Eastern Australia: The Chilled Tour - Birding Tour
This Australian tour focuses on visiting some little-visited parts of the country and covers a broad range of Australian habitats, across 4 states. Unlike some of our other Australia offerings, we base ourselves for longer periods at each location. The tour (with the extension) visits an electic array of Australia habitats, including mangroves, mallee, wet and dry sclerophyll forests, coastal heathland, subtropical rainforest, tropical lowland rainforest, tropical wetlands, tropical savanna, temperate eucalypt forest, brigelow, and even some classic Australian pelagic birding with a boat trip for seabirds and whales out of Ballina. In doing so, this will give you a good shot at many iconic birds and bird families/groups of this country-come-continent, including albatrosses, fairywrens, emus, cassowary, bowerbirds, megapodes, lyrebirds, birds-of-paradise, Australasian robins, pardalotes, parrots, cockatoos, and of course, the ever-preset honeyeaters, Australia’s largest songbird family. This is the only Australian tour we offer with a pelagic as part of the trip.
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 19 Days
Starting City: Cairns
Ending City: Hobart
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Birding, Photography, Wildlife
Max group size: 7 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Cairns
This wonderful small city sits on the coast and looks out towards the Great Barrier Reef offshore. Following morning arrivals, an afternoon of birding will be taken around the city of Cairns, where birds like Australian Figbird, Torresian Imperial-Pigeon, Bush Thick-knee, Laughing Kookaburra, Rainbow Bee-eater, Torresian Kingfisher, Double-eyed Fig-Parrot, Varied Honeyeater, and a host of shorebirds can regularly be found. A single night will be spent in Cairns.
Day 2: The Great Barrier Reef
After the long journey in to start the tour, this will be just the antidote, a day relaxing on a boat out on the Great Barrier Reef, with a visit to a sandy island or cay, which is packed with nesting seabirds. We will also take lunch on board our boat, and have the chance to snorkel on the reef, rest on the boat, or take a guided glass bottom boat tour of the reef. The centerpiece of the day will be the nesting seabirds, on this tiny island just 30 kilometers east of Cairns. The dominant species are Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy, which rest and nest within feet of the viewing area, but also Brown Booby, Great Frigatebird, Great Crested, Lesser Crested, Bridled and Black-naped Terns are all regularly seen during this trip, with sometimes a surprise too, like a Red-footed Booby. In the afternoon, we shall return to Cairns, and then head straight up to Daintree for the night.
Day 3: Daintree River Cruise to Mareeba
In the morning, we will take a relaxed river cruise, to search for rare species like Great-billed Heron, Black Bittern and Papual Frogmouth, and where we also have a chance at species like Large-billed Gerygone, Green Oriole, Australasian Koel, and Azure Kingfisher, among others. Taking breakfast after this early morning cruise, we will then make our way west to Mareeba for a two-night stay. On the way there, there are multiple birding stops to be made, like around Mount Lewis, to try for Tooth-billed Bowerbird, Bower’s Shrike-Thrush, and other highland specialties like Bridled Honeyeater and Gray-headed Robin.
Days 4-5: The Queensland Outback and The Atherton Tablelands
On these days we will focus on the edge of the Queensland Outback and also visit some areas of the Atherton Tablelands, visiting sites around Mount Molloy and Mount Carbine, where we will check out some downs where Australian Bustards display in this season, and look for dry country species in the tropical savanna, like Blue-winged Kookaburra, and Pale-headed Rosella, and also visit some gorge country where Squatter Pigeons and Mareeba Rock-Wallaby can usually be found.
Day 6: The Atherton Tablelands to Cairns via Etty Bay
During the morning we will keep our focus on the upland forests, checking around Hypipamee for Golden Bowerbird, Spotted Catbird and Chowchilla, then stopoping at another site on the Tablelands to get a Platypus in broad daylight. On our route back to Cairns, we will stop at the beach site of Etty Bay, to check in on the local Southern Cassowary that often wanders out of the rainforest and into the caravan park! The night will be spent in Cairns.
Day 7: Fly Cairns to Brisbane; to O’ Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
In the morning we will take an early flight from Cairns to Brisbane in the south of Queensland. After arrival, we will do some light birding around Brisbane, checking some mangroves for Chestnut Teal, Mangrove Honeyeater, Torresian Kingfisher and Mangrove Gerygone, and also stop in on a regular pair of roosting Powerful Owls if they are around, a site that might also yield a Koala, or a nesting Tawny Frogmouth. After that, we will head up into Lamington National Park, an area of subtropical forest and dry sclerophyll forest south of Brisbane. On the way there we will stop for Bell Miners and Variegated Fairywren, before heading up to the rainforest cloaked plateau, and the World-famous O Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. The afternoon will be spent exploring the rainforest close to the retreat, where some of the most conspicuous birds are parrots, in the form of the Australian King-Parrots and Crimson Rosellas that come in to be fed each day, as so Satin and Regent Bowerbirds. On this night or the next, if people wish to look for a Marbled Frogmouth or Southern Boobook, or search for night mammals, after dinner there will be an option to do so.
Day 8: O’ Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat
A full day will be spent in this glorious area, where rainforest is right on our doorstep, and hosts some spectacular Australian birds, like the master mimic, Albert’s Lyrebird, the whip-cracking Eastern Whipbird, hulking Green Catbird, an arboreal bowerbird that sounds like a cat in pain, and the delightful Australian Logrunners that scamper around the forest floor. We may also find a bird-of-paradise in the forest, as Paradise Riflebird also dwells there. There are plenty of other avian side attractions too, with species like Superb Fairywrens often flitting around the parking lots, with the tame Red-browed Firetails, ad Eastern Spinebills often right around the lodging too. We are also likely to see some of the rainforest mammals too, with Red-necked Pademelon, a small wallaby, regular around the property, as are Mountain Brushtails Possums at night. A second night will be spent at the wonderful O’ Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.
Day 9: O’ Reilly’s to Evans Head (New South Wales)
After a final morning in the cool, wet, vine-tangled subtropical forests of Lamington National Park, in southern Queensland we shall head south to coastal New South Wales, and the town of Evans Head. This popular holiday resort is located within the Richmond Valley of the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. It offers two major habitats that will be new to us for the tour, with excellent coastal heathland, and wet sclerophyll forest both close to this beach town, as well as coastal birds too. Along the coastline we may find Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers, or White-bellied Sea-Eagle, while on the heath, we will be looking for Southern Emuwren, Tawny-crowned and White-cheeked Honeyeaters, Little Wattlebird and Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo.
Day 10: Ballina Pelagic and Evans Head
In the morning, we will travel the short distance to Ballina, north of Evans Head, from where we will take a boat trip out into the pelagic waters of the south Pacific Ocean. In this season, whales and other cetaceans can be found around the continental shelf (Humpback Whales being the most regular), along with a wide variety of seabirds, with some of the possibilities including Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and White-capped Albatrosses, Cape, Gray-faced and Providence Petrels, Fluttering, Hutton’s, Flesh-footed, Short-tailed and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, White-faced Storm-Petrel, Brown Skua, Australian Gannet and White-fronted Tern. In the afternoon we will return to Evans Head, birding either heathland or Wet Sclerophyll forest instead, with chances for species like Rose Robin, Scarlet Myzomela, and Satin and Leaden Flycatchers. Sometimes we can even find the scarce Blue-breasted Quail in the area too. A second night will be spent in Evans Head.
Day 11: Evans Head to Coonabarabran via Gibraltar Ranges National Park
Although this is long driving day we will be passing through some varied habitats for birding, including the Gibraltar Ranges National Park, where temperate forest holds a major targets species for us in the Superb Lyrebird, known for its extraordinary mimicry of other birds and sounds, famously imitating camera shutters on Life of Birds! Other species of interest in the area, including Red-browed Treecreeper. The precise stops will target habitats where birds have not be seen yet, but may include stops around Grafton, which may bring us swathes of wetland birds as well as Horsfield’s and Shining Bronze-Cuckoos, Sacred Kingfisher, Dollarbird, Scaly-breasted Lorikeet, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Gray-crowned Babbler, Gray Butcherbird and Olive-backed Oriole, among others. By the end of the day we will reach Coonabarabran, our base for the next two nights, with only short drives the following day.
Day 12: Warrumbungle National Park
This scenically spectacular national park attracts many visitors for the dramatic volcanic landscapes alone, which include outcroppings like the breadknife, which is a prominent geological feature within the park. It also boasts the title of Australia’s only “dark sky” park. The surrounding open eucalypt woodland is also recognized as important for birdlife, being part of the Pilliga Important Bird Area, so there will be plenty of birds to look for while we admire the geologically spectacular landscapes too. Emus frequent this area, and a swathe of parrots too, including Turquoise and Red-rumped Parrots, Eastern Rosella and Little Lorikeet. As is the case everywhere in Australia, honeyeaters are never far away, and we will be on the lookout for White-eared, White-naped, Spiny-cheeked and Brown-headed Honeyeaters, along with finches like Diamond Firetail and Double-barred Finch. The open nature of the woodland provides easy birding, and we may also find interesting Australian species like Varied Sitella, Crested Shrike-Tit, or even Spotted Quail-Thrush. Five species of woodswallow also occur, as well as Brown and White-throated Treecreepers, Speckled Warbler, Apostlebird, White-winged Chough, Restless Flycatcher, Jacky-Winter, White-browed Babbler, and Chestnut-rumped Heathwren. After a full day in the park, we will return to Coonabarabran for a second night.
Day 13: Coonabarabran to Lake Cargelligo
From Coonabarabran we will head south into Mallee country, and the town of Lake Cargelligo. This town has a superb public wastewater treatment plant, and we will spend a good part of the afternoon checking it for wetland birds songbirds around its edges. The water levels vary greatly from year to year, although in wet years, wetland birds like Australian Shoveler, Pink-eared Duck, Hoary-headed Grebe, Black-tailed Native-Hen, Australian Crake, Spotless Crake, Red-kneed and Black-fronted Dotterels, Red-necked Avocet can all be present, in addition to songbirds like White-winged and Purple-backed Fairywren, and White-fronted Chat. A single night will be spent in the Outback town of Lake Cargelligo.
Day 14: Nombinnie Nature Reserve to Griffith
On this morning, we will be focusing on the mallee habitat around Nombinnie Nature Reserve, just west of Lake Cargelligo. This habitat is formed of stunted, uniform mallee eucalyptus trees and is a specialist habitat, with its discrete set of birds. Some of the species we will be hoping for include Mulga Parrot, Shy Heathwren, Western Gerygone, Southern Whiteface, Southern Scrub-Robin and Chestnut Quail-Thrush, as well as Yellow-plumed and White-fronted Honeyeaters, and the gorgeous electric blue Splendid Fairywren. After a morning in the mallee, we will move to the town of Griffith, to the south in the afternoon.
Day 15: Binya and Five Bough Swamp
We will divide this day between some birding in brigelow habitat in Binya and some swamp birding, in and around Leeton and Griffith, two close towns in the Riverina Region of New South Wales. This area is at the heart of Superb Parrot country, and we will be keeping an eye out for that well-named gold and green parrot through the day. The area around Binya is dry, open brigelow woodland, and is good for Painted Honeyeater, while in Griffith, sometimes Pink Cockatoo can be found, along with Greater Bluebonnets. Leeton’s centre piece birding attraction is the marvelous Five Bough Swamp, one of the best wetlands in the state, with Australian Shelduck, Blue-billed and Musk Ducks, Brown Quail, Brolga, Royal and Yellow-billed Spoonbills, three species of crake, Australian Hobby, Swamp Harrier, Australian Reed-Warbler, and Little Grassbird all regular there. A second night will be spent in Griffith.
Day 16: Griffith to Melbourne; Fly to Tasmania
After some final birding in New South Wales we will head south into Victoria, taking an afternoon flight to the city of Hobart in Tasmania for the end of the tour.
Day 17: Bruny Island (Tasmania)
Tasmania, the island state off of Australia’s southeast corner, is a beautiful island, loved as much by Australians as it is the overseas visitors who flock there. It is wonderfully underpopulated, and also boasts a set of endemic birds only found there. This will be our focus over our two days on the island. On this first day, we will take a ferry the short distance over to idyllic Bruny island, where almost all of the Tassie endemics can usually be found, as well as some other great birds. This island is fantastic for robins, and as we traverse the island we will be on the lookout for the endemic species, Dusky Robin, but also the impressive Scarlet, Pink and Flame Robins too. Quiet sandy beaches in parts of the island host nesting Hooded Plovers in this season, and during this period too, Swift Parrots return to Bruny from their wintering haunts on the mainland. We will also be on lookout for the endemic Green Rosella too, as well as an assortment of specialty honeyeaters for which only Tasmania is home; Yellow Wattlebird, and Yellow-throated, Black-headed and Strong-billed Honeyeaters are all found on the island, as is the rare and local Forty-spotted Pardalote, which we will be seeking too, along with Beautiful Firetail. After a much of the day on Bruny, we will return to Hobart for a second night. There will be an optional late night search for mammals near Hobart if anyone wishes to do so, with Tasmanian Pademelon, Bennett’s Wallaby and other marsupials possible.
Day 18: Mount Wellington and The Tasman Peninsula
For the final day on Tasmania, we will look to clean up our final Tassie targets, whether it be Scrubtit or Black and Gray Currawongs on Mount Wellington, Musk Lorikeets in blossoming eucalyptus trees in the city, or Cape Barren Geese near Eaglehawk Neck. At the latter site, we will make an evening visit for a memorable end to the tour, to watch the Little Penguins waddle ashore to their nest holes just after dark, on a deserted beach, where we will take our dinner.
Day 19: Departure from Hobart (Tasmania)
There is no birding planned on this day, and a taxi will be arranged for your transfer out of Hobart International Airport.
PACE: Moderate. Unlike our Eastern Australia tour, this one is taken at a slower pace, with more two-night stays than that tour, and aims to get a good sample of the habitats, birds and other wildlife of the region. There are also less long drives than that tour. It does not try and get every bird, like that one! Starts will still be early, usually around 5:00am and 5:30am, and there are some optional late night searches for mammals and birds that are available on a few nights only. Two boat trips are taken on this tour, one for most of the day to the Great Barrier Reef, and a two-hour trip on the Daintree River. There are three long drives on the main tour (days 9 and 12 of around 5 hours and on day 7 around 7 hours, although all of these drives are broken up by birding stops on the journey), and no long ones on the extension.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Most of the birding will be done from roads and mostly flat, well-maintained trails. You can expect to walk around 2-3 miles per day on average. There are no high altitude sites; the highest point is about 4000 ft (1200 m) on 2 days in Tasmania.
CLIMATE: Highly variable. In the Cairns area on the extension, it is tropical and humid, with highs of around 86°F/30°C. Temperates in areas around Brisbane and New South Wales are between 57°F/14°C and 75°F/34°C. Tasmania will be the coldest part, with temperatures typically 48°F-64°F/9°C-18°C, but may be significantly cooler in the early mornings, when temperatures can drop to near freezing. Some rain can be expected, mostly in New South Wales and Tasmania.
ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout. All accommodations have private bathrooms, full-time hot water, and 24-hour electricity. Most lodges/hotels have wifi either in your room or at reception.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for entry into Australia, which must be valid for at least six months beyond your departure. All visitors must obtain a visa or travel authorization in advance, however this can usually be done online fairly painlessly; check the Australian immigration website, or ask our office staff for help if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from night of day 1 though to night of day 18; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 19 (if you do not leave to early); reasonable non-alcoholic drinks during restaurant meals; safe drinking water between meals; most hotels in Australia provide a kettle and tea and coffee; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the night of day 18; transfer by taxi to the airports at the start and end of the tour; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle driven by the tour leader; one boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef (this will be shared with other people); one private two-hour boat cruise on the Daintree River; entrance fees to all birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; international flights; domestic flights (THESE WILL BE BOOKED BY THE TROPICAL BIRDING OFFICE TO ENSURE THE GROUP ALL HAVE THE CORRECT FLIGHTS); any Covid tests required; excess baggage fees; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.