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Magnetic Island Coral Reef Field Guide

Tropical Australia

Reef, Rainforest, & Cultural Ecology Field Course

Sample Itinerary

Day 1

Depart USA for Cairns, Australia.

Day 2

Travel & Date Line crossing

Day 3

Arrive in Cairns afternoon or evening. Meet with Aussie field staff, bus transfer to Cairns Plaza Hotel. The hotel is right by the water on the Cairns esplanade, and a quick 5 minute walk from the main downtown shopping, recreation and eating areas. Free afternoon / evening in Cairns for jet lag recovery and last minute shopping.

Sunrise from the Cairns Plaza Hotel

For general visitor Information on Cairns, see the following links:





Day 4

Morning: Bus transfer to Cairns airport. Charter flight (55mins) to Lizard Island with Skytrans Aviation, arrive 10am. The low level flight over the Great Barrier Reef offers spectacular views of the reef complex and Lizard Island.

Platform Reefs on the flight to Lizard Island.


Lizard Island complex (South & Palfrey Islands at right).


4WD transfer to the Lizard Island Research Station, a facility of the Australian Museum. Unpack gear and food, then attend the welcome lecture and safety briefing from the Station Directors and Field Course staff.

Lizard Island Research Station and station beach

Afternoon: Staff give a snorkelling safety demonstration at the station beach, then the group embarks in the station boats for a short ride to the nearby lagoonal patch reefs, and the first view of the Great Barrier Reef!


Days 5 - 8

Reef ecology studies at Lizard Island. The basic program is breakfast from 7.00-7.45am, then group assembly at the beach by 8.00am. The morning snorkelling expedition runs from 8.30 until 10.30am, and the group is back at the station by 11am. Depending on the degree of academic study required, the morning session may be either a guided snorkel through a new reef site, or a series of repeated visits to our special Watson's Bay study site for data collection and ecological research.

Giant Clams, common at Watson's Bay.


Students conducting reef ecology studies

At 11.30 each day, the Field Course staff conduct a 1-hour powerpoint lecture in the Station classroom. Topics covered include:



In the afternoon session, we conduct a group snorkelling session at a new location each day. Starting with the easy lagoonal sites, we eventually move up to snorkelling along the spectacular windward reef fronts around Lizard Island. The locations are chosen to complement the daily lectures, and the staff frequently stop the group to point out features of ecological interest along the dive path.

Lizard Island Snorkelling Sites

Lizard Island is renowned for its high biodiversity, and most of the reefs around the island are fully protected in "no-take" marine park zones. Students can expect to see wonderful examples of reef front, reef flat, and lagoonal coral communities, and fish communities with more than 300 species, including the larger predators such as groupers, barracuda, and sharks. Marine turtles are also common in the lagoon, and it is usual to find 5-10 green turtles grazing seagrass on the shallow sand flats right off the station beach.

Snorkelling conditions along the reef front at Lizard Island.


Reef fauna - cleaner shrimp & fox-face rabbitfish


Megafauna - green turtle & blacktip reef shark


Day 9

On the last full day at Lizard Island, we start the morning with a hike to the summit, which is named Cook's Look after the famous sea captain and explorer, who climbed here to scout for an opening through the Great Barrier Reef. Cook passed the island in 1770, and gave it the name Lizard Island in recognition of the large number of monitor lizards or goannas which are found here. The island was also a significant sacred site for the Dingaal aboriginal people, and we discuss the indigenous history of the island while looking at the ceremonial grounds located near the summit.

A goanna (Gould's monitor), and a student group on the summit of Lizard Island.


On the final evening, we conclude the trip to Lizard Island with a tropical beach-side bbq and a game of beach volleyball!

 Day 10

Depart Lizard Island 10.00am, Skytrans charter flight back to Cairns. Bus transfer to the Cairns plaza hotel, and a free afternoon in Cairns.

Day 11

Depart Cairns 9.00am for a 2 hour bus ride to our rainforest accommodation at Mungalli Falls Rainforest Village (MFRV) on the Atherton Tablelands. Meet the rainforest guides and discuss the terrestrial program over lunch.

MFRV is the perfect base for our terrestrial expeditions, is it is right in the middle of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area, and we have access to an enormous number of different rainforest ecosystems within short driving distance, from lowland rivers to high altitude refugia. The tablelands are renowned for their beautiful waterfalls and gorges, and we visit several of these during our 4-night stay.

Zilli Falls (L) and Nandroya Falls (R)

Afternoon: Group hike to Mungalli falls and the surrounding rainforest. Introduction to the plants and animals of the Wet Tropics. Field staff conduct a lecture on flora and fauna identification.

Evening: After dinner, field staff lead a spotlighting expedition for rainforest mammals and reptiles. Expect to see rare possums, owls, tree kangaroos, frogs and pythons.

Tree Kangaroo (top), scrub python (L) and striped possum (R).


 Days 12-14

Over the subsequent 3 days at Mungalli Falls, the Field Staff will lead students through a series of ecological programs at different sites in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Activities include bird watching and song-census techniques during the dawn chorus, observing platypus at Palmerston National Park, hiking to the crater lakes and the waterfall circuit, frog ecology in tropical rainforest streams, and aboriginal use of bush foods from the forest.

Rainbow lorikeets and platypus


Rainforest stream and treefrog

Each evening, staff also deliver a series of relevant lectures on the ecology and management of the Wet Tropics.


Day 15

Group departs from Rainforest and takes bus back to Cairns. Accommodation Cairns Plaza Hotel. Free afternoon and evening in Cairns.

Day 16

Group departs Cairns for the USA. Arrive same day due to date line crossing.


Additional Activities

Aboriginal Cultural Experience

The Aboriginal people have a long history and connection with the tropical ecosystems of North Queensland, and many groups choose to enhance their program with a 2 day or 3 day aboriginal cultural experience led by Russell Butler, Senior Traditional Elder of the Banjin and Warrgamay tribes of the Cardwell region, about 2 hours south of Cairns. Russell explains the spiritual and environmental connections his people have developed during their 40,000 years of interaction with the rainforest and coral reef, and he leads the group on excursions into special tribal areas, which are usually off-limits to tourists. Students are able to learn about traditional foods and medicines, practice boomerang throwing and spear making, see ancient fish traps at Hinchinbrook Island, and visit significant rock-art sites. The group is accommodated in a modern beach side hotel at Cardwell.
Russel Butler and Hinchinbrook Island


Spear throwing demonstration
Boomerang throwing demonstration


Interpretation at a shell midden, Hinchinbrook Is.
Ramsey Bay, Hinchinbrook Is.
Russ points out traditional sites


Undara Lava Tubes

Undara National park is located in the tropical savanna country some 4 hours drive west of Cairns. The Undara Lava Tubes were formed 190,000 years ago when a major crater in the McBride Volcanic Province erupted, and the molten lava then flowed down a dry river bed. As the top layer quickly cooled and crusted, the fiery magma below continued to flow through the tubes taking it further and further from the crater. As the eruption slowed, and then stopped, the lava drained out of the tubes leaving a series of long, hollow tunnels. Ancient roof collapses created deep, dark and moist depressions, where fertile pockets of rainforest can now be seen. Rainforest plants and animals thrive in this environment, where each tube offers an insight into this rare geological wonder. The word "Undara" is an Aboriginal word meaning "a long way", and one of the lava flows from Undara extends for 100 miles, making it the longest lava flow from a single crater on Earth. The Undara Experience offers a range of accommodation and tour options, and 1-2 day stays have proven popular with past groups.


Dr Andy Lewis and the Tevene'i Marine staff have been organizing and guiding ecological field courses for US university students and eco-travellers since 1996, and we have many hundreds of satisfied past participants.

Click here to read testimonials from previous students and groups leaders.

Click here to see more information about our marine and terrestrial staff, including CV's.

Please contact Dr Lewis (details below) for more information and prices for specific itineraries. We custom-design programs from 4 days to 4 weeks!