Environmental Conservation & Indigenous Cultures
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Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Student Journey  |  Australia

Explore rainforests, deserts, and reefs as you experience Australia, where millennia of isolation have led to the evolution of unique ecosystems and ancient cultures. On this high school summer program, travel from Sydney to Brisbane, then Cairns to Darwin, as you meet with members of the Aboriginal community to learn about the world’s oldest living culture and dive into the challenges facing this continent’s irreplaceable ecosystems. Learn about edible bush plants from Aboriginal Australians, scout for endangered cassowaries in the 125 million-year-old Daintree National Rainforest, and meet with climate activists to discuss what recent wildfires portend. Throughout your trip, gain insights that empower you and your group to brainstorm actions to help preserve these resources for generations to come.
July 4, 2021–July 24, 2021 (21 days)
July 10, 2021–July 30, 2021 (21 days)
Students completing grades: 8–12
Tuition: $8,490 + airfare
Typical Group: 20-24 + 3 leaders


  • Aid with planting and restoration of young mangrove trees on the coast

  • Learn creation stories from different Indigenous populations

  • Swim with tropical fish and colorful coral on the Great Barrier Reef

  • Camp in Australian swags under the stars in Kakadu National Park


This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

Departure • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and one of your trip leaders in Los Angeles, and fly together to Sydney, Australia. 

Sydney • 4 days • Begin your journey in Sydney and gain a sense of place, acclimate yourself to a new country, and get to know your fellow student travelers with an in-depth group orientation. With the historic Sydney Opera House as your backdrop, explore this international metropolis and all it has to offer. Visit the Australian Museum and discover the importance of land rights in Aboriginal culture, peer at millions of different scientific specimens, and discuss how to raise awareness of climate change. Visit the famous Taronga Zoo and get a glimpse of the native flora and fauna you will see on your Australian journey. Start to gain perspective on how island nations view climate change, and meet with local climate activists to see how governmental organizations are responding to this crisis. Witness how climate change has ravaged the animals and landscapes of New South Wales, and identify how the ecosystem is responding to the fires over a year later. Take a stroll through the botanical gardens, and join an Aborignal heritage tour. With a Cadigal guide, the traditional Indigenous owners of the land around Sydney, learn about the edible bush plants growing in the gardens. Venture out to the surrounding areas of Sydney to immerse yourself in nature. Swim in the naturally forming figure-eight pools in Royal National Park, or take a hike to see native wallabies and koalas in the Blue Mountains. Take surfing lessons in one of Sydney’s many beach towns, participate in a cooking class on traditional Australian recipes, and view the beautiful art and culture around every turn.

Brisbane • 3 days • Fly to the capital of Queensland and discover the most biodiverse city in Australia. Surrounded by national and state parks, Brisbane is known for its urban forests both in the city and in backyards. Learn about the city’s Free Native Plants Program, which helps support Queensland’s unique wildlife, and keeps the air and water cleaner and greener. Take a quick boat trip to Minjerribah, the Indigenous name for North Stradbroke Island. The Quandamooka people are the original custodians of the land, and their culture and heritage is rich throughout the island. Hear a cultural talk to learn more about the local Indigenous tribe of the island, then rent a bike for a cruise on the beach and see if you can spot the humpback whales migrating through the area. Back on the mainland, meet with one of Brisbane’s many environmental groups to learn about Australia’s wetlands and mangrove populations, which are vital to the health of coastlines and atmospheric carbon absorption, making them critical to the fight against climate change.

Great Barrier Reef • 6 days • Dive into the topics of coral reef and rainforest conservation while exploring Far North Queensland. Your home base in Cairns provides an excellent opportunity to explore and research multiple reefs and terrestrial rainforests. Compare and contrast healthy and imperilled coral and discuss the future health of barrier reefs all over the world. Meet with local biologists and reef scientists to learn firsthand about their work to protect and rehabilitate these special marine habitats. Just north of Cairns lies the 125 million-year-old Daintree National Rainforest. Home to many rare and endangered species like the cassowary, this ancient tropical rainforest hosts many plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Become guardians of the rainforest as you learn about the different threats to its future, including humans, climate change, and land degradation. 

Darwin • 5 days • Spend your final days in Australia soaking up the culture and beauty of the Northern Territory. The bewitching landscapes and deeply ingrained Indigenous traditions of the Darwin area captivate you from the moment you arrive. Immerse yourself in the Indigenous history and famous rock art of Nitmiluk National Park, and spend your days exploring Kakadu National Park. Kakadu boasts two billion years of geological history, and more than 50,000 years of Indigenous culture. Gather around a fire at night and listen to Bininj and Mungguy creation stories depicting how the Indigenous land owners arrived in the area. In Nitmiluk, learn about the Jaowyn people and the dreamtime stories passed down from generation to generation. Listen to the music and try your hand at playing the didgeridoo, ask questions about the impressive Aboriginal art, or take a hike through the bush to learn about edible plants and food. During the day, hike to Jim Jim Falls, a 200-meter-high waterfall, canoe through the impressive sandstone Katherine Gorge (the English name for Nitmiluk), or take a dip in the clear waters of Edith Falls.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Darwin, Australia, to Los Angeles with your group and a trip leader, then continue on to your final destination.

What to Expect

Physical Activity This is a physically active summer travel program. From snorkeling in the Coral Sea and surfing in Sydney, to hiking through rough terrain to beautiful waterfalls, this is an exciting trip with many ways for you to be active. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about outdoor activities.

Accommodations Our accommodations in Australia range from hostels in the cities to local guest houses in smaller towns, and even camping underneath the stars in swag bags while in national parks. Leaders stay together with students throughout the program.

ClimateDaytime temperatures in Australia range from 50–65°F in Sydney and Brisbane, and range a bit warmer to the north. The humid Far North Queensland ranges from 60-75°F, and the Darwin area can range from 75-90°F throughout the day.

Meals We take meals in restaurants throughout the day, and eat a picnic lunch every now and then. On hikes, we pack our lunches and snacks.

Cuisine The strong British influence in Australia can be seen in their cuisine: meat pies, fish and chips, stews, and hearty breakfasts. Throughout the coastal area of Australia, vegan and vegetarian food is widely available. You will also be able to satisfy most of your international cravings, as recent immigration has brought cuisine from the Mediterranean and Asia.

Sign up for two programs & save $500!

$300 tuition discount + no application fee