Australia – G’Day from North Queensland!
There are three major portions to the Australia program in North Queensland. First, we recover from jet lag and get oriented to Australia on beautiful Magnetic Island. We then head to the N. Queensland Outback and Atherton Tablelands to understand human impacts on these resources and the current state of Agritourism in this area. We finish the trip on the northern N. Queensland coast with trips to the Great Barrier Reef from beautiful Port Douglas followed by four days and three nights in the world’s oldest rain forest, the Daintree. The program wraps in Cairns, where students take their final exams and enjoy one last night in North Queensland.
The schedule at this writing is tentative, but we can provide a description based off of last year’s experience. You may also want to look at the course syllabus. The course syllabus can be useful for sharing with your academic advisor or department head.
Magnetic “Maggie” Island
The first week of the Australia program starts in Townsville on the middle coast of North Queensland, where we head to Magnetic (aka “Maggie”) Island. At Maggie Island, we’ll be staying at the Island Leisure Resort from which we will base field projects and receive lectures from experts in Marine Biology, Cultural Anthropology, and Sustainable Tourism. There is a hike out to Balding Bay, which allows students to observe some of the common terrain of the region. A trip to Reef HQ provides a first look at the Great Barrier Reef and the park authority that manages it. A free day is built into the itinerary, and this is a good break to explore Maggie Island and take in some of the local culture. The Forts Walk is a great hike on the island where students can snorkel at Florence Bay, and then hike up to the gun turret sites from WWII. Magnetic Island allows students to recover from jet lag, while providing some much needed orientation to North Queensland. We leave Maggie Island and proceed to Yungaburra, where we’re off to the Outback and Tablelands of Far North Queensland.
The Outback & Atherton Tablelands
Yungaburra is a good five hour drive from Townsville. We’re headed to On the Wallaby backpacker resort in Yungaburra. Yungaburra is a beautiful town located in North Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands. The stay in Yungaburra amounts to a night, as we are on our way to the Outback for the next several days. Our first stop in the Outback is Tyrconnell (pronounced Ti-connell), where we venture to a gold mine. At the gold mine we discuss the impacts of gold mining on North Queensland, and explore the natural areas in and around the gold mine. While in Tyrconnell, we meet with the owners of the Mount Mulligan Station to discuss farming in the Outback, and some of the strategies farmers use to protect the resources in the area.
Accommodations in Tyrconnell occur at the Tyrconnell Outback Experience. It’s “boutique camping” at the gold mine area. Padded floors and fixed tent sites are our homes for a few days. The evening sky in Tyrconnell is absolutely beautiful with fantastic views of the famous Southern Cross. Showers and bathrooms are just steps away from your tent, and your alarm clock is the sound of Kookaburras.
The program then heads to Malanda for farmstays. We stay with farmers in the Atherton Tablelands. In past years, students have stayed on farms that raise fish, buffalo, and cattle, as well as fruit and vegetable farmers. The farm stays come at a perfect time in the trip. Most of our students are a little ‘road worn’ from hiking and being out in the heat of the Outback. Our farmstay families treat students like family, providing a nice place to sleep and eat, while teaching students about the work they perform and the history of the Tablelands. It’s one of the major highlights of the program.
We leave our homestays and return back to Yungaburra, where Dr. Jack Grant introduces the group to an upland rain forest, which is distinct from other rain forests we visit later in the trip. While with Dr. Grant, we perform a reforestation service project. Night activities include didgeridoo making and a tour with Aboriginal elder, Phil Barlow. We spend another night at On the Wallaby and then head to beautiful Port Douglas from which we’ll explore the Great Barrier Reef.
Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef
Port Douglas is a beautiful seaside village located about 70 miles north of Cairns and about 35 miles from Cape Tribulation. While in Port Douglas, we will be staying at the Lychee Tree Apartments. The Lychee Tree is just a short walk to the beach and downtown Port Douglas. Our first morning in Port Douglas is spent at the Rainforest Habitat, where you can take photos with Koalas, interact with Kangaroos and Wallabies, observe a Cassowary without fear, and see other indigenous Australian wildlife. Following the trip to the habitat, we head to Mossman’s Gorge and take part in the Kuku Yalanji Dreamtime Walk in the rain forest. This is a fascinating interpretive walk led by a member of the Kuku Yalanji clan. The Walk concludes in the late afternoon and a discussion and review of module materials from the Outback.
Port Douglas also serves as the staging area for our trips to the Great Barrier reef. We take two day trips out to the reef on the Calypso. We get to snorkel off the Great Barrier Reef and perform science projects that examine the effects of human and environmental disturbances to the reef. We observe how the practices of the Great Barrier Reef Marine park allow tourism and game fishing to occur while maintaining the delicate balance needed to conserve the reef and protect the marine life that depend on it for survival.
A welcome free day in Port Douglas also occurs. This is a great day to get your laundry clean, go to the beach, and take in the many attractions within Port Douglas–a perfect break before four nights in the rain forest!
Daintree Rainforest and Cairns
The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest living rain forest in the world. We will spend four nights in Cape Tribulation staying at the Cape Trib. Beach House. Our field instructor, Paul O’Dowd, is an excellent interpretive leader with incredible knowledge of the rainforest and the major role it plays across N. Queensland’s ecosystems. Paul will guide us through the rainforest on day and night walks, and lead a science experiment that examines the intricacies of the ecosystem within the mangroves of this area. The rain forest portion of the trip also includes a canopy walk at the Daintree Discovery Centre, and a ride in a canopy crane at the Canopy Crane Research Center where we will perform service for another reforestation project.
We depart the rain forest and head to Cairns to wrap up the program. In Cairns, there is free time to catch up on laundry, get a look around town, and study for the final exam. On the second-to-last day, the final exam is administered, and this is followed by a farewell group dinner and celebration for participants in the program. We depart back to the US early the next morning, leaving the beautiful Gondwanan landscape of Australia behind.
It’s a whirlwind of a program, and this narrative only scratches the surface. Several of our students tell us this was their best experience at ECU; one that they’ll not forget. We hope to continue this trend in 2012.