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Designed specifically for college students seeking practical experience in frontline wildlife research in wild places, this is an exclusive opportunity that is available for the first-time ever! This program offers rare access to groundbreaking research and conservation work in one of the most unique areas in the world — The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. Journey into remote areas with access to zoologists and scientists in an exclusive partnership between Rustic Pathways and Australia Zoo. Discover rare plant and animal species such as file snakes, saltwater crocodiles, cuscus and palm cockatoos. Learn firsthand what is involved in being an Australia Zoo Ranger and caring for a 330,000 acre haven for wildlife, while experiencing the magnificent Outback of Australia. Expect to be challenged, to learn, and to have a life-changing adventure on this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Watch Russel Crowe on David Letterman talking about the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve.

Dates listed reflect travel time departing from and returning to the USA. International clients click here.

You must enroll in a program at least 8 days prior to the scheduled departure date. For help choosing an alternate date or location, please contact us to speak with a program expert.

With our No-Stress Travel Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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Program Profile

Community Service Component
Community Service Focus
Get to Know
Australian Wildlife and Rangers
Camping in the Outback
Travel Component
Stationary Program

  • Day 1

    Australia Here We Come!

    If you are traveling from North America, today you’ll depart Los Angeles for Brisbane in the evening on our escorted group flight. The flight will take about 14 hours – plenty of time to get to know the rest of your group before arriving Down Under.

  • Day 2

    In Transit

    Today is lost as you cross the international dateline, but don’t worry too much, you will get it back on your way home!

  • Day 3

    Arrival to Brisbane, Orientation

    Touchdown in Brisbane – your gateway to the beautiful Land Down Under. Rustic Pathways staff members will be on hand to welcome you. Once all the students have arrived, we’ll make our way to The Sunshine Coast for an afternoon of orientation by the beach.

  • Day 4

    Australia Zoo

    You’ll spend today at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. The education coordinator will give you a private tour of the zoo to learn how Bob and Steve’s humble beginnings evolved into one of the world’s leading wildlife parks. Visiting the zoo today will help you understand how revenue is generated to fund wildlife conservation around the world, including at the reserve that you’re going to visit tomorrow!


  • Day 5

    Brisbane to Far North Queensland

    Here we go! This morning you are off on a flight from Brisbane to Cairns, then connecting on to Weipa – a small town in remote Cape York Peninsula. The view out the plane window will be stunning as you land in far north Queensland. Australia Zoo staff will meet us upon arrival in Weipa and we’ll transfer by 4×4 through spectacular country the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve (SIWR). This evening you’ll receive an official welcome and orientation from Australia Zoo staff and Rustic Pathways leaders.

  • Day 6 - 13

    Wildlife Conservation and Research in the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve

    These eight days will be dedicated to service and adventure in the SIWR. The SIWR was gifted to Terri Irwin from the Australian Government as a living memorial to Steve’s passion for all things wild. Today, the reserve is frequented by scientists from around the world including botanists, archeologists, pharmacists, hydrologists, ornithologists, ichthyologists and every other ‘ist’ you can imagine. The reserve is home to rare and vulnerable plants and wildlife, and its ecosystems perform crucial roles as wildlife refuges and corridors for movement and dispersal of many species of flora and fauna.

    A range of high level research projects are conducted on the Reserve throughout the year. The reserve also hosts the Australia Zoo Croc Research Trip – the largest study ever conducted on crocodiles, which is led by the Irwin Family. You can join the rangers in this once in a lifetime opportunity to check out ground-breaking research and help develop base camp, affectionately known as Coolibah.

    You will spend eleven days volunteering alongside Australia Zoo Rangers, scientists and researchers to support the work they are doing and contribute to the ongoing development and management of the reserve. Projects may include building facilities at the research base, removing intrusive vegetation, and shadowing researchers on a range of ecological based activities. In addition to the service work, you’ll receive guided day and evening tours by the Rangers to look for crocs, kangaroos, goannas, wild pigs, snakes and many other rare and endangered wildlife species.

    Your accommodation at the research station will be in authentic Outback swags – canvas beds that Australians use in the outback. There are basic toilet and shower facilities but you should be prepared for a true rustic adventure in a remote and undeveloped part of the world. Be prepared for great food, great friends and Aussie experiences that you’ll never forget! With access to people and places that are exclusively available through this program, your time in the SIWR will blow your mind and change your world.

  • Day 14

    Weipa to Cairns

    On day 12 we’ll transfer back to Weipa, say farewell to the Australia Zoo team, and make our way down to Cairns. Settling into a nice comfortable hotel, this evening you’ll have time to to shower and freshen-up before heading out to explore the tropical city of Cairns.

  • Day 15

    Great Barrier Reef

    No trip to northern Australia is complete without visiting the Great Barrier Reef. With the world’s largest reef system as your playground, there’s no telling what you may see. Snorkel – or scuba dive if you prefer – at two different sites during the day, giving you ample opportunity to spot fish, turtles, reef sharks, or even a dwarf minke whale! With marine biologists onboard to teach you about the reef system and put this incredible ecosystem in a global context, this will be an experience you’ll never forget.

  • Day 16

    Return to Brisbane, Depart from Australia

    This morning we’ll take an early flight back to Brisbane. This morning you will head to the airport check in to your international flight home. If you are continuing on to another Rustic Pathways adventure in Australia, you will connect with your new leaders this morning. If you are traveling on to another Rustic Pathways destination, your staff will help you with your flight arrangements. Wherever you are headed, we wish you happy travels and hope you return to the Land Down Under soon!

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email australia@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • This program easily connects to any program in Australia or Fiji that is scheduled to depart 14 days after its start date. Students connect between Australia programs at Brisbane airport on a Thursday morning. This program can also connect to our trips in Southeast Asia, however students may need to depart Australia one night early in order to arrive in Asia on time. Please contact australia@rusticpathways.com for further information on program connections.

  • Yes. Nearly all nationalities will require a visa to enter Australia. Residents of the USA should apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which is an online visa found at eta.immi.gov.au and costs US$25. Residents of Europe may be eligible for a free eVisitor visa. Other nationalities may require a Visitor Visa (e600), which costs approximately AU$130. Visa costs are not included in our program prices.

  • Rustic Pathways provides a flight leader to accompany students travelling on our group flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Brisbane (BNE) and return. Students joining this program from outside of the USA may need to travel unaccompanied to meet the group in Brisbane.

  • The flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane is approximately 14 hours one-way.

  • Yes, the advertised dates for this program includes travel time from the USA. Students from the USA will depart LAX on a Tuesday evening and return on a Thursday morning. The program within Australia runs from Thursday to Thursday. Please refer to the itinerary for further details.

  • Students will be spending most of the time in The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, which is located in Cape York in the northern area of Queensland.

    They will catch an internal flight from Brisbane to Weipa, a small town

  • There are four internal flights on this program:
    1. Brisbane – Cairns, approximately 2 hours
    2. Cairns – Weipa, approximately 1.5 hours
    3. Weipa – Cairns, approximately 1.5 hours
    4. Cairns – Brisbane, approximately 2 hours

  • Our staff have Wilderness First Aid qualifications and carry comprehensive medical kits. Australia Zoo will also provide first aid staff.

  • Rustic Pathways maintains a minimum of 1 Program Leader for every 7 students. Additionally, each program maintains at least 2 primary program leaders, one male and one female.

  • Rustic Pathways uses sterilization techniques to ensure that all drinking water for students is potable and safe to drink. We ask students to bring reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic usage.

  • Students are allowed to bring phones on their Rustic Pathways program, but must abide by our cell phone policy. Students will not be allowed to use their phones during group activities, nor at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic. If students are unable to abide by this policy, disciplinary action may be taken.

  • Australia uses 240V with a three-prong plug. Residents of USA and Europe will require an adaptor for their electronic items. You can see an example of the required adapter at this link.

  • The weather on this program will generally be warm to hot, between (75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • At the start and end of the trip, you will be staying in hostels and you’ll share a room with 3-4 other Rustic students. The hostels are set up for young travellers with a great fun atmosphere. For the rest of this trip, you’ll be camping in your own tent under the stars in the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve.
    There are bathroom facilities separated by gender with hot water and flushing toilets.

  • Food in Australia is quite similar to American cuisine, with options such as pasta, sandwiches, salads and grilled meats. We focus on providing fresh, healthy home-cooked meals. The group will prepare meals together and will eat at local restaurants once they get back to Cairns. Vegetarians and other dietary restrictions can easily be accommodated.

  • You will have access to internet in Cairns while staying at the hostel. Internet access in the Wildlife Reserve is very limited. You can use it to send a quick update if necessary but we encourage you to use this opportunity to disconnect!

  • There is a laundry machine at the campsite and you will be able to use it during your stay. Since you will be sharing it with everyone else you might be able to use it only once.


  • The Steve Irwin Wildlife reserve is located in a remote location, approximately 3 hours drive from Weipa.

    Our staff have Wilderness First Aid qualifications and carry comprehensive medical kits. Australia Zoo will also provide first aid staff.

    There is a landing track and a helipad for the Australian Royal Flying Doctors in case of emergencies that require immediate evacuation.

  • Please consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for immunization and other medical recommendations, based on the area(s) where you will be traveling and on your own medical history. In addition to consulting with a medical professional, please visit the International SOS and Center for Disease Control websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveler’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.

  • International SOS is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to International SOS benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.

    As a member you will have access to International SOS’ extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travelers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program. For more information please visit our International SOS webpage.


  • Personal gifts, internet, phone calls, snacks and add on activities are not included. All other costs (accommodation, meals, in-country transportation, and activities) are included in the program price.

  • When visiting the Great Barrier Reef students can choose to scuba dive instead of snorkelling.
    In Cairns you can also go bungy jumping.

  • We generally suggest $200 – $300 for spending money, plus additional for any optional activities that you would like to do.


  • Yes, you will be helping the Australia Zoo Rangers prepare for the croc season!

  • Please refer to our Community Service Hour Awards webpage for more information on how service hours are awarded.

  • Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community.

  • Yes, fro this specific program Australia Zoo requires participants to be 17 years or older.

Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Below is your packing list, and for those of you looking for some extra guidance on what to bring, check out the packing guide for this program.


A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • Passport
  • Airline ticket
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Wallet and money (USD or AUD)
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • iPod or MP3 player
  • Change of clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Medication
  • Visa documentation (if applicable)
  • Chargers
  • Travel power adaptor
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts
  • Arrival instructions for Brisbane

Make sure everything you pack in your carry-on complies with the new carry-on regulations of the TSA.


A medium sized duffel bag or large backpack work best. Wheeled bags are acceptable as long as they are medium sized and can easily be carried like a duffle over rough terrain.


  • Underwear (10)
  • Socks (8)
  • Pants (hiking pants that can turn into shorts are ideal)
  • Jeans (for your traveling days)
  • Shorts (3)
  • Tank Tops (2)
  • Light rain jacket
  • T-shirts (8)
  • Long sleeved shirt (2, something light and breathable that protects you from the sun during walking)
  • Sweater/fleece
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Bath towel
  • Sandals or flip-flops
  • Sneakers/running shoes (a pair that dries quickly that you can hike short distances in that protect your toes.  Shoes will get muddy and dirty so don’t get too attached to your footwear)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (it is a must!)
  • Sandals or flip-flops (Chacos or Tevas are recommended)


  • Soap or body wash
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Sunscreen – There is a lot of sun exposure on our programs in Australia, so we suggest a high SPF rating.
  • Lip balm
  • Sunburn cream or aloe
  • Hand sanitizer (1-2 small bottles)
  • Bug spray


  • Camera and camera gear
  • Flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries (there is no electricity at the Reserve and generators are switched off at around 10pm every night)
  • Watch or clock with an alarm
  • Large Ziplock© Freezer Bags
  • Sleeping bag
  • Small personal first aid kit (our guides will have comprehensive first aid kits on hand, but having a personal kit is always helpful)


  • Deck of cards or other easily explained games.
  • Frisbee, aerobee, hacky sack or other things that are fun and easy to carry

For more information, email australia@rusticpathways.com.

PLEASE NOTE – Rustic Pathways is not responsible for any lost or stolen items. During travel it is common for items to be lost or stolen so please only bring items you are prepared to part with.