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Weekly Departures (Year-Round)

Australia, the world’s largest island and smallest continent, is a land of tremendous natural diversity, encompassing the Outback, rainforests, and the Great Barrier Reef. Separated from other land masses over 50 million years ago, Australia’s wildlife and plants have evolved in many unique ways: the platypus, kangaroo, spiny anteater, koala, dingo, wallabies, wombats, and 530 species of birds are found nowhere else. And isolated from Western explorers until two centuries ago, the Australians themselves have developed a very distinct personality!

We find that the most enchanting experiences in Australia usually involve unconventional activities in sublime settings. So although our adventures do include all of the must-see destinations, we have also peppered them with a wide variety of super-special cultural, wildlife and soft adventure experiences - most of which take place in more remote locations. And as always, we are happy to customize the itinerary to meet your particular preferences!

Highlights of our 15 day Ballooning & Bandicoots tour include listening to the Aboriginal creation story and learning ancient bush skills in the shadow of Uluru (Ayers Rock); traversing the bush on a camel for sunset views of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas); four-wheel driving and sand-boarding (easy and safe) down the immense dunes of pristine Stockton Beach; hot air ballooning near Alice Springs; gazing in wonder at incredibly skillful and varied paintings of Utopia’s Aboriginal artists; taking a dolphin and whale watching cruise through the sparkling blue waters of Nelson Bay; wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley; feasting on a gourmet bush barbecue while listening to an award-winning astronomy presentation on the southern night sky; taking a Dot Painting workshop from an Aboriginal artist; snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef; horseback riding through natural Australian bushland to a beautiful lagoon; smiling at a big-eared bilby at Desert Park; cruising through Sydney Harbour in a Benetau yacht; whitewater rafting down the picturesque Barron River; and (optional) quad biking through sandy river beds and alongside kangaroos. And everywhere along the way, you’ll meet super-friendly Aussies.

Note: All included adventures are elective and low-intensity.

Note: We will gladly customize an itinerary to meet your preferences.

Days 1 - 3en route to Sydney

Fly to Sydney, crossing International Date Line and arriving on the morning of day 3. You will be met and privately transferred to your hotel (guaranteed early check-in). Your exploration begins with a lunchtime cruise through magnificent Sydney Harbour, viewing the Opera house, Sydney’s wonderful skyline, and many other harborside highlights. After the cruise, you’ll enjoy a private walking tour of the “Rocks”, the historical district that was the site of Sydney’s original settlement in 1788. Grace Hotel (L)

Note: You may upgrade to the deluxe Inter-Continental, Four Seasons, Observatory or Park Hyatt.

Day 4Blue Mountains National Park or Hunter Valley (vineyards)

Your first option is to explore the wilderness of Blue Mountains National Park by 4WD. You’ll enjoy panoramas of rugged cliffs and deep forested valleys, hear the calls of native birds and observe Australian wildlife. You’ll travel across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and past the site of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games site before enjoying morning tea with wild kangaroos deep in the Australian bush. See kangaroos up close plus friendly parrots and cockatoos. In the high Blue Mountains you'll see waterfalls, magnificent canyons and Australia's most famous sight, the remarkable 3 Sisters. Travel on backcountry 4WD tracks leading to amazing lookouts that only our modified, small group vehicles can access. Lunch today is at a gorgeous historic mountain hotel. You may then either ride on the thrilling Scenic Railway in Katoomba (the steepest passenger railway in the world) or enjoy a short walk to nearby Katoomba waterfalls & gallery. Your day concludes with a visit to Sydney’s premier animal wildlife park, where you may see and pat koalas and kangaroos. Grace Hotel (B, L)

Your second option is to travel northward through picturesque countryside and along the Watagan Mountains to reach Hunter Valley, a lovely region famous for winetasting, historic towns, and bushland walks. Look for resident wildlife, including kangaroos, goanna lizards, and Bellbirds, before stopping at “The Pines” for morning tea. Continue on to Wollombi Township, where you’ll stroll around town and visit a historic pub to sample Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice. You’ll then tour several of Hunter Valley’s 56 different wineries, some of which date back over 100 years. Lunch is included at a winery restaurant. Enjoy high quality winetasting before heading to your guesthouse. Peppers Guesthouse (B,L)

Note:The Hunter Valley option would entail a surcharge. Please call for current quote.

Day 5Port Stephens/Nelson Bay/Stockton Beach

Today you’ll drive along rivers, rugged mountains, forest, and colonial towns to reach Port Stephens. The area is famous for its picturesque harbor, wide pearly-white beaches, towering sand dunes, crystal clear water, and natural bushland. You’ll enjoy an exciting, incredibly scenic 4WD “soft” adventure over the immense sand dunes of Stockton Beach, a wild and pristine 25-mile beach. You’ll even have an opportunity to go sand-boarding (seated; very safe) down the dunes!    

After lunch in Port Stephens, you may choose between two activities. Your first option is to go on a 1 1/2 hour dolphin-watching cruise through the sparkling blue waters of Nelson Bay (whales are sited from June-August). The viewing success rate for dolphins is 97%. Swimming is popular during the summer. You will also enjoy a tasty seafood lunch.

Your second option is a scenic horseback riding excursion through natural Australian bushland to a lagoon (or along Stockton Beach for a surcharge). Return to Sydney.  Grace Hotel (B, L)

Day 6Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

Private airport transfer for your flight to Ayers Rock (within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park), sacred site of the Aboriginals and a spectacular natural landmark that leaves one speechless.

This afternoon, you’ll enjoy a private tour of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), a series of 28 gigantic rock domes hidden in a maze of fascinating gorges and crevasses. This place is very sacred to the Aboriginal people. You’ll hike through the Walpa Gorge, learning about the ancient geology and unique flora of this arid environment.

In the evening, you’ll drive into the desert where chefs will prepare a gourmet barbecue for you amid the spectacular scenery and tranquility of the Outback. Following dinner, the table lamps will be turned off and, in the total darkness of the outback, an astronomer will speak about the various constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. Sails in the Desert (B, D)

Optional hotel upgrade to Longitude 131.

Note: We have included two nights at Uluru (Ayers Rock) to include a wide range of cultural experiences. However, we will gladly reduce your stay to 1 night if you prefer.

Day 7Uluru (Ayers Rock) – Liru Walk, Dot Painting, Camel Trek

Your special day begins with a sunrise tour of the base of Uluru (Ayers Rock), where you may examine Aboriginal rock paintings and weathered caves. You’ll then embark on the fascinating Liru walk with Aboriginal guides, retracing the path of the Liru ancestors through the bushland near Uluru. You’ll hear about the tragic fate of the Blue Tongue Lizard Man and learn ancient bush skills such as making kiti (bush glue), carving wooden tools with sharpened stones, making fire and throwing a spear. End your morning at the highly educational Uluru Cultural Center.

This afternoon, you may take an optional Dot Painting workshop during which you will learn about Aboriginal art and culture from aboriginal artists. You’ll even complete your own painting.

Shortly before sunset, you’ll embark on a leisurely one-hour camelback trek, enjoying breathtaking views of Uluru, learning about the plant life and wildlife and hearing colorful anecdotes about this remarkable region. Sails in the Desert (B-continental)

Day 8Alice Springs

Private airport transfer for your short morning flight to Alice Springs, which is situated in the heart of Australia’s Outback or Red Centre. Upon arrival, you will be met and privately transferred to your hotel.

A historic land of Aboriginals, camel caravans, boomerangs and splendidly desolate open space, the Outback today still possesses a frontier charm befitting its heritage. You enter a vast land of sandy red river beds, startling ghost gums, and colorful birdlife. You’ll explore the bustling town of Alice Springs with its famous frontier town feel, unique museums and excellent craft shopping. Highlights of your private tour include the School of the Air, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Old Telegraph Station and the wonderful Mbantua Aboriginal Art Museum and Gallery. (You will visit the world-class Desert Park on day 9.) 

Optional excursion: you may take an easy quad biking excursion in the outback, riding through bush tracks, alongside mountain ranges and through sandy river beds. You are very likely to see kangaroos as well.  Crown Plaza Alice Springs (B)

Day 9Alice Springs - Ballooning & Desert Park /Port Douglas

Your early morning hot air ballooning excursion will begin when the outback sky is still alight with bright stars. You’ll be aloft just as the first rays of sunlight light up this ancient red land. You’ll drift over the rugged landscape and be treated to panoramic views of the beautiful MacDonnell Ranges.

You will then explore the world-class Desert Park that will introduce you to the highly unusual wildlife and flora of the Central Australian Desert. Walk among kangaroos and observe 120 species including the big-eared bilby, bandicoot and many birds of prey.    

Private airport transfer for your afternoon flight to Cairns. You will be met and privately transferred to Port Douglas, a charming, stylish fishing village situated along beautiful Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas is where the rainforest meets the reef. Free time to relax or explore on your own. Peppers Beach Club Resort Port Douglas (Spa Suite) (B)

Note: You may elect to stay at the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas or Silky Oaks Lodge in Mossman for a surcharge.

Day 10Daintree Rainforest or Whitewater Rafting

Today, choose between two wonderful soft adventures. Your first option is to visit Daintree National Park, the oldest living rainforest on earth. Protected by World Heritage Status, Daintree is a truly impressive rainforest where new species of flora and fauna are still being discovered. Your day begins with a drive along one of Australia's great scenic highways before arriving at the Daintree River. Accompanied by a naturalist guide, you’ll go on a hike while learning some of the fascinating secrets of the rainforest. After the walk, you may either ascend the Rainforest Canopy Tower to spot more wildlife or enjoy theatre presentations and interactive displays. Learn about the rich history of the region while continuing on to the tranquil Cape Tribulation Beach, where you may relax or walk around. Then go on a cruise down the Daintree River learning about the different types of wildlife and plants that make their home along this important waterway. Keep your eyes peeled for the elusive and fearsome estuarine saltwater crocodile! Return to Port Douglas.

Your second option is an exciting whitewater rafting trip down the picturesque Barron River (easy class 3 rapids).

Peppers Beach Club Resort Port Douglas (Spa Suite) (B, L)

Day 11Kuranda & Tjapukai

Your scenic railway trip from Cairns to Kuranda ranks among the great rail journeys of the world. The route ascends from the narrow coastal strip to the elevated Atherton Tableland, passing through a rugged dividing range filled with waterfalls, lakes, caves, rainforest, and gorges. You will have spectacular views of Cairns and Green Island, stopping at two stations along the way. Then stroll through Kuranda, a picturesque mountaintop village where you’ll have time to explore the markets and other attractions on your own. You’ll then take the Skyrail gondola down to Caravonica Lakes, stopping en route for a nature walk and impressive views of the Barron River.

This afternoon you’ll feast on a tasty lunch and then explore Tjapukai, a highly entertaining and educational theme park devoted to the Aboriginal people. Its entertainers are so warm, funny and full of interesting information that you may well fall in love with the culture! You’ll learn about mythology, history, medicinal plants, playing the digeridoo, spear throwing, dancing and boomerang throwing.     Peppers Beach Club Resort Port Douglas (Spa Suite) (B, L)                                               

Note: You may stay at the Sebel Reef Hotel in Palm Cove for a surcharge. .

Days 12 - 14Great Barrier Reef

You have several options for your experience on the Great Barrier Reef.

Option 1: Coral Princess Cruise (3 nights; bi-weekly departures)

Short morning transfer the Coral Princess, a 54-passenger first class vessel notable for its high level of comfort, impressive amenities, topnotch marine biologists, and its unique eco-cruise itinerary. For the next three days, you will explore the more remote channels, reefs, and islands of the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll stop at deserted beaches; swim, snorkel or dive in crystal clear water; and marvel at multi-colored corals and tropical fish. You will also enjoy guided rainforest walks. The Coral Princess is also equipped with a glass bottom boat. Among the places you will visit are Thetford Reef, Sudbury Cay, Coates or Nathan Reef, Dunk Island, the Family Group of Islands, the Hutchinbrook Channel, Pelorus Island, the Palm Group of Islands, Herald Island, and Halifax Bay. Disembark in Townsville the morning of day 15. Coral Princess – Standard Cabin (B,L,D)

Note: You may upgrade to a Stateroom for a surcharge of $200pp. The cruises do not depart on a weekly basis, so if you are interested in the Coral Princess cruise option, please contact us for specific departure dates and availability.

Option #2: Heron Island (3 nights; depart any day of the week)

Private airport transfer for your flight to Gladstone, where you will board a catamaran for the ride to Heron Island. Unlike most resort islands, which lie inshore sheltered by the distant reef, Heron is actually part of the reef. The waters here are spectacular, teeming with fish and coral and ideal for snorkeling. You’ll enjoy guided reef walks and a beach with powder white sand. Covering only 40 acres, Heron is a breeding ground for thousands of green turtles, loggerhead turtles, and countless birds, including reef herons, noddy terns, and silver gulls. Heron is a paradise for snorkelers, divers and naturalists. The island offers a high quality nature education program. (Turtle season is from December-March, bird season from October-May, and whale season from June-August). Heron Beachside Suite.

Return to Gladstone by catamaran on the morning of day 15. Heron Island Resort (B, L, D)

Note: Optional upgrade to the deluxe Lizard Island or Bedarra Island.

Day 15Sydney/homeward bound

Fly to Sydney and connect with your international flight home. (B)

Note: Depending on the latest internal flight schedules, you may need to overnight in Sydney before flying back home.

End of Tour
(Code: B-Breakfast; L-Lunch; D-Dinner)
land Cost (per person) Includes:




  • All included soft adventures (camel trekking, ballooning, rafting, hiking, snorkeling, horseback riding; sandboarding, 4WD, etc.)
  • 24 meals as indicated
  • Accommodations for 12 nights in First Class (4 star) hotels and/or yacht (deluxe 5 star upgrades available)
  • All transfers and land transportation
  • Private and small group touring
  • Entrance/park fees


    With 3 1/2 hotels & Heron Island: $5,430pp (check) or $5,640pp (credit card)

    With "strong" 4 Star hotels & Heron Island: $6,090pp (check) or $6,325pp (credit card)

    Note: For the 3 1/2 and value priced 4 star hotel option, please add $550pp if taking the Coral Princess II cruise instead of Heron Island

    *NEI reserves the right to adjust the trip cost if the U.S. dollar depreciates significantly against the Australian dollar. Call for current price quote.


    Trip Length:          15 days
    Deposit:          $ 1,000
    Single Supplement from:          $ 1,400
    Trip Grade:          Easy
    Accommodations:          First Class
    International Airfare (approx):          $ 1,300 (Los Angeles; subject to change)

    General Information

    Trip Grade: Easy. Emphasis is on “off the beaten track” nature experience. All included adventures are elective and easy (low-intensity). Soft adventure activities include nature walks, hot air ballooning, rafting, camel riding, swimming, snorkeling, sandboarding, horseback riding, 4WD. Accommodations are in first class hotels/lodges/yacht. Deluxe hotel upgrades are also available. In general, this trip is suitable for most persons in good health.

    Land Cost Includes: All vehicle transportation and transfers as stated in the itinerary; accommodations in first class hotels based on double occupancy; 22 meals as detailed in the itinerary (16 meals if you choose the Heron Island option); catamaran transfers between Gladstone and Heron Island; entrance/park fees; service and handling charges; private and small group touring.

    Land Cost Does Not Include: Airfares except helicopter fare to Barrier Reef (quoted separately); meals not included in itinerary; excess baggage charges; alcoholic beverages; laundry, passports or visas, personal insurance, other personal items; airport departure taxes; hotel nights en route or return from Australia.

    Accommodations: Accommodations are in first class hotels/lodges based on double occupancy. Deluxe hotel upgrade also available. Singles who sign up will incur a single supplement charge.

    Climate: Spring in Australia occurs from September to November; summer December-February; fall March-May; and winter June -August. Be prepared for the chill of desert evenings in the Outback, as well as for rain in the Cairns region. Average temperatures in Sydney range from 64 F (night) to 78 (day) in summer and 47 to 62 in winter. In subtropical Brisbane, average summer temperatures are 68 to 85, with winter temperatures dropping 10-15 degrees. In the Outback, temperatures vary from the high 60’s to low 90’s during the day, with night temperatures dropping to the mid 30’s in July and August.

    Reservations and Payments: Please download Registration form , complete and return the registration form along with your trip deposit of $1,000 per person ($1,250 for Antarctica cruises). A deposit of $1,000 with the completed reservation form will ensure you a place on this trip. Final payment of the land cost is due 60 days prior to departure. Please note that in certain cases, the deposit and payment policy of NEI’s worldwide suppliers will supercede NEI’s policy. All departures are guaranteed with a minimum of 2 travelers. Due to the limited seasonal nature for many destinations and trip preparation timelines, we advise you to book your trip at least 3 months in advance. A $100 per person booking fee will be assessed to high priority reservations made within 2 weeks of trip departure. After receiving your reservation, confirmation will be mailed to you along with detailed pre-departure materials (including insightful destination information, clothing recommendations, health information, suggested reading lists, etc.).

    Cancellations and Refunds: If you need to cancel your trip, please notify us in writing or by fax immediately. The cancellation penalty is calculated from the day we receive cancellation notice. (For those persons who do travel, there are no refunds for any unused meals, accommodations or other trip activities.) In certain cases, the cancellation policies of NEI's subcontractors will supercede NEI's policy. The cancellation penalty is calculated based on the schedule below.

    Number of days prior to departure. Cancellation fee per person:
    61+days         $1,000 plus applicable airfare penalties
    45–60 days    40% of land/cruise price plus applicable airfare penalties
    30–44 days    60% of land/cruise price plus applicable airfare penalties
    0–29 days     100% of land/cruise price plus applicable airfare penalties

    Change Fee for Multiple Changes to Confirmed Itineraries: NEI will often customize trip itineraries for prospective travelers in order to meet their preferences and parameters. This process contributes greatly to the success of the tour but it is also very time consuming and we must, therefore, set limits on the number of changes made to an itinerary once it has been confirmed. Consequently, after all of the hotel reservations for a new booking have been confirmed with our local suppliers, NEI will accommodate one “free” set of simultaneous changes of the hotel portion of the itinerary. For any subsequent changes to the hotel portion of the itinerary, NEI reserves the right to charge a change fee of $200 per person. NEI will usually not charge any change fee for changes made to the activities or excursions, providing that such non-hotel changes are made at least 6 weeks prior to the trip departure date.

    Booking fee for Flight Reservations:Most air ticketing arrangements handled by NEI are made through air consolidators and through our in-country outfitters, and in these situations NEI does not charge a booking fee (any profit, if applicable, is already reflected in the airfare). However, there are some tours for which NEI makes flight reservations directly with the airlines on behalf of our clients, and the air tickets are mailed or emailed directly to our clients, not to NEI. For these “non-air consolidator” reservations, NEI will charge a booking fee of $50 per person.

    Insurance: Trip cancellation, accident and baggage insurance are recommended and will be offered to all participants. Trip cancellation insurance is strongly advised; this will protect you in the case of cancellation due to personal or family illness.

    Responsibility: Nature Expeditions International is responsible for conducting this trip as outlined in the published itinerary. It reserves the right, however, to cancel the trip should it become affected by conditions beyond the company’s control. In such an event, NEI will return all monies paid to it by the affected participants, less an administrative fee of $200 per person, as full and final settlement.

    NEI also reserves the right to substitute other lodging during the trip or to change the trip leader(s), itinerary, or travel arrangements if the staff believes it is in the best interest of all participants. In addition, NEI may decline to accept or retain any member or prospective member of an announced trip. Full refund for the unused portion of the trip will be paid to the affected participant in such an event.

    Airline Clause: All arrangements for airline transportation are made by the respective airlines, which companies shall not have or incur any responsibility or liability to any person taking an trip except their liability as common carriers. Nor shall such carriers be or be held responsible for any act, omission, or event occurring after the passenger has disembarked from the conveyance. The usual passage contract in use by the carrier, when issued, shall constitute the sole contract between said carrier and the passenger. All rates are based on tariffs currently or those tariffs to be placed in effect and are subject to adjustment in the event of changes therein. The air transportation services of any IATA/ARC member may be used.

    © Nature Expeditions International