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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled
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Visit Australia

AUSTRALIA

Located in the South Pacific, Australia is the only island-continent that is also a country. From the Great Barrier Reef—the largest living organism—and the lush Daintree Rainforest to the mammoth, sacred red rock known to the aborigines as Uluru, Australia features some of the most stunning backdrops on Earth. This diverse physical variety found across six states is complemented by vibrant modern cities including Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide that are juxtaposed with historic Victorian architecture and landscaping.

When the British arrived, what they didn’t consider was the rich complexity of an aboriginal civilization. Australia’s Aborigines believe that their people have lived here since the dawn of time—the Dreamtime—when their spiritual ancestors brought the land into being with song. The Wathaurong, Arrente, Walpiri, and Anangu cultural groups speak more than 200 dialects and have varied local traditions that are still present today. Aboriginal life changed dramatically with the arrival of Europeans. In the 1850s a Gold Rush attracted thousands of immigrants with the goal of becoming wealthy overnight. With them they brought disease that nearly wiped out the population of local Aboriginals. It wasn’t until World War II compelled Australians to look beyond their traditional ties to Great Britain, forge a new alliance with the U.S., and see themselves anew as a Pacific Rim nation.

The combination of natural wonders, rich history, and diverse communities make Australia an island nation unlike anywhere in the world.

Most Popular Films

Films featuring Australia from international, independent filmmakers

Inside Tracks

Witness one woman's revelatory journey across the Australian Outback alongside the photographer assigned to follow her.

Produced by MediaStorm

Sydney

Join travel expert Rudy Maxa to experience the warm, fun-loving city of Sydney—from the beach to the Opera House.

Produced by Small World Productions

Coffee tasting in Melbourne

Join a few locals from Melbourne—our pre-trip extension—to find secret gems hidden in the city’s laneways.

Courtesy CNN

Australia Interactive Map

Click on map markers below to view information about top Australia experiences

Click here to view more information about this experience

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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Australia with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

Take a side-by-side look at the origins, spiritual beliefs, and traditions of Australia’s Aborigine and New Zealand’s Maori.

ARTICLE

Discover the largest living organism’s wondrous qualities and, unfortunately, its bleak future.

ARTICLE

Learn about Australia’s aboriginal groups, including their shared spiritual beliefs, like “Dreamtime."

RECIPE

Try a new take on barbecue the Australian way. Check out this recipe for barbecued lamb chops with a Shiraz reduction.

Compare Our Adventures

Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—including
activity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more

30 DAYS FROM $9,490 • $ 317 / DAY
Small Group Adventure

Australia & New Zealand: An Adventure Down Under

83% Traveler Excellence Rating
Read Reviews

Days in Australia
15

Please call for pricing
Small Group Adventure

Ultimate Australia

89% Traveler Excellence Rating
Read Reviews

Days in Australia
15

6 NIGHTS FROM $2,445

POST-TRIP EXTENSION

Australia's Great Barrier Reef & Sydney

Days in Australia
6

Spend 3 nights in quiet Palm Cove featuring pristine beaches and calm water
Explore Sydney for 3 nights and discover city highlights on an included tour
Choose to join an Optional Sydney Harbour Cruise to view the Opera House from a unique vantage point
Swim, snorkel, and cruise the Great Barrier Reef during a full day tour

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

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Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Because the South Pacific Isn’t Just for Nature Lovers

Take a side-by-side look at Aboriginal and Maori culture

for O.A.T.

The natural beauty of Australia and New Zealand makes these faraway islands fascinating places to explore. But beyond their stunning environs, their distinct and deep-rooted cultures are what bring these destinations to life. So let’s uncover the South Pacific’s spiritual side by juxtaposing Australia’s Aboriginal ancestry with New Zealand’s Maori heritage.

ORIGINS

Aborigine
Dating back tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal people came to Australia by land and have evolved into as many as 400 groups speaking more than 250 distinct languages.

Maori
Arriving in the 13th century, the Maori came to New Zealand by boat from across Polynesia, and over time, have unified into a single ethnic identity with a shared language.

CREATION MYTHS

Aborigine
Ancestral beings moved through the world in a state of Dreaming (also called Dreamtime), calling things into being and naming what they saw as they went. The paths these creators took are known as songlines.

 Maori

Ranginui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother, were too close, and their children felt confined, so their sons (representing natural features like mountains and forests) forcibly split heaven and earth to yield the world as we know it.

SPIRITUAL BELIEF 

Aborigine
Souls are the province of humans alone, and represent two natures: who we make ourselves to be, and who the ancestral beings create in us. Animals and objects do not have souls, though they are created by beings that do.

Maori
All things contain mana, a soul-like force, and are bound by mauri, the energy connecting every element of creation. The resulting bond between humans and the world around us is core to Maori life.

KEY SYMBOLS

Aborigine
On rock paintings and textile art, a serpent outline in multiple colors (sometimes boasting other animal parts) is the Rainbow Snake, a mythical creature that helped create much of the land during the Dreaming period. It’s considered the wellspring of fertility, growth, and hope.

Maori
The spiral found in Maori jewelry or in tattoo-like ta moko patterns is a koru (loop), which represents a curled fern frond. In one direction, the spiral implies going back to the beginning; in the other direction, it unfurls, suggesting a new start and rejuvenation.

BODY ART

Aborigine
Body painting using a combination of clay dust, charcoal, and ash appears in ceremonies at every age. Boys decorate their chests and arms before their coming-of-age initiations. Men may decorate their arms, legs, and torsos in great detail before large funerals or long marches. Women honor Dreamtime stories by painting communal symbols and colors on their breasts, arms, and thighs in a joyous awelye ceremony.

Maori
Ta moko (somewhat similar to tattooing) is the application of permanent colored skin markings. Both men and women may have ta moko, with the patterns revealing details about the wearer's family and tribal affiliations, their social standing, and even future roles. Ta moko may be on one’s chest, limbs, or face, though women’s facial ta moko is usually limited to the lip area or below.

TRADITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Aborigine
Long, hollowed-wood trumpets played with continuous vibration and circular breathing have been part of the culture for at least 1,500 years. Commonly known by the made-up word didgeridoo, the instrument is emblematic of Aboriginal life.

Maori
Haka refers to an array of percussive Maori dances featuring foot-stomping, thigh-slapping, and hand clapping. Performed first by women and then adapted by men as a war ritual, it’s part of both ceremonial and casual events: New Zealand’s premiere rugby team performs it before every game.

PROVERBS

For all their differences, each of the two cultures have an oft-quoted proverb that says just about the same thing, a reminder that—even for the most ancient groups—the world we all share will always endure longer.

Aborigine
We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through.

Maori
As man disappears from sight, the land remains …

 

Take a side-by-side look at Aboriginal and Maori culture

The Great Barrier Reef

A closer look at the world’s largest living thing

by Pavi Kulatunga

Stretching an astounding 1,600 miles, the Great Barrier Reef is not only the largest coral reef in the world, but it’s also the planet’s largest collective organism—and the only living thing on Earth that is visible from space. Renowned for its beauty as much as for the diversity of marine life it supports, the reef’s truly massive size belies an incredibly delicate ecosystem that is increasingly at risk from predators, pollution, sediments, and severe weather.

Coral reefs, such as those found along the Great Barrier Reef, are composed of millions of soft-bodied invertebrate animals called coral polyps. The polyps, which stick together with energy-rich algae (called zooxanthellae), protect themselves by producing rigid shells of lime. The vibrant pigmentations of the algae lend the shells their stunning hues.

As the polyps die, their shells, or “skeletons,” remain. New polyps then attach themselves to the remnants and continue the cycle. The resulting labyrinth of structures becomes a harbor of marine life, hosting more animal species than any other marine ecosystem in the world. More than 1,500 different species of fish alone can be spotted living in and around the coral of the Great Barrier Reef. Likewise, more than 400 different species of coral polyps exist in the Great Barrier Reef—a number that is nearly ten times the amount found in the entire Atlantic Ocean.

Polyp procreation

The reproduction methods of polyps vary greatly from species to species. Some are hermaphrodites, and produce both sperm and eggs. Other corals are gonochoric, meaning they produce single-sex colonies where all of the polyps in one colony produce only sperm, and all of the polyps in another colony produce only eggs.

But perhaps the grandest method of reproduction takes place during coral spawning—a synchronized ejecting of large quantities of eggs and sperm into the surrounding water. During such events, it’s not uncommon for trillions of eggs and sperm to be released on the same night.

Location, location, location

Owing much to its location, the Great Barrier Reef resides in the Coral Sea just off the coast of Queensland, Australia, on the eastern edge of the continental shelf. This unique location, more than any other factor, is the reason the reef has thrived. Here, an abundant supply of shallow, clear water allows sunlight to easily penetrate and keep water temperatures at a constant 68–90° Fahrenheit. These conditions are especially ideal for the algae, which need sunlight to make the coral’s main diet of sugary nutrients.

A sinking feeling...

Many fish species feed on coral, including the parrotfish, butterfly fish, and tangs, as well as certain marine snails and marine slugs. However, coral’s most dangerous predator is the crown-of-thorns starfish. In 2000, an outbreak of the starfish descended upon the reef and decimated a large population of coral. It was estimated that over 60% of the reef’s living polyps were lost during this feeding frenzy.

A far more dangerous threat facing the Great Barrier Reef is the ever increasing temperatures of the Coral Sea. Since the mid-1980s, increased water temperatures have bleached large portions of coral in the Great Barrier Reef. This bleaching puts severe stress on the coral and, in many cases, leads to coral death, greatly impacting the ecosystem.

Oceanographers and environmental scientists are deeply concerned about the bleaching occurring at the reef. Recently, in an effort to reverse the steady advance towards extinction, scientists have turned to cryogenics—freezing sizeable quantities of coral polyp eggs and sperm—in the event that the reef can’t be saved.

It is difficult to imagine something so large vanishing, but like a sunken constellation whose stars are burning out, the Great Barrier Reef is facing some difficult days ahead. For now, at least, the colorful majesty of the world’s largest living thing is available to all who venture to see it.

A closer look at the world’s largest living thing

40,000 Years and Counting

The cultural history of Australia’s Aborigines

by Pavi Kulatunga

At the heart of Aboriginal culture is ‘Dreamtime,’ a complex network of spiritual beliefs ...

The 1974 discovery of skeletal remains in Lake Mungo—a dry lake in the Australian state of New South Wales—revolutionized the world’s understanding of Australia’s indigenous community. Testing revealed that “Mungo Man,” as the skeleton was known, was an Aboriginal ancestor who had died between 40,000 and 60,000 years previously—a remarkable time frame that proved, scientifically, that Australia’s Aborigines possess the world’s longest continuous cultural history.

Australia’s indigenous communities agree, but their reference point is spiritual, not scientific. As they see it, they’ve been inhabiting the Earth since time began—a belief reflected in the name by which these groups are known: Aborigine, derived from the Latin ab origine, means “from the beginning.”

A blanket term, “Aborigine” obscures the fact that Australia’s indigenous community is not a single, cohesive entity. Indeed, when British settlers stepped ashore in 1789, there were an estimated 350 to 750 distinct tribal groups, each with its own name, language, social customs, and traditional methods of subsistence. (Today, there are fewer than 200.)

Where spirituality and culture interweave

While each Aboriginal group has its own clan-specific rituals, there are overwhelming similarities between their core spiritual and cultural philosophies. These powerful, shared beliefs help explain why these seemingly disparate groups have been able to successfully preserve their traditions for more than 40,000 years.

At the heart of Aboriginal culture is “Dreamtime,” a complex network of spiritual beliefs in which the past, present, and future exist simultaneously. Essentially a creation mythology, Dreamtime describes how dormant spirit-ancestors living within the earth suddenly awakened and, assuming half-human, half-animal forms, gave shape to the planet, creating mountains, valleys, deserts, rivers, and forests. When their work was done, these spirits crept back inside the earth, where they remain today.

For Aborigines, then, the land is truly sacred. Australia’s mountains and rivers aren’t simply reminders of their history, but physical manifestations of the spirit-ancestors who dwell inside—making the entire continent one vast sanctuary. Yet, these culturally significant locations are largely unknown outside of the communities in whose Dreamtime lore they feature. Of the relatively few acknowledged Aboriginal sites, perhaps the best known is Uluru, or Ayers Rock, the iconic sandstone monolith that rises more than 1,200 feet from the flat desert floor of the Outback.

The legacy of Dreamtime

Instead of a written record, Aborigines have relied on oral traditions to pass along and preserve Dreamtime stories. Each group performs corroborees, or ceremonies—including initiation and bereavement rituals—to maintain its history.

Dreamtime stories are also expressed through art, particularly rock paintings and petroglyphs. The images—rendered in red ochre, white kaolin, and charcoal—typically reflect the sacred totems specific to each Aboriginal group. Some etchings, however, depict Aboriginal hunters and their prey, like goanna lizards and wallabies. While the purpose and significance of such artwork is largely unknown to outsiders, one theory is that they served as backdrops for corroborees.

In the 1970s, a new style of Aboriginal painting known as “dot art” emerged. As with rock paintings and petroglyphs, these paintings focus on the natural world, showcasing Dreamtime animals and landscapes. However, unlike earlier styles, dot art features vibrant colors and abstract designs, which are used to mask sacred images and ensure that Dreamtime secrets are not revealed. The style, similar to pointillism, involves the artist painstakingly covering a canvas with uniformly sized dots—a process generally achieved by using wooden sticks or, more traditionally, echidna quills.

Dot art paintings have become extremely popular—not only in Australia, but also in the international community. Indeed, Time magazine’s renowned art critic, Robert Hughes, declared it “the last great art movement of the 20th century.” Today, dot art paintings are displayed in museums and high-end galleries throughout the world—ensuring that the culture and history of Australia’s Aborigines will endure.  

The cultural history of Australia’s Aborigines

True Australian Barbecue

Grilled lamb chops with Shiraz reduction

from Harriet's Corner

Considered by many as the national dish of Australia, lamb has a strong presence on the menus and dinner tables of local restaurants and households across the continent. Grilled lamb chops with Shiraz reduction is an easy-to-make dish that highlights its fresh and savory ingredients, such as lime, garlic, and red wine—while taking very little time to cook. Whether you’ve already been to the land "Down Under", or want a taste of what you can expect, this dish will transport you straight to the heart of Oz.


Ingredients:

Lamb chops:

8 Australian lamb chops
¾ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp lime zest
2 Tbsp lime juice
¼ cup finely chopped mint
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

Shiraz reduction:

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced onions
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
3 cups Shiraz wine
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a shallow dish, combine olive oil, lime zest and juice, mint, salt, and pepper. Coat both sides of the lamb chops in the marinade leave for 2 hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight.
  2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat and add garlic and onions to sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir in wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until mixture thickens and reduced to 1 cup. The sauce should have the consistency of syrup.
  3. Grill lamb chops for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, or until desired temperature. Spoon Shiraz reduction over the chops and serve.

Serves: 4

Grilled lamb chops with Shiraz reduction

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