Australia's Outback & Great Barrier Reef

  • 11-day adventure with hiking, canoeing, snorkeling, and rafting
  • Activity Rating: Moderate

Trip Details


Australia’s northern half is a land of stunning diversity, where waterfalls cascade into ancient gorges and rain forests skirt beaches overlooking legendary reefs. Set out to explore and camp in the national parks of the Northern Territory. Encounter an abundance of wildlife on bush walks and explore spectacular sandstone gorges by canoe. Discover the unique culture of an Aborigine community and the extraordinary rock art at Ubirr. Then fly to Cairns, the gateway to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Great Barrier Reef and the rain forests of Daintree National Park, a jewel of the Wet Tropics of Queensland. Snorkel in a vibrant coral landscape, home to 1,500 species of fish, and delve into one of the world’s oldest rain forests. Cap off your adventure with an exhilarating white-water rafting trip in Barron Gorge.

Trip Highlights

  • Explore the ancient gorges, lush forests, and wildlife of the Northern Territory’s national parks.
  • Meet Aboriginals and learn about their ancient culture, traditional medicine, and Dreamtime stories.
  • Snorkel or scuba dive along the coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef and spot wildlife in the Daintree rain forest.
  • Experience the exhilaration of a white-water rafting trip through Barron Gorge.

Itinerary - 11 Days

Day 1 — Darwin, Australia

Arrive in Darwin and transfer to our hotel, where we’ll gather for a trip orientation. Spend the afternoon exploring this vibrant Northern Territory city. Enjoy a welcome dinner tonight.
Banyan View Lodge (D)

Day 2 — Litchfield National Park

Travel south to Litchfield National Park, a lush oasis where waterfalls cascade over sandstone escarpments into turquoise pools. Set out on a bush walk through monsoon forest, spotting native bird species including black kite and spangled drongo. Swim in crystal-clear watering holes nestled among grottoes and settle into our comfortable camp this evening. (4 miles hiking, 2-3 hours)
Camping (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Kakadu National Park

Embark on a morning boat ride through the lily-covered waters of Corroboree Swamp, or “billabong.” Spot saltwater crocodiles and a variety of wetland birds. Continue to Kakadu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Australia’s largest national park. Set out on a hike to explore the rich variety of landforms, habitats, and wildlife. Visit a local Aborigine community and learn about their ancient culture, Dreamtime stories, and deep connection to the land. (4 miles hiking, 2-3 hours)
Camping (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Kakadu National Park/Ubirr

In the East Alligator region of Kakadu, explore the extraordinary Aboriginal rock art sites of Ubirr. Climb through ancient rock “galleries” adorned with characteristic X-ray-style images. Climb to a lookout with sweeping views across the floodplain. This afternoon, set out by boat with Aboriginal guides to visit two spectacular sights: Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. (6 miles hiking, 5-6 hours)
Camping (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Nitmiluk National Park

Head to Nitmiluk National Park and explore the spectacular Katherine Gorge, a network of 13 separate gorges carved over more than 20 million years. Hike along sandstone formations dotted with waterfalls and garnished with rain forest and Aboriginal rock art. The park abounds with wildlife including freshwater crocodiles, wallabies, and the large bats called “flying foxes.” Later this afternoon, enjoy an optional helicopter ride that provides magnificent views of the Arnhem Land plateau, which has been occupied by humans for more than 40,000 years. (5 miles hiking, 4-5 hours)
Camping (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Nitmiluk National Park/Darwin

This morning, set out by canoe to explore the first of Nitmiluk’s gorges. Paddle along rugged sandstone cliffs bordered by lush flora and fauna. Enjoy a picnic lunch and a refreshing swim in the tranquil waters of the gorge. Return to Darwin this afternoon. (4 hours canoeing; 2 miles hiking, 1-2 hours)
Banyan View Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Darwin/Cairns

Board an early morning flight to the coastal town of Cairns, located in the heart of tropical northern Queensland. With its close proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rain forest, Cairns beckons adventurers from around the world. After settling into our hotel, spend the afternoon exploring this charming cosmopolitan city.
The Hotel Cairns (B,L)

Day 8 — The Great Barrier Reef

Set out on a private catamaran for a day of snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. Home to the Earth’s largest concentration of coral and some 1,500 fish species, the reef offers an incredible underwater experience. Snorkel along rainbow-colored corals and spot all manner of marine life, from vibrant tropical fish to loggerhead turtles. Certified divers have the option to scuba dive (at an additional expense).
The Hotel Cairns (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Daintree National Park/Cape Tribulation

Spend the day exploring the natural wonders of Daintree National Park. Hike and swim in Mossman Gorge, and spot electric-blue Ulysses butterflies among the vegetation. Continue to the white beaches of Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rain forest, a habitat of stunning biodiversity. Embark on a coastal walk and hunt for mud crabs with Aboriginal brothers from the Kuku Yalanji tribe, who will share their indigenous heritage and knowledge of traditional bush medicine. Spot a spectacular variety of wildlife in the rain forest and then embark on a sunset cruise along the Daintree River. (4 miles hiking, 2-3 hours)
The Hotel Cairns (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Barron Gorge National Park

Enjoy an exhilarating day of white-water rafting in Barron Gorge National Park. Encounter the Class II/III rapids and magnificent waterfalls of the mighty Barron River, nestled amid rain forest and rugged mountains. Toast our adventure at a farewell dinner tonight.
The Hotel Cairns (B,L,D)

Day 11 — Cairns/U.S.

After breakfast, enjoy a free morning to explore Cairns. Then transfer to the airport for your flight home.

National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.


This expedition is not currently being offered.

Activity Level


We will enjoy a range of activities, including bush walking, hiking, canoeing, and snorkeling. Our hikes range from 1 to 6 hours (2 to 6 miles) on good trails. We will experience Class II & III rapids while on our rafting trip on the Barron River. Scuba diving while at the Great Barrier Reef is optional and only available to certified divers at an additional cost. We will spend 4 nights camping in spacious tents in national parks and 6 nights in lodges and hotels that combine comfort and ideal locations.

Click here for a description of all activity levels.

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