Australia High School Expedition

Set apart from other landmasses for millennia, Australia’s isolation has allowed unique ecosystems and cultures to thrive. Explore rain forests, deserts, and the world’s largest coral reef, observing and documenting fascinating wildlife along the way; and meet members of the Aboriginal community—the world’s oldest living culture—which settled here more than 50,000 years ago.

June 24 – July 13, 2019
July 13 – August 1, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged group flights from Los Angeles to Sydney, Sydney to Alice Springs, Ayers Rock to Cairns, and return to Los Angeles.

Trip Highlights

  • Set out with marine biologists for a two-day snorkeling trip on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Meet Aboriginal people in the outback to learn about their culture, and camp out in the desert under the stars.
  • Survey the canopy of the Daintree Rainforest from a jungle research station, and soar through the treetops on a zip-line tour.
  • Visit Sydney’s world-famous Taronga Zoo and practice wildlife photography on koalas, kangaroos, and other unique Australian species.

Itinerary | 20 Days

Days 1-5

View Images

The expedition begins with an orientation in the vibrant coastal city of Sydney. Break into teams to begin working on your On Assignment project. Browse a photo exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales, explore the lively Rocks district, and take in spectacular views of the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Attend a game of rugby or Australian rules football, or go surfing at Manly Beach. Meet your first koalas and kangaroos at the famous Taronga Zoo, or visit the Sydney Aquarium to get acquainted with the marine life you will encounter on the Great Barrier Reef.

Days 6-10

Fly from Sydney to Alice Springs and begin your journey through the outback towards the largest monolith on Earth, Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock). Steeped in mythology, this colossal piece of sandstone rises abruptly from the desert plain. Trek between the giant rounded domes of adjacent Kata Tjuta on the lookout for bright green ring-necked parrots. Visit an Aboriginal community at Ochre Pits and learn about Aboriginal art before trying your hand at the traditional craft of dot painting. Plunge into the cool and refreshing waters of the Ellery Big Hole, examine ancient rock art and medicinal plants, and listen to Dreamtime stories told by Aboriginal guides. Through the lens of your camera, use the barren landscape to practice working with depth of field—photographing dingoes, red kangaroos, and majestic wedge-tailed eagles that may venture into this otherwise still scene. Set up camp in the bush, help collect firewood and prepare dinner, and sleep under the stars. Spot the Southern Cross and Scorpio, and learn a whole new set of Southern Hemisphere constellations.

Pull Quote
My On Assignment project gave me a sense of purpose during this trip. It challenged me to look at each place we visited with a new perspective.
CHRISTALENA K., Student Traveler, 2017

Days 11-20

Fly to the northern Queensland city of Cairns, and transfer to Port Douglas, our hub for exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Set out on a private boat for a two-day snorkeling adventure with marine biologists. Anchor at the outer reef and snorkel along brilliant fields of coral. Spot sea turtles, giant parrotfish, harmless reef sharks, and maybe even a migrating humpback whale. Gain insights about the reef from the marine biologists on board, and learn about the threats to this unique ecosystem and the efforts being made to protect it.

Back on land, head north into the 125- million-year-old Daintree Rainforest. Hike through the lush vegetation to see cassowaries, crocodiles, tree kangaroos, and other endemic wildlife. Spend the night in a jungle lodge and encounter the native species of the surrounding rain forest, wetlands, and reef.

Wind down on the coastal side of the park on the white-sand beaches of Cape Tribulation. Explore a mangrove habitat where the jungle meets the ocean, and kayak along the reef. Trek out to the farthest point of the cape in search of whales and other marine life passing by. Return to Cairns for the final night and present your On Assignment project to the rest of the group. Celebrate your adventure with your fellow participants before flying home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one
In Sydney, Alice Springs, and Queensland, we stay in small hotels. In Daintree Rainforest, we stay in a small, family-run eco-resort, and in the outback we camp under the stars.

Kristofer Helgen, Writer and Globetrotter

Meet Our Experts

Zoologist Kristofer Helgen is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer who has led research expeditions to remote areas on almost every continent in his search for undiscovered species. From the jungles of Papua New Guinea to the slopes of the Andes, Kris has identified some 100 new mammal species and documented viable populations of animals previously thought to be in major decline or even extinct. He is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Adelaide in Australia, and has served as curator of mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Kris will join the July 13 departure of the Australia expedition.

Krystle Wright, Photographer & Cinematographer

Adventure photographer and cinematographer Krystle Wright hails from Australia and has made a career of capturing unique moments on expedition and in extreme sports. She strives to tell the stories of impassioned physical feats that might otherwise go undocumented. Krystle’s assignments have taken her to all seven continents, and she continues to find ways to challenge herself—from paragliding in Pakistan to swimming through unexplored caves. Her images have been featured in National Geographic magazine and on the @NatGeoTravel Instagram account, as well as in Outside magazine, GQ, the Huffington Post. Krystle will join the June 24 departure of the Australia expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Choose one of these On Assignment projects, and break into teams to delve further into your area of focus.

Document the unique cultures, animals, and landscapes of Australia in a photo-essay. In the outback, capture Uluru’s red rock and ancient carvings aglow at sunset, and zoom in on endemic desert wildlife. Try underwater photography amid the vibrant corals of the Great Barrier Reef, then catch the early morning light while exploring the rain forests of Cape Tribulation. Practice portraiture with the people you meet throughout your travels. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Explore Australia’s diverse ecosystems, and learn about the invasive species that threaten native flora and fauna. Guided by marine biologists, catalog the species you spot on the Great Barrier Reef, and examine the impact of coral bleaching on this natural treasure. Explore the treetops of the Daintree Rainforest on an educational zip line tour, and examine the canopy up close from the observation deck at a research station.