Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Australia to uncover some of the continent's best-kept secrets and even get a unique perspective on familiar landmarks in an OAT small group. Delve into the remote Daintree Rainforest habitats. Snorkel or swim at the Great Barrier Reef. Explore the caves and waterholes of Ayers Rock. Feel the pulse of Australia's cultural centers—Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney—and meet the people whose lives have been shaped by this magnificent continent. Join us, and discover Ultimate Australia.
Fly from the U.S. to Melbourne, Australia.
You continue your flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, losing one day en route as you cross the International Date Line. You regain this day when you fly back to the U.S. at the end of the trip.
Your Australia travel begins as an OAT representative greets you at the Melbourne airport and transfers with you to our hotel. After an orientation walk with your Trip Leader and travelers who chose to take our Tasmania: Australia's Natural Heritage pre-trip extension, you’ll have the afternoon free here in enticing Melbourne, the capital of Australia’s “Garden State” of Victoria. You can relax, visit local shops, or find your own ways to interact with the locals, who are not known for being shy.
Tonight’s Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant is a great chance for you to mingle with your travel companions.
We have breakfast at the hotel and then begin our explorations of Melbourne’s highlights. Our first stop is the eerie corridors and dark cells of the Old Melbourne Gaol. Here, we’ll enjoy an exclusive tour uniquely structured for our small group.
We’ll explore the narrow hallways and cramped cells, some which contain the death masks of the 135 unfortunate convicts who were hanged here, including the infamous bushranger (a bandit or criminal who hid in the bush and led a predatory life) Ned Kelly—Australia’s most notorious criminal. Many researchers and visitors also believe this site to be haunted by the troubled souls who were jailed here, so watch out for any unusual occurrences!
We tour central Melbourne to feel the pulse of the city. We pass by the State Houses of Parliament, which served as the Australian national seat of government for a time. Nearby, we see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the city’s most imposing churches. We then have the option of walking in the city’s fine Botanic Gardens, a splendid example of 19th-century English landscaping.
At the end of the tour, you may have the opportunity to visit the Queen Victoria Market (if open) or return back to the hotel. This leaves you free for the afternoon to eat lunch where you choose and explore the city further on your own. Melbourne is a lovely city of broad boulevards, green parks, and Victorian architecture whose growth in the late 19th century was fueled by a gold rush. Public trams running on rails criss-cross the city, as distinctive a symbol of Melbourne as cable cars are of San Francisco. If you do decide to ride the trams, please remember to use caution when getting on and off the cars. They are a fantastic, romantic way to see the city, but mind the steps!
Take a boat ride on the Yarra River from Princes Walk, or hop a tram to the suburb of Fitzroy and stroll along lively Brunswick Street with local artists and musicians. Cross the Yarra to Southbank to shop and dine. Stroll more of Melbourne’s magnificent parks, like Flagstaff Gardens, Carlton Gardens, and the King’s Domain, or simply relax if you wish.
This evening, dinner is on your own.
Today, you are free to explore Melbourne at your leisure. Relax at your hotel or in one of the area's green parks, stroll the charming local shops that line the broad boulevards, or sample the area's culinary delights. You can explore more of Melbourne by hopping on the public tram.
Or, join us on an optional tour of Kangaroos & Koalas in the Wild. Accompanied by an experienced nature guide, we’ll visit a national park in the nearby Western Plains outside Melbourne to study Australia’s famous marsupials in their natural habitat. We’ll witness throngs of Eastern Gray Kangaroos bounding by and encounter koalas hanging from trees. And as we get to know the wildlife, we’ll also have the chance to help remove boneseed, a weed that impedes koala movement throughout the bush. A picnic lunch is included.
Dinner tonight is on your own.
Enjoy an early breakfast and then transfer to the Melbourne airport for the flight to Adelaide. We arrive in Adelaide mid-morning and enjoy some sightseeing, followed by an included lunch.
Adelaide, the capital of the state of South Australia, is in a great location sandwiched between the Lofty Mountains and the Southern Ocean. After arrival, we visit Cleland Wildlife Park, where we have the opportunity to see endangered species and encounter some of Australia's most noted wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and friendly wallabies.
From there, we embark on a tour of Adelaide, a city of wonderful views enhanced by its setting between green hills and the waters of the Gulf of St. Vincent. Named for Queen Adelaide, the wife of the British King William IV, the city was settled around 1836 by free people and not by convicts—as was so much of Australia. Adelaide was one of the first planned cities of the time, designed by Colonel William Light in a neat grid pattern interspersed with town squares. That grid pattern still holds, making the streets of Adelaide's central district well-defined and easy to navigate.
We have a lovely view of Adelaide from Light's Vision, the site of a statue erected in honor of Colonel William Light, the city's designer. Then it is on to North Terrace, a cultural center with galleries, museums, and the Botanic Gardens.
Tonight we'll experience genuine Aussie hospitality during a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family.
Enjoy Adelaide at your leisure today.
Or, join us for a full-day optional tour to Hahndorf & Barossa Valley. In Hahndorf, you’ll have free time to explore this charming German colonial town, brimming with restaurants, art galleries, and shops. As we make our way through the Adelaide Hills to Barossa Valley, we’ll stop at two local wineries, where we’ll enjoy complimentary wine tastings and a lunch of local Barossa meats and cheeses. Our final destination will be Rusden’s Winery, a family-owned operation that has been producing fine wine in the heart of the Barossa Valley for generations. Along with a tasting, we’ll learn about the traditional wine-making process from the vintner.
Dinner is on your own tonight in Adelaide.
After breakfast, we fly from Adelaide to Alice Springs, arriving before noon. After checking in to our hotel, we enjoy a tour of "the Alice." We pay a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a uniquely Outback entity that uses aircraft to provide medical care to settlements scattered hundreds of miles apart. Then we'll visit The Old Telegraph Station, which marks the European settlement of Alice Springs at the inception of the Overland Telegraph Line, which was established in 1872 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide.
Tonight, enjoy a casual dinner of Australian cuisine with “bush tucker” influences in Alice Springs. It’s an opportunity to taste some unique regional dishes of the “Land Down Under.”
Today, relax over breakfast at the hotel and enjoy a morning at leisure.
Or, perhaps you'll join us for an optional half-day tour to experience parts of the Outback not normally seen by tourists. On guided walks of Alice Springs Desert Park, we'll explore an array of native plant, animal, and bird species, and discover the deep spiritual and cultural connection the Aboriginal people have to the land.
This afternoon, we'll meet teachers and students at the Yipirinya School (when in session), sponsored in part by Grand Circle Foundation. The school provides approximately 200 students with two-way (bilingual and bicultural) education, teaching literacy and numeracy while also incorporating indigenous culture and languages.
Later, we visit the School of the Air, a unique educational group that teaches about 140 children living in remote Outback communities. This service provides vital interaction and tutoring for the children of Central Australia, primarily through computer, video, phone, and fax.
The remainder of your afternoon is free for you to explore Alice Springs.
This morning we rise to enjoy breakfast before departing for our journey to Uluru. Early European settlers named it Ayers Rock, but it is called Uluru by the Anangu Aboriginal people who serve as its spiritual caretakers. We stop for lunch and visit Curtin Springs Station for a talk about the life on an authentic outback cattle station before we arrive at Uluru in the late afternoon. After a brief stop at our hotel, we proceed directly to the rock itself.
In spite of—perhaps even in defiance of—the negative effects of European settlement, some 50,000 years of Australian Aboriginal culture and spirit have strongly endured in art, dance, and music. Uluru is the most fitting symbol of that endurance.
Watching the sun as it sets on Uluru, it's vividly clear just why the local Anangu people attach paramount spiritual significance to it. As the Outback sun descends on the monolith (whose red/orange hue shifts fluidly throughout the day) the rock seems to glow eerily, as if lit from within. It's almost impossible not to feel the ancient spirit of Uluru. A mystical life force? Perhaps. But the Anangu also consider the Uluru a literal giver of life, attracting animals in abundance to its water hole and providing shelter and firewood to visitors. All in a rugged place one might freely describe as "the middle of nowhere."
During our stay, we'll get a more personal view of Aboriginal life and culture past and present as we explore the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Cultural Center. After our two days in the Northern Territory, we’ll surely have a more profound appreciation for a heritage that runs deep in this land and all of Australia. Much of the area around Uluru is open for public visitation, but parts of this site are still so powerfully sacred to the Anangu that they remain off-limits.
At sunset, we'll gather for a traditional toast as the last daylight paints the massive monolith of Uluru into a kaleidoscope of colors. Dinner will be on your own this evening.
If you wish, you can rise early this morning to revisit Uluru in the light of dawn, which is also dramatic at sunset but seen by far fewer travelers. As we walk near the base of the massive sandstone, we can see the diverse rock formations and the sculpted effects of millions of years of erosion by rain and wind. It is the centerpiece of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the spectacular rock formations nearby called the Kata Tjuta. Afterwards, you may take an optional scenic helicopter flight over Uluru and the Kata Tjuta.
We transfer to the airport for our flight to Cairns. Lunch is on your own. We arrive in Cairns in the early evening and transfer to Port Douglas. After checking into our hotel, dinner is on your own.
Following breakfast, we make a full-day excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. We board our catamaran and sail to the Outer Reef, where all the natural magnificence of the Reef is yours to explore. We linger for most of the day, having lunch onboard.
Possibly the best description of the Great Barrier Reef we've ever heard comes down to five simple words: “the world's largest living thing.” Its nomination for World Heritage status stated, “The Reef supports the most diverse ecosystem known to man ... an ecosystem which has evolved over millions of years.”
But even facts like these can only hint at the sheer immensity and awesome beauty of the Reef. Our first peek, through diving masks or a glass-bottom boat, will bring into view its otherworldly character. It's a true sensory explosion, an azure scene of non-stop activity. We'll witness brilliant tropical fish darting about amid sea fans and anemones swaying with the waves. You may well feel as if you've dropped into a scene from the animated movie Finding Nemo. But no computer could generate such a spectacle. And it's all mere inches from the water's surface.
There's no one “right” way to explore the Reef, so we'll be given a choice. You can swim or snorkel among the fish and wide array of corals, as the boat moors at a pontoon that is surrounded by reef. Or, if you wish to observe this spectacular underwater world without submerging yourself, you can view parts of the reef from a glass-bottom boat. An experienced guide will point out the astonishing tropical fish and giant clams here. There is also an underwater viewing platform under the pontoon that gives you a unique view of this astounding landscape under the sea. However you do it, you are in a prime spot to experience the nature of the largest coral reef in the world.
After sailing back to shore, we return to our hotel in Port Douglas for an included dinner.
After breakfast at our lodge, we begin exploring Daintree Rainforest—another Australian natural wonder—with a half-day of varied activities.
We tend to think of the Amazon as the granddaddy of all rain forests. But at a mere ten million years old, the Amazon is really a grandchild to the Daintree Rainforest. This Australian national park is a unique ecological gem—it is the only place on Earth where the forests are much as they were 100 million years ago. In a riot of moist greenery much like this, the very first species of flowering plants bloomed while dinosaurs were still alive.
Daintree is like a botanical Jurassic Park, hosting plant species so primitive they scarcely differ from their prehistoric ancestors. And while these forests were the point of origin for the world's flowering plants, many species here appear no place else.
The lush, dense landscape is but one component of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area of Australia. This region comprises just one-thousandth of the continent's land, yet hosts an impressive range of Australia's native species. A full 40 percent of its plant species can be found here, as well as a quarter of its reptiles, a fifth of its birds, and a third of its marsupials and frogs.
Taking this into account, one can understand the commitment of the activists (or "greenies") who waged a campaign in the 1980s to prevent the construction of an access road here. Their efforts resulted in the area being granted a protected status.
We experience Daintree Rainforest from several perspectives while we're here. First, we take a guided walk through a dazzling rain forest inhabited by snakes, cassowaries, goanna lizards, and some of the most unusual vegetation on the planet. Then we board a boat for an hour-long nature cruise to observe the natural world found in the waters and along the banks of Coopers Creek, followed by an included lunch.
This natural treasure has been protected as part of the 3,000-square-mile Wet Tropics World Heritage Area since 1988. Surrounded by the unmistakable air of primeval and sensual beauty, make sure to take a moment to reflect on the agelessness of Daintree and the efforts made to keep it that way.
Tonight, enjoy dinner at the hotel.
We rise early for breakfast before we make our way to the Cairns airport for our flight to Sydney. We arrive in Sydney in the early evening and transfer to our hotel, where we will enjoy an orientation walk.
Dinner is on your own tonight and you have the evening at leisure.
This morning we drive through Sydney's eastern suburbs, a modern fashion center boasting 19th-century architecture and interesting sightseeing, including the famous Mrs. Macquarie's Chair and Bondi Beach. We then get a magnificent view of Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay, home to one of Australia's most famous icons, the Opera House.
Your Trip Leader will then take you on a walking tour of the historic Rocks District. "The Rocks" boasts some of the oldest buildings in Sydney. Some of the original European settlers camped here amidst the rocks of the sandstone ridges, giving rise to the area's name. Because many of the first Europeans to arrive were exiled convicts, part of this area's history was (to put it mildly) unusually colorful. Imagine a Wild West-like collection of bars and houses of ill repute where drunken brawls were common! Today, this is a safe place that invites visitors to stroll its cobblestone lanes and take refreshment in its tea rooms.
Later, we board our watercraft and sail around Sydney Harbour, taking in striking views of the city skyline as we blend into the perpetual bustle of water-borne activity.
We continue our discoveries with a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House, whose distinctive architecture has made it the city's signature attraction. This visually spectacular performance facility boasts four auditoriums that host symphony concerts and theater as well as opera.
This evening you are free for relaxation or further independent exploration of Sydney's many facets. Ask your Trip Leader for suggestions or discover for yourself an interesting spot for dinner on your own this evening.
You have a full day at leisure. You can relax, visit local shops, or return to the seashore to visit any of the several beaches that are accessible by public transportation. Tonight, we’ll enjoy a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or, fly to Auckland, if you’ve chosen our New Zealand post-trip extension.