Calling all ocean lovers! Australia hosts breathtaking coastlines, tropical islands, and oceans that are home to a vast and colorful array of marine wildlife. During this gap year program, you will connect yourself to the land and the sea as you support a range of marine and environmental conservation projects, from protecting the marine and coral diversity of the Great Barrier Reef to preparing food for sick and injured turtles at a rescue center. If you are committed to making a positive change for our oceans and the planet so that future generations can continue to enjoy nature's beauty, this Australia Program is for you!
There will be plenty of ways to discover the rich biodiversity of Australia's oceans, waterways, and wetlands by heading out on exciting water adventures too. Peek into the magical underwater world by snorkeling in Byron Bay and Moreton Island, spot whales and dolphins on coastal walks, ride waves to your heart's content during a multi-day surf camp and take on the wilderness on a canoe expedition in the Noosa Everglades. At other times you will delve deeper into the Aboriginal culture that has been kept alive in this country for more than 50,000 years. Indigenous people across Sydney and Cairns will share stories and the meaning of the cultures and way of life for a truly immersive experience.
Australia has reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists, meaning our Australia Students can feel confident that this program is going ahead.
✓ Want to road trip up the iconic East Coast with a group of friends
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in a rich indigenous culture
✓ Love water activities like surfing, canyoning, snorkeling, and kayaking
✓ Are enthusiastic about marine, wildlife and dune conservation
✓ Want to spot native Australian wildlife like koalas and kangaroos
My Pacific Discovery trip was absolutely a life-changing experience. I not only had an excellent time and made 13 new best friends, but also gained perspective that changed the way I look at the world. Meeting people from local communities and learning about their way of life has inspired me to think differently about my own life and about those I meet. Coming home from this trip, I am more thoughtful, inquisitive, independent, and mature and will be much better prepared to handle what the future brings."
- Emily Bosworth
Our Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
Welcome to Sydney, Australia! Bold, brash and beautiful, Sydney is arguably the world’s most vibrant city. On arrival, you will be met by your Pacific Discovery Program leader and transferred to our downtown accommodation near Sydney, where the first European settlement in Australia was established over 200 years ago. A comprehensive program briefing takes place where we get to know each other, before we explore Sydney’s famous harbor and beaches, the Opera House, and Australian Museum.
After a few days of orientation, we get a first look at Australia’s aboriginal culture with a cruise around the Sydney Harbour. Jump aboard a Mari Nawi, or big canoe, and listen to stories of the Cadigal, Guringai and Wallumedegal people of Sydney Harbor. We will learn the Aboriginal names and meanings of significant Sydney landmarks, step ashore on Be-lang-le-wool (Clark Island) to learn about life pre-colonization and traditional fishing methods, and even get to enjoy a traditional cultural performance!
Just two hours from Sydney but a world away, are the rugged sandstone cliffs of the Blue Mountains National Park. Based from the main township, Katoomba, we will get outdoors to discover for ourselves what makes ‘the Blueys’ so special. We explore the famous Three Sisters rock formations and spend a day canyoning - a unique adventure involving hiking, scrambling, and rappels through sculptured rock canyons.
We journey north to an isolated section of the coast where we learn to surf from our surfing-guru instructors during a four-day surf camp. We will learn to laugh at ourselves as we no doubt tumble into the water and we’ll learn to trust ourselves as we slowly develop the skills and strengths needed to master this graceful art. Whether it is your first time on the water or you have a few days under your belt, the instructors will cater to everyone. Our evenings are spent relaxing at the campground and playing games, before a great sleep in preparation for another day’s worth of riding waves!
At the heart of surfing is a connection-to-nature philosophy. We get to experience this in a hands-on way by undertaking volunteer conservation work of bush regeneration and dune conservation in some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes on the East Coast of Australia. Our project aims to secure as much of the native plants and species that can be secured in the wild as possible for the next 100 years.
After some rewarding volunteer work, we head to Bryon Bay. On a sensational section of coastline, Byron Bay has been an alternative hang-out since the 1970s and is today, the quintessential surfing town. Tie-dyed hippies mix with bronzed surfers, artists and large numbers of local and international tourists, there to enjoy its beaches, boutiques and cafes. You will dive into the art scene by exploring the artisan markets, and after appreciating all the beautiful beaches, take part in a beach cleanup with local community initiative groups. While here, we also snorkel with a range of friendly sea creatures, go for a walk around Cape Byron to try and spot humpback whales, and rent surfboards for a day to put our new skills to the test.
From Byron Bay, we drive north into Queensland. We head into Queensland’s capital Brisbane, and take a day trip to Moreton Island, the third largest sand island in the world! Expect a fun day out snorkeling amid rainbow-colored fish and shipwrecks, bathing in a blue lagoon and exploring the National Park that covers 95 percent of the island.
On our way further up to the Sunshine Coast, we will spend a few hours exploring Australia Zoo to learn about the zoo’s wildlife and the conservation initiatives of its late founder Steve Irwin, a famous conservationist that is also known as the Crocodile Hunter.
We stay on to the Sunshine Coast near another gorgeous beach and try to spot more whales and dolphins as we walk around the national park headland, and get all geared up and ready for a four-day canoe journey into the Noosa Everglades. Hidden within the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park, the Noosa Everglades are a tropical wetland and one of only two everglades systems in the world. It’s also one of Australia’s most diverse ecosystems, boasting over 40% of the country’s bird species.
We immerse ourselves in the wilderness of the Upper Noosa River; kayak the river of mirrors, experience the serenity, walk to the ancient Cooloola Sandpatch and camp in the bush beside the cool waters of the Noosa Everglades. This canoe trip will see us really explore the wilderness and beauty that Australia has to offer!
After the Everglades expedition, we will drive up the coast until we reach Airlie Beach. The charming township of Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsundays and the iconic Great Barrier Reef, and will lure us in with its laid-back vibe and palm-fringed beaches.
After a few days of exploring Airlie Beach, we will give a helping hand to the marine debris cleanup efforts of a local organization with the aim to protect the Whitsunday Islands. We will not only aid in the efforts to keep beaches beautiful by picking up some of the debris, but also collect data to help track litter to its source and prevent it from entering the waste stream and harming the Great Barrier Reef. We also visit a turtle rescue center that works on the successful rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine turtles. We will learn more about the care they provide and help the staff with preparing food, feeding, and cleaning the turtles in care.
The adventure brings us to Magnetic Island next, where the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area meets the rain forests of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Over half the island consists of bird sanctuaries and a national park with a large koala population. We will stay on the island for three nights, giving us plenty of time for hiking, swimming and koala spotting.
Our final stop in Australia is tropical Cairns. While we are here, we spend three days getting involved in marine conservation. We will learn all about coral, marine life and sustainability for our oceans, all while out on the outer Great Barrier Reef. A visit to the Great Barrier Reef isn’t complete without doing some underwater exploration ourselves of course. We are lucky to have a personal marine biologist guide us around the reef on an unforgettable snorkeling expedition! Be astounded at the diversity of this World Heritage area – spot sea turtles, myriad tropical fish and marine creatures.
We end the program by delving deeper into the Australian aboriginal culture. We will learn about the fascinating customs and ancient traditions that are kept alive in the rainforest of Kuranda, discover how the spear was used for hunting, try throwing a boomerang, and enjoy a traditional dance performance. We will spend our last few days enjoying the waterfront boardwalk and lagoon beach that Cairns has to offer, and it’s unfortunately time to start program wrap. We complete the program by reflecting on all we have experienced and learned. Remembering that we are stewards of the land and sea, and that we are entrusted by our ancestors to take care of what has been given to us.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
✓ Certificate of Program Completion
Medium Activity Level: Anyone with an average fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this mini semester! You will need to be prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program.
Low Camping Level: You will only be camping for a couple of nights on this gap year program during the canoe expedition, but you will spend most of your time in comfortable hostels and lodges.
Medium Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
Our accommodation will be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available some days, except during the weeks in the field on volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable, and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy, and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $10 per day for.
Food preparation responsibilities are shared by all students. It’s fun, social, and often a highlight. An average day on the program would consist of the following:
Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful international gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.