7 Wonders of Australia: From the Famous to the Unexpected
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7 Wonders of Australia: From the Famous to the Unexpected

It’s hard for Sam Murray to pick one place that is his favorite in his home country of Australia. As the country’s director for Rustic Pathways, he is tasked with guiding students to locations where they’ll have the best experiences. That includes many sites in the vast and biodiverse country.

For the Seven Wonders of Australia program, he says if he had to pick his favorite highlight it would be the Daintree Rainforest since he enjoys the unique plant life and birds. But one key benefit of this particular program is that it takes students to locations across the country, giving a broad overview of some of the most recognized sites in the world.

Snorkeling by the Great Barrier Reef

Rustic Pathways students can snorkel above the Great Barrier Reef.

“It’s great having a program that takes students to totally different landscapes in Australia, showing them what makes the country unique,” Murray said.

During the trip, students travel from the city to the desert Outback to the rainforest and the ocean. What constitutes the actual seven wonders of Australia is a bit debatable. There are three sites that are on nearly all highlight lists – the Sydney Opera House, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef. As is typical with Rustic Pathways trips though, there are a few other wonders on this program that are not as well known and can be best experienced during an immersive travel journey.

Here are some of the wonders on the Rustic Pathways’ Seven Wonders program:

1. Sydney Opera House and Harbor

The opera house is considered one of the world’s most distinguished examples of 20th Century architecture and is among the most frequently photographed buildings. It was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and opened in 1973. In 2007 it was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The venues inside the building host about 1,500 performances each year.

Sydney Opera House and Harbor

Copyright: Rustic Pathways

Students can view the opera house from the ground or the air if they take the option to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The arch bridge has about six million rivets and took nine years to build. It was opened in 1932. The climb to the top provides stunning views of the harbor, which Murray says is a “phenomenally beautiful part of the landscape.”

Away from the harbor, students also spend time exploring other parts of the city and providing service. They spend a day preparing meals for refugees and homeless people before heading out for other parts of Australia.

2. Uluru

After a few days in Sydney, the students fly to Uluru in the center of Australia. Uluru is a large sandstone formation that spans nearly six miles and is sacred to the local Aboriginal people. It is also known as Ayers Rock.

Students take a guided tour of the area, including seeing historical rock artwork around the site. People generally do not climb the rock because of its spiritual significance. The indigenous Anangu people in the Outback believe Uluru was created by ancestral beings, and they hold sacred ceremonies around the landmark.

Aside from its cultural significance, Uluru also is known for appearing to change colors in certain light. Early in the morning, the students ride camels around Uluru to see the pinks and purples that appear as the sun rises.

Rustic Pathways students take a camel ride near Uluru.

Rustic Pathways students take a camel ride near Uluru.

Read: Why are there camels in Australia?

The students also have the option to skydive in the area for a really exhilarating perspective of the region.

3. Kata Tjuta & The Valley of Winds

This rock formation that is about 16 miles from Uluru is not as well known. It’s also called The Olgas. It includes 36 domes, and is an important site for Anangu men. In their culture, men and women have distinctly different roles so some areas are gender divided.

The stories the men tell about this site are generally not shared with outsiders since the Anangu people protect sacred information. In their culture, you have to earn the right to this knowledge.

There are several paths in the region that visitors can follow to get unique perspectives of the rock formations. The trails go through the Valley of the Winds, which is the area where Kata Tjuta is located. During the walks, the Anangu people ask that visitors not take photos or videos of Kata Tjuta. They believe there are aspects of Kata Tjuta that should only be experienced in person.

4. Kings Canyon

This canyon is also not as frequently featured as other parts of Australia, but Murray says it’s spectacular. Students spend two nights camping in safari tents in this Northern Territory area, which gives unparalleled views of the Outback.

Rustic Pathways students at Kings Canyon in Australia

Rustic Pathways students view Kings Canyon. Copyright: © 2015 Rustic Pathways

Students see tropical pools in an area called the Garden of Eden and view beehive rock formations in an area named the Lost City. The walls of the canyon are about 330 feet high and students can hike around the rim.

While in the area, students also try local food called bush tucker, which is made from native foods in the area. This may include local fruits, vegetables, seeds and meat from animals like kangaroos.

5. The Great Barrier Reef

After exploring the Outback, the students fly to Cairns in the northeastern part of Australia to see an entirely different region in the country. From there they will sail out to see the Great Barrier Reef, which is perhaps the most well-known coral reef in the world. It includes more than 3000 individual reef systems and is often considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Great Barrier Reef

Copyright: Rustic Pathways

Students can snorkel or scuba dive as an add on activity, and marine experts teach the students about the reef and marine species in the region. They learn about different threats, such as the impact of climate change and sediment runoff, and get details on how they are trying to protect the reef from coral bleaching.

Read about Coral Reefs in the Dominican Republic 

6. Captain Cook Highway

While in this region, the students visit Fitzroy Island and a turtle rehabilitation center. There they learn more about reef restoration and can go swimming in the turquoise waters near the inner barrier reef system. Then they take a drive down Captain Cook Highway, which is on the border between the two World Heritage sites in the area – the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.

The road hugs the coastline for nearly 28 miles, showcasing the picturesque views of both the sea and the land. Along the way, students can look out for kangaroos, koalas, colorful birds and more. It is a relaxing part of the trip where students will feel like they are driving through a beautiful painting.

7. Daintree Rainforest

After the drive, students settle into a rainforest lodge for two nights in the Daintree Rainforest. There they’ll spend time on the beach at the edge of the rainforest and do some environmental service work, such as planting trees or removing invasive species. During this time they can look for the large cassowary birds – one of Murray’s favorites.

Copyright: © 2016 Rustic Pathways

The Daintree is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, which is a World Heritage site, and contains a wide diversity of animal life. Murray says it’s a remnant of the old rainforests that existed when the continents were joined together. The area includes frogs, marsupials, and butterflies. The region also includes ancient plants, including some ferns that were among the world’s earliest land plants.

It’s also one of the few places in the world where a rainforest extends to sandy beaches with fringing coral reefs in the water – plus mountains and gorges provide a scenic backdrop. The stunning scenery are among the reasons Murray picked this area as a top program highlight.

At the end of the trip, students have the option to try bungee jumping, or they can go shopping for souvenirs that will remind them of their adventure.

Alumnus Pablo Ruiz Segura, who went on four trips with Rustic Pathways, says the Seven Wonders program was his favorite trip. It left him with many fond memories when he headed off to college and then medical school.

“You get to see so much of Australia in a way I don’t think you would be able to by traveling on your own,” Ruiz Segura said. “If I had to put one moment on top, it would definitely be spending hours watching the sky in the Australian desert with other people just talking, laughing and playing.”

For more information on our trips in Australia, please visit our program page.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Lead Editor

Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.