Follow the path of migrating whales along the East Coast of Australia, on a journey of exploration, adventure and insight.

On this 4-week summer abroad program you’ll go canyoning in the Blue Mountains, learning to surf in coastal National Parks, hiking on beautiful Fraser Island and Magnetic Island, boating among the Whitsunday Islands, and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef.

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 alongside National Parks staff in two coastal National Parks. The project is a three-way collaboration between Pacific Discovery, Surfaris, and the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service.

You’ll learn about the conservation initiatives of Steve Irwin’s legacy, The Australia Zoo, and have a go at boomerang throwing and didgeridoo at a fantastic Aboriginal cultural center. You’ll try whale-spotting at numerous headland walks along our journey. There’s also time to explore vibrant Sydney, Byron Bay and Cairns.

Throughout your time in Australia you’ll learn an enormous amount about Australia’s environmental and ecological history and how that unique history has shaped Australia’s flora, fauna and people. Australia’s warm climate, friendly people, unusual wildlife, and dramatic natural beauty make it a fantastic place to experience. With a landmass comparable to the United States, but a population of only 20 million people, Australia is sparsely populated, yet home to some of the world’s most vibrant cities. Australia’s natural diversity is staggering - the world’s largest coral reef, lush rain-forests, and the most beautiful beaches. Wildlife is abundant, colorful and visible - kangaroos, koalas, flocks of raucous parrots, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and colorful reef fish.

This summer abroad program is suitable for high school graduates, gap year students, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available on this program.

“I no longer question whether or not to leap into new and unknown experiences, no longer stand in the way of myself and of my happiness. This program gives every person the opportunity to learn about themselves and learn how to interact with the earth. It is freeing and exhilarating and I’ll be grateful for it for the rest of my life.”
Serena Feingold

This program can be combined with Fall or Spring semester program options in other regions of the world (Southeast Asia, Nepal and Tibet, South America, Central America) for an in-depth and enriching global gap year

  • Rewarding service-learning conservation project in National Parks on the New South Wales Central Coast
  • Exploring Sydney - harbor, beaches, museums
  • Try boomerang throwing and didgeridoo at the Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Center
  • Canyoning daytrip - rappelling, scrambling and hiking in the Blue Mountains
  • 3-day learn to surf safari at secluded coastal national parks
  • Soaking up the ambiance of Byron Bay, Noosa and Cairns
  • Visit amazing Australia Zoo and learn about wildlife and the conservation initiatives of the late founder, Steve Irwin, the 'Crocodile Hunter'
  • 3-day 4wd and hiking safari exploring Fraser Island National Park
  • Experience life on an outback station (farm)
  • 3 nights on Magnetic Island – koalas, day hikes, beautiful beaches
  • Island-hopping daytrip and snorkeling in the spectacular Whitsunday Islands National Park
  • Outer-reef day trip, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and experiencing its immense marine diversity
  • Informal lectures and discussions on history, culture, society and environment
  • Very personalized and supportive small group experience – maximum of 16 students
  • Experienced and inspiring Pacific Discovery Program Instructors supported by local guides

Day 1-2. Sydney, Australia, arrival!

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 Cove, where the first European settlement in Australia was established, over 200 years ago. A comprehensive program briefing takes place before we explore Sydney’s famous harbor and beaches, visit the Opera House and Australian Museum.

Day 3-4. Blue Mountains National Park

Just two hours from Sydney but a world away, are the rugged sandstone escarpments of the Blue Mountains National Park. Based from the main township, Katoomba, we'll get outdoors to discover for ourselves what makes ‘the Blueys’ so special. We spend a day canyoning - a unique adventure involving hiking, scrambling and rappels through sculptured rock canyons.

Day 5-8. Surf Camp

We journey north to an isolated section of coast where we stay at a surf-camp and learn to surf from our surfing-guru instructors on the myriad breaks in the area. Spend evenings relaxing at camp, playing games, debriefing each day and hearing the instructor’s wild stories, before a great sleep in preparation for a sunrise surf!

Day 9-12 Conservation Service Project

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 alongside National Parks staff in two coastal National Parks. The project is a three-way collaboration between Pacific Discovery, Surfaris, and the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service.

The project revolves around ecosystem enhancement in Arakoon National Park. And is connected to a state-wide program called ‘Saving our Species’ which aims to halt and reverse the growing numbers of Australian animals and plants facing extinction. This program aims to secure as many threatened species that can be secured in the wild as possible, for the next 100 years. Project work is supervised by National Parks sfaff.

Day 13-14. Byron 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. While here, we’ll do a half-day walk around Cape Byron to try and spot humpback whales on their migratory route.

Day 15-16. Sunshine Coast and Australia Zoo

From Byron Bay we drive north into Queensland. We’ll spend several hours exploring Australia Zoo, learning about the zoo’s wildlife, and the conservation initiatives of the late founder, Steve Irwin - the Crocodile Hunter. We stay on the Sunshine Coast near another gorgeous beach and try whale and dolphin spotting as we walk around the national park headland.

Day 17-19. Fraser Island National Park

Our favorite place in Australia! We head off on a three-day 4WD trip across Fraser Island - seeing turtles, dingoes, diverse forests and stunning freshwater lakes lapping white sand beaches. Fraser Island is the largest sand island on earth. We’ll take hikes through beautiful forests and stay in cabins near the coast each night.

Day 20-22. Myella Station

Join the Eeather family to learn about life on an outback station (farm). Myella is a 2600 acre cattle station and has been farmed by the Eather family for 80 years. During our stay you’ll get to work with animals and experience the families deep connection to the land. From Myella, we make our way north to the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 23-24. Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands

From the township of Airlie Beach we spend an action-packed day island hopping among the Whitsunday Islands aboard an ocean raft. Enjoy snorkeling and visiting spectacular Whitehaven beach, often voted ‘best beach in the world’.

Day 25-27. Magnetic Island

A travel day brings us to Magnetic Island, where the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area meets the rainforests of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Over half the island is bird sanctuaries and national park with a large koala population. We stay 3 nights on the island giving us ample time for hiking, swimming and koala spotting.

Day 28-30. Cairns

Our final stop in Australia is tropical Cairns. The highlight of our time here is a day trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef to snorkel over coral reefs and be astounded at the diversity of this World Heritage area – spot sea turtles, myriad tropical fish and marine creatures. We also visit Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center and have a go throwing a boomerang, playing a didgeridoo, and learning about the richness and diversity of Aboriginal culture. Cairns has a popular waterfront boardwalk and beach to relax at. You’ll have time for last minute souvenir shopping before a program wrap on our final days.
Depart Australia with an immense sense of satisfaction from the conservation work you’ve completed, challenges you’ve risen to, adventures you’ve undertaken, and an awareness and understanding of Australia’s complex biodiversity and cultural heritage.

Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, relax and explore independently with others in your group.

For full program details, please request the information booklet


Open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for conservation and new experiences. You need to be committed to, and prepared for, some physical work whilst on the volunteer component of the program i.e. trail building, tree planting or painting. You don’t need to have had previous experience with travel or any of the activities offered.

The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.


Our accommodation will be a mixture of comfortable and clean hostels and lodges. Laundry, postal, telephone and email facilities will be available most days. 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. 100% of meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all participants, is fun, social and often a highlight.  We recommend you budget the sum of $10 per day for snacks and drinks not included in the program cost ($300 for the program).

Program Tuition Includes

Visa (with flights booked through STA Travel only); All in-country travel; All accommodation; All meals; All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; Week-long environmental education and service learning project; Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism; Experienced Pacific Discovery Program Instructors and local guides; Online image library for your program.

The Pacific Discovery Australia Summer Program is an experiential journey traversing Australia's East Coast, combining conservation focused volunteer service, adventure travel, and immersion in Australia's spectacular and unique environment.

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Summer Dates 1 Jul - 30 Jul, 2021
Duration 30 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $6,350 USD Estimated Flight Cost $1,400 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 16 students & 2 instructors Ages 18 - 24 ideal
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Sydney / Cairns, Australia
(we assist with flight arrangements)