
  • MAKE IT YOUR OWN – This trip is fully customisable.  Ask us for details!
Day 1: Arrival, Orientation and Aboriginal Language Lesson or Doctor's Talk

Day 1: Arrival, Orientation and Aboriginal Language Lesson or Doctor's Talk

Arrival in Cairns: Welcome to the tropics! On arrival you are met by a Small World Journeys staff member and transferred to your accommodation.

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.

OPTION 1 – Aboriginal Language Lesson: Next you can choose to have a special lesson in learning the basic language skills required to speak a local Aboriginal language of the Irukandji people.  The Irukandji spoke Yirrgay, one of the five dialects of the language group generally known as Djabugay, but the last fluent speakers died in the 1960’s. You are taught by a respected member of the clan who is now actively trying to retrieve and preserve the language.  Your Aboriginal host teaches you in a fun and dynamic way how a local Aboriginal language, stories and culture are delightfully intertwined.  This is a unique Indigenous cultural experience.

– OR –

OPTION 2 – Doctor’s Talk on Aboriginal Health: Alternatively, you can choose to gather for an insightful talk about the disparity between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people’s health. Facilitated by a local doctor with extensive experience with Aboriginal health issues, this talk will cover environmental, genetic and socio-cultural factors that affect well being and life expectancy.  This doctor will also discuss her mobile outreach service, which brings patient-centered medical care to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients who may feel uncomfortable receiving treatment in a conventional clinical setting. With time for questions and answers, this activity can be a starting point for further discussions on social justice and reconciliation.

Accommodation: Cairns Budget Accommodation
Meals Included: Dinner

Day 2: Studio Visit & Art Lesson with Aboriginal Artist and Aboriginal-Guided Hunting & Tracking

Day 2: Studio Visit & Art Lesson with Aboriginal Artist and Aboriginal-Guided Hunting & Tracking

Aboriginal Painting:  Today you tour an art gallery owned by a Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal artist that is filled with paintings, didgeridoos and artefacts.  The Aboriginal artist-in-residence teaches you how to re-create the dot paintings that are a typical aboriginal style and symbolic of Australian art. He explains the meaning behind his paintings and what this art means to his people. You are able to take your small canvas painting home with you – a perfect souvenir for your time in northern Australia!

Aboriginal Culture and Food Gathering: Next you walk with two gentle Aboriginal guides of the Kubirri Warra clan along the coast they’ve called home for thousands of years. Your Aboriginal guides teach you to throw a spear and you try your hand at catching food the traditional way — hunting for fish, mud crabs, mussels and other “bush tucker” (food) along the beach and among the mangroves.  Along the way, your guides share their knowledge of country, wildlife and of local edible and medicinal plants.

Cooking What You’ve Caught: Later you are invited to your indigenous guide’s home where you meet the family, learn more about Aboriginal culture and feast on what you’ve caught.  This is an authentic interaction with Aboriginal people that allows you to see how indigenous traditions are integrated into the modern world.   

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 Budget Accommodation
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 3: Overnight Aboriginal Culture Experience and Bush Camping

Day 3: Overnight Aboriginal Culture Experience and Bush Camping

Welcome to Country and Mangroves Cruise : During this experience, you are led by Mandingalbay Yidinji people into their “country”, which straddles the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage areasA boat ride across the inlet takes you through intricate mangrove and freshwater wetland environments beneath rainforest draped mountains. With a traditional smoke ceremony, you are then welcomed onto Mandingalbay Yidinji land.  You get an orientation to your site, set up camp, and your hosts speak to you about their spiritual and cultural connection to country.

Trapping and Food Preparation: Next you learn how the Mandingalbay Yidinji people created pig traps to traditionally catch their food. You then learn to prepare and put kup murri in the ground for dinner. A kup murri is an earth oven dug into the ground, using heated hot stones and sand/soil to cook the food.  Damper, meat such as pork or fish and vegetables such as taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin and cabbage are wrapped in banana leaves/coconut leaves and placed in the centre of the hot stones. The kup murri enables the individual to reconnect with the four elements that maintain life and to celebrate and thank the creation spirits for looking after culture, customs and spiritual beliefs. Later you gather around a campfire to discuss Mandingalbay Yidinji traditions and customs.

Accommodation: Bush Camping with Aboriginal Hosts (tents, sleeping pads and bags provided)
Meals Included:Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Day 4: Aboriginal Culture Experience

Day 4: Aboriginal Culture Experience

Hiking and Bush “Supermarket”:  You wake to birdsong in this secluded corner of the park. Through a walk and ranger talk this morning you learn some of the work that Aboriginal rangers are doing to manage their land, through both traditional and contemporary methods.  As you hike to a set of waterfalls in the national park, you learn how wind is important in hunting, how the Mandingalbay Yidinji people turned poisonous seeds into bread dough, and why and where they migrated with the seasons.  A host of edible and medicinal plants line the pathway, creating a virtual supermarket and pharmacy, and you can taste the tangy native coriander, smell the sweet scent of coconut laurel and wash your hands with the soap tree.  After lunch you have time for discussions on totems and the protection of animals, Native Title Acts and biodiversity surveys.

Discussions with Hosts: After lunch you have time for discussions on totems and the protection of animals, Native Title Acts and biodiversity surveys. You are returned to Cairns in the afternoon having had an authentic experience with Far North Queensland’s Indigenous peoples.

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

Day 5: Depart or Optional Aboriginal Culture Great Barrier Reef Trip

Day 5: Depart or Optional Aboriginal Culture Great Barrier Reef Trip

After breakfast this morning you have free time for last-minute shopping or souvenir purchases and then you are transferred to the Cairns airport.

Alternatively, you can add on an optional reef trip:   

Boat Ride to Reef with Aboriginal Culture: Your day begins with an air-conditioned boatride to the outer Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World-Heritage site and one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet.  On the way, you are treated to the recounting of creation stories by the Aboriginal staff as well as a demonstration of Indigenous tools and instruments. A presentation by a marine biologist will help you understand the marine species you are likely spot today at the reef.

Snorkelling: Snorkelling can be done right off the back of the boat.  For snorkelers, giant clams, angel, butterfly and parrot fish, turtles, sea stars and corals of a thousand hues are all within reach.  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”.  You also may see beauties such as luminescent parrot fish, the chocolate-dipped damsel, the Picasso triggerfish and several species of turtles.

Field Guide: 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.  Later you are transferred to the airport for your evening flight. (Plan to depart after 7 pm if you choose the reef option).

Meals Included:  Breakfast (Lunch is also included with reef trip)


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

Is this  Aboriginal culture program too long or too short? Contact us for custom tour options that match your budget and objectives!

School Excursion Fees Include:

  • Cairns airport transfers
  • Small World Journeys guide days 1-2
  • Aboriginal guides days 3-4
  • Specialty guides and educators
  • All activities and entrance fees as described in the itinerary
  • Transportation to activities
  • 3 nights at Cairns budget accommodation (4 or 6 share dorm rooms)
  • 1 night bush camping (tents, sleeping pads and bags provided)
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners
  • A hand-painted canvas to take home
  • Pre-trip educational information
  • 5 metres square Daintree rainforest plot adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue
  • A BPA free reusable water bottle and cloth shopping bag

*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 $345 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.

School Excursion Fees Exclude:

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


  • Aboriginal Culture Great Barrier Reef Trip: $189 per person

Land Cost to 31 March 2021:

  • 15+ participants: $1048 AUD
    (add $50 pp for 15 June – 15 July)
  • (Low numbers) 10-14 participants: $1079 AUD
    (add $50 pp for 15 June – 15 July)


All accommodation is included. In Cairns, you stay 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.


All meals are included. Meals are a combination of restaurant dinners, catered lunches and continental breakfasts at your accommodation. A typical breakfast is a selection of cereals, toast, juice and fruits; lunches are combinations of sandwiches and salads with fruits and a sweet, and dinners are a sample of buffets and BBQs, pastas and pizzas. Ask us about vegetarian, kosher and halal options.

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





  1. Read our Terms & Conditions and tell us you want to come.
  2. Pay a $200 AUD deposit for the group (not per person – just a flat $200 to secure your booking) via our payment page or by direct deposit/cheque.
  3. Receive a link from us to your special web page that has an electronic booking forms, waivers to e-sign, and more information about the trip.
  4. Have each student sign up via this link and pay you (the teacher) no later than 60 days prior to the trip. You then submit whole payment to us at 60 days.
  5. Enjoy your trip!


Question 1: 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 or first activity. Please note if you select flights that arrive or depart outside of the hours requested we can not guarentee supervision, or a staff memeber to meet you until the requested times.

Question 2: 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 3: 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. The good news is that the jellyfish 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 4: 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 5: What is your safety record?

Answer: Our safety record is outstanding. Please ask us for teacher/supervisor references specifically regarding our safety measures and practices.  We do risk assessments for every excursion we run. We carry a first aid kit in our vehicles, as well as on the guide's person when in remote areas.  All guides are certified in first aid and CPR.  We give every student  a card with emergency numbers and safety information on it to carry, and we review safety measures as part of our orientation. 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: 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 Ways We're ''Sustainable''.

Question 9: 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.

Question 10: What kind of insurance do you have in place?

Answer: Small World Journeys has public liability insurance up to $20,000,000 and is required for us to maintain our commercial permits for the national parks.

The World’s Oldest Living Civilisation

The Cairns region is the perfect place to look more closely at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with the influences of many language groups predominant in the region. On this educational tour  your students learn about the Kuku-Yalanji and the Mandingalbay Yidinji people who have lived in the rainforest and along the coast for thousands of years.

Australian National Curriculum – High School

Cross Curriculum Priority: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

Country/ Place

  • OI.1 Your students will discuss Australia’s two distinct Indigenous groups, Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. They will learn about the similarities and the differences between the two cultures.
  • OI.2 Your students will learn how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities maintain a special connection to and responsibility for Country/Place throughout all of Australia. In the Cairns region there are several different Aboriginal groups all of which have a strong connection to the reef, coast, rainforests and mountains.
  • OI.3 Students will hear from local Indigenous people about their unique belief systems and how they are spiritually connected to the land, sea, sky and waterways.


  • OI.4 Within the Cairns region there are several different Aboriginal language groups. By visiting different areas of the region your students will learn about language from the Kuku-Yalanji and Mandingalbay Yidinji people and the Djabugay language.
  • OI.5 Through interacting with Aboriginal people, students will learn that their ways of life are uniquely expressed through ways of being, knowing, thinking and doing.
  • OI.6 The history of Aboriginal people in the Cairns region spans back over 40,000 years. During your visit your students will learn about aspects of this complex history and how this can be influenced by thinking socially or politically.


  • OI.7 After a visiting the Cairns region and learning about the local Indigenous culture your high school students will be able to compare the similarities and differences of the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies encompassed by the diversity of nations across Australia.
  • OI.8 Local Aboriginal guides will explain how their people have sophisticated family and kinship structures.
  • OI.9 After experiencing first-hand the intricacies of the local Aboriginal people your students will be in a better position to acknowledge the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally and globally.


Ask us about your specific academic and cultural goals. This educational group tour is appropriate for both high school students and international college students traveling to Australia.

How your trip supports the community

SUPPORTING  INDIGENOUS CULTURE: We acknowledge  Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islander People as the first inhabitants of Australia and acknowledge Traditional Owners of the lands where we work and our groups travel. 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, you are supporting grassroots indigenous tourism ventures and encouraging Aboriginal pride in culture. It is our policy to include a talk or an activity with an Aboriginal person on every trip we offer. 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 new 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: On this educational tour, 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.  In 2018-19, three quarters of our expenses were paid back into the local economy.

SUPPORTING LOCAL HOMELESS & NEEDY PEOPLE: We make both financial and in-kind donations to Rosie’s Friends on The Street, a Cairns-based charity. Rosie’s seeks to provide homeless people and people living rough a hot meal, conversation and a non-judgemental human connection.  Small World Journeys’ staff also volunteer on Rosie’s outreach nights, and many of our students have made comfort packs for Rosie’s patrons! For more information on Rosie’s and other organisations to which we donate, see Philanthropy and Partnerships or ask us how you can incorporate community service with Rosie’s into your educational excursion.

How your trip is “Eco-friendly”

HELPING THE REEF: In addition to the coral tree we sponsor, we pay to “adopt” coral at Fitzroy Island through our partner Reef Restoration Foundation.  The coral propagation happening there is unprecedented and is being celebrated as a significant project 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.

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. We also recycle BOTH our hard plastics and soft plastics, and our trip snack wrappers get broken down and made into other things! For more information on how we donate to The Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and other environmental groups, see Philanthropy and Partnership.

OUR OFFICE IS RUN ON SOLAR POWER: Our future is so bright, we gotta wear shades.

CARBON OFFSETTING: We calculate our company’s carbon emissions. Then we pay Sustainable Travel International (STI) to offset your emissions by investing in environmental and community-based projects. In 2018 we offset 76.72 mega tonnes of carbon dioxide! For more information about our carbon offsetting, see 10 Ways We’re ”Sustainable”.

How your trip is safety-oriented

REFERENCES:  We have had hundreds of students travel with us, and our safety record is excellent.  Ask us for teacher references specifically regarding safety.

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.  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.

RISK ASSESSMENT: We do a risk assessment for every student tour we run. That risk assessment then gets sent to the 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.

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.