Far North Queensland Sustainability & Community Service Trip

Special Tour Availability: To suit your travel requirements.
Cairns QLD, Australia Tailor Made Tours

The content of this trip is suitable for high school groups who are studying topics like sustainable tourism, business and agriculture along with studies in biology, ecology and cultural studies.

Sustainability is about helping the planet as well as people. In Australia’s far north, students will participate in community service projects and witness sustainability ventures in many forms: a bio-dynamic dairy farm, a self-sustaining aquaponics system, a grassroots indigenous tourism business, a wildlife rescue centre and an “eco” sailboat to the reef. Students get to actively protect some of the planet’s best biodiversity on this service learning trip.

Students experience natural areas – such as snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef or doing service work in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, areas that are celebrated for their biodiversity and are protected because of their ecological importance. Students also learn from other sources like sustainable boat tour operators and Aboriginal elders the significance of sustainability and community involvement in their business ventures. Your guide provides insight into your surroundings and leads discussions throughout. A presentation from a rainforest researcher and Small World Journeys’ owner and a debate about a highly controversial environmental issue rounds out your sustainability studies. You also plant native trees, help the homeless, monitor a rainforest revegetation project and the reef as a way to leave the area a bit better than when you arrived.

Destination:   Cairns

Tour Highlights:

  • Talk to sustainability professors and experts in their fields
  • Collect data on coral predators and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Hear from cattle station owners about the difficulties of life on the land
  • Make a meal for the homeless and needy in Cairns
  • Experience the world’s oldest living rainforest- the Daintree
  • Make cheese or yogurt at a biodynamic dairy farm
  • Participate in eco-tourism ensuring that you are leaving the area exactly as you found it
  • Plant native trees to help revitalise degraded land
  • See how Australia’s wildlife evolved into unique species found nowhere else in the world
  • Learn about UNESCO World Heritage listing and the important environmental sites in the tropics
  • Discuss food security and learn how to make sustainable systems at home


  • Cairns airport transfers
  • All activities as described in the itinerary
  • All transportation
  • Guide for Days 1-4, 6-7
  • Marine biologist Days 5 & 8
  • Specialty guides and Indigenous educators
  • 6 nights central Cairns budget accommodation 
  • 1 night outback cattle station 
  • 1 night Daintree eco-lodge 
  • All continental breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All dinners (except one on last night)
  • 101 Animals 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, and snorkel on the reef trip
  • Reusable water bottles for each student to keep
  • National Park and Marine Park taxes and levies
  • Trees for replanting
  • Contents of hygiene packs to be distributed to local homeless and needy people
  • 5 metres square of Daintree rainforest adopted in your group’s name through Rainforest Rescue

Terms & Conditions:

Please be advised that this is an ‘example’ of a schedule and that the activities may be variable dependent upon dates, weather, special requests and other factors. Itineraries will be confirmed prior to travel.

Day 1

Arrival, Orientation and Sustainability Workshop

Fly to Cairns –  Welcome to the tropics! You are met at the airport by one of our staff and given a safety talk and orientation on what to expect on your trip.

Sustainability Workshop: First activity today is a workshop to explore students’ perceptions of sustainability, facilitated by Small World Journeys’ owner, Laurie Pritchard.  During this interactive session you discover what we can learn from casinos, cruise ships and cavemen, and how gorillas are setting an example of sustainable tourism. Topics range from the three pillars of sustainability, to the world’s number one problem, to how your little actions make a difference.  A game-show activity also introduces thought provoking concepts as well as plenty of laughs.

Dinner is included.

Overnight Cairns.

Day 2

Tree Planting Service Project, Bio-Dynamic Dairy Tour, Wind Farm and Outback Cattle Station.

Native Tree Planting: Your first community service project is planting native trees. With your guide you discuss loss of biodiversity and habitats for a range of species due to agriculture or development. Then with shovels and gloves, you plant native trees to moderate temperature and humidity and to create niches for other plants and animals. This area is a ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity, so your service work here is helping to protect a buffer zone to a World Heritage area. By working with seedlings, digging, planting, and watering today, you get to meet some local volunteers, help the environment and contribute to the community.

Bio-Dynamic Dairy Farm and Making Butter: Next you learn what it means for farmers to “go beyond organic” by applying a diligent set of practices to the land. At a forward-thinking dairy farm, you learn how biodynamics, one of the first sustainable agriculture movements, accounts for ecological, social and economic sustainability. With a chance to sample delicious soft cheeses and creamy yoghurts, you taste the magic that makes dairy products so yummy. You also have the chance to learn the art of making homemade butter!

Wind Farm: On the edge of the outback, you stop at Windy Hill Wind Farm for a look at the first wind farm that was constructed in Queensland. The Windy Hill Wind Farm produces 12 megawatts of electricity, or enough energy to supply 3,500 homes. You learn about why Australia requires energy retailers to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to achieve renewable energy targets, and how this wind farm is helping with these sustainability efforts.

Outback Farmstay and Wildlife: As you cross the Great Dividing Range, you enter outback country, where the dirt turns red and gum trees prevail. Here you are welcome guests at a traditional working cattle station and homestead, opened to your group. On arrival, you hop in the hay truck to trace a route through the station, much of which has been set aside as a sanctuary for wildlife and look for the kangaroos and crocodiles that roam the property.

Aussie BBQ and Stargazing: After a classic Aussie “barbie”, you’ll have a fire under starry outback skies. From this remote outback station, views of the southern hemisphere stars are phenomenal. You learn how to find southern constellations, including the Southern Cross. Students sleep in simple single-gender dorm-style bunk houses, while teachers sleep in private cabins tonight.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Outback Cattle Station.

Day 3

Outback Farmstay, Community Service Project

Outback Farm Life: This morning you get a sample of true outback life on a cattle station. You visit the cattle yards to learn about the cattle musters, efforts made for humane animal treatment and where your food comes from! You also learn what this robust rural family does to survive flooding, drought and economic hardships.

Cow Milking, Animal Feeding and Whip Cracking:

Breaking into small groups, students can feed the goats and chickens, learn how to milk the cows and crack a whip properly in true cowboy style. Students also take a walk back through time on the homestead to the age of the early Australian pioneers, and they can touch the old furniture, trinkets and memorabilia all well-preserved by the family.

Community Service Project for the Homeless: Preparing Hygiene Packs: Students will learn how to make special bags using upcycled materials (which helps them save money!) Students then put hygiene items into the bags they’ve made, items most needed by those living on the street. In addition, a representative from the charity will speak to the students about how members of the Cairns community become homeless, and how their gift will help.

Cuisine & Culture: This evening students have a special treat: a migrant now living in Cairns shares her story and her love of cooking with you. Students will learn how to prepare a delicious meal from her home country, and armed with the recipe they can also re-create this meal when they return home. In a time when the plight of migrants is widely discussed, this activity will allow you to understand circumstances in the world that cause people to flee their countries and will humanise this struggle. Students will gain some culinary skills, feast on a fantastic meal, and perhaps make a new friend. (Please inform us if you wish to have a restaurant dinner instead of this activity)

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight  Cairns.

Day 4

Global Food Security and Aquaponics Workshop and Future of the Reef Presentation

Aquaponics Activities: Today students gather at the property of an “aquaponics gardener” for a fun and intensive look at how to produce organic fruits, herbs, veggies and fish in a sustainable way in their school or back yard.  Through hands on activities, students will learn how fish waste makes veggies develop, how things like sweet tomatoes, crunchy lettuce and fragrant mint grow without soil and how the icky-sounding but effective “worm tea” keeps insects away. Native bees on the property produce honey for collection, a breeding box makes fish food, and solar power keeps all systems running.

Make Your Own Sustainable System: The best part of the day is learning how to make your own mini-aquaponics system that you can easily and cheaply re-create at your home or school to produce your own food.  This is a creative exercise to spark discussion about the global themes of agriculture, hunger issues and sustainability and to show students how, through principles of permaculture, anyone can be self- sufficient.

Future of the Reef Presentation: In the evening back in Cairns students will attend a unique presentation on the future of the Great Barrier Reef. The marine naturalist teaches students 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, students will 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 students themselves can help save the reef and continue campaigning when they return home.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Cairns.

Day 5

Great Barrier Reef Snorkelling, Reef Service Project and Turtle Rehab Centre.

Island Snorkelling: Today you travel by boat to the inner Great Barrier Reef to explore fringing reefs that surround a rainforest draped tropical island. The marine biologist/naturalist takes students on a guided snorkel tour, to be followed by discussions on their observations. Topics can include, but are not limited to:  coral predators and threats to the reefhuman impacts on the reef and climate change.

Coral Watch Data Collection:  In the afternoon students will engage in an activity that addresses concerns over climate change and coral bleaching. During this exercise students will find out more about how and why coral bleaches. Students will learn how to identify different kinds of coral, match its colours to a waterproof chart, and then record what they observe in teams of two.  The data then goes back to the University of Queensland’s Coral Watch scientists, where they analyse the results over time and look for any long term trends. Students’ results also go into a database to track bleaching around the world, and the group receives a graph of their results.

Sustainability Activity: Based on what they have learned thus far, students are asked to participate in a written evaluation of the island’s sustainability efforts through a fun activity.

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

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Cairns.

Day 6

Wildlife Park Behind The Scenes, Aboriginal Guided Walk and Daintree Rainforest.

Wildlife Park: In the morning the guide takes the student to a wildlife immersion park that is made up of three open and interactive environments (the Rainforest, the Wetlands and the Grasslands) for guests and animals to mingle in a natural setting. Hundreds of animals are housed on the property, including kangaroos, wallabies, laughing kookaburras, goannas, quolls, snakes, lorikeets, tree kangaroos, owls, koalas and an assortment of other Aussie animals, all of which are in need of proper enclosures, feeding and care.

Behind-the-Scenes Wildlife Rescue Program and Breeding: The guide gives the students fascinating insight into a day in the life of a wildlife keeper and how they care for sick, injured or orphaned animals. The goal of the centre is to eventually re-release the animals into the wild. In addition, the care centre operates a successful Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo breeding program for this locally endemic species. The tour includes the Wildlife Care and Rescue Centre, quarantine, koala and eucalypt plantations and food preparation areas.

Optional Photo – You and a Koala! If you have always wanted to get a quintessential photo with a koala- here’s your chance (extra cost).

Aboriginal-Guided Rainforest Walk: Students discover Mossman Gorge and its surrounding wilderness, an area sacred to the Kuku Yalanji. The Kuku Yalanji are one of the only tribal rainforest people in Australia who still have their own culture and language, and this afternoon students are welcomed by an aboriginal guide for a walk to see the rainforest through indigenous eyes. Students discover how aboriginal people found their way through dense rainforest and learn which native plants were used for food, fire and medicine. The guide also explains how seasons dictated life and how modern life has affected their spirituality. This is a positive interaction with traditional owners during which you learn how they survived on this land for thousands of years.

Daintree Rainforest Eco-Lodge & Sustainability Talk: Later students enter the magical Daintree Rainforest – the oldest continuously growing rainforest on earth. The Daintree lodge boasts an attractive swimming pool, guest laundry, BBQ area, and a superb location in the rainforest.  Students sleep in dorm-style cabins with ensuites and air conditioning, and the sounds of the rainforest surround you.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Daintree Rainforest.

Day 7

Environmental Debate, JCU Research Station Canopy Crane and Service Project and Beach BBQ

Environmental Debate: After a night of immersion in the rainforest, students wake to birdcalls and the chatter of the rainforest.  Then they will participate in an environmental debate which centres on issues of management and planning of Australia’s urban future.  Students are given background information and a summary of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about a major resort development proposed for Cairns and then assigned different roles to play depicting various community members. They then argue for or against the building of the resort to convince “council” (teachers). This requires evaluating current and proposed future land use as well as human alteration of biomes, taking into consideration biotic and abiotic factors. This is a fun way for students to get involved with all sides of an environmental debate with a real-life example that has gained significant national media attention.

JCU Canopy Crane: The James Cook University research station is home to their canopy crane. After a safety orientation and a discussion about the significance of this rainforest by an on-site expert, students 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.

Service Project: 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.

Beach BBQ: Later you head to the most stunning beach in the region for swimming, music, beach soccer and a classic Aussie BBQ.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Cairns.

Day 8

The Great Barrier Reef – Snorkelling, Data Collection and Community Service

Boat Ride to Reef: The 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. The marine biologist presents what students 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, dock at a floating pontoon, and an underwater universe greets the students. During a guided snorkel tour with the marine biologist, students 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, affectionately known as “Nemo”.

Data Collection and Service: Next you receive in-water training on how to conduct the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Rapid Monitoring Survey. Your marine guide will point 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 students 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.

Each student receives a certificate of participation at the end of the day.

Field Guide and Sightings App: 101 Animals of The Great Barrier Reef, written by Dr. Martin Cohen, helps you to better understand the underwater world and is for students to keep.  Before the trip, students will also be given information about downloading an app with which they can log in sightings of reef fauna and flora and their data is then sent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner included.

Overnight Cairns.

Day 9

Optional Sustainability Amazing Race and Departure

After breakfast this morning students have free time for last-minute shopping or souvenir purchases.

Optional Sustainability Amazing Race: Totally optional but totally fun is Sustainability Amazing Race (no extra cost). Students break up into small teams and they are given clues about different sustainable sites or aspects of Cairns city. Questions are tailored to younger or older students and this is a good way to test students’ retention of the material taught on the program.  This is an action-oriented activity that is fun for everyone, and the winning team gets a prize!

Later the group is transferred to the Cairns airport for their flight home.

Breakfast included.

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