Our Planet Travel - Eco travel and sustainable lifestyle
Our Planet Travel was started because, like many of you, I LOVE travelling – but I’m also passionate about protecting our environment… so the natural choice was to combine these two passions, and hence Our Planet Travel & Living blog and magazine was born!
Community development projects offer visitors a personal and rewarding experience – and the chance to make a real difference to someone’s life.
“Bula!” It’s that ubiquitous word that rides on the wind wherever you roam in Fiji. You can’t pass a person without hearing it, or saying it, for it’s infections. Fiji, that tropical oasis basking in the Pacific Ocean, is the land of the wide smile and silken song. And when Isa Lei is sung to you before you leave, you know you’ll return to Fiji’s shores.
On my recent return, I stayed at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast. Laid out like a traditional Fijian village, where 95% of the staff are local, the resort is patchworked by a roofscape of thatched bures. But this was no standard holiday. In fact, Outrigger is no standard stay, but rather, is a values-based and community tourism-focussed company.
Local Community Walkathon
Every month, a different department of the hotel runs some form of community service. With fundraising at the heart of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort’s operations, a suite of authentic cultural experiences allow visitors to give back to the local community. I took part in the annual Outrigger Walk for Kids Walkathon, helping to raise funds for the Sigatoka School for Special Education and Conua District School.
At 7am, led by Outrigger General Manager: Peter Hopgood, we set off from reception. It was a casual 10km-long walk along the Queen’s Highway, but Fijians can pack a mighty pace. Along with 200 of us pounding the gravel, dozens of local children headed the ‘race’, charged with excitement. We passed mangrove-lined beaches, goats shading beneath trees, locals carting home their market produce, a couple of determined dogs keeping up with the best of us, and honking lorries spurring us all on.
Arriving in a pool of sweat and smiles at the Sigatoka School for Special Education, kids high-fived “Mr Peter”, proud of their achievement. The walkathon raised an impressive FJD$42,000. Chief guest at the event was Acting Prime Minister, the Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who announced a generous personal pledge towards the fund of FJD$20,000. And Mrs Lanieta Matavesi, the school’s board member, delivered a thank you address before festivities commenced.
Jubilant celebrations saw kids bouncing wildly on an inflatable castle and having their faces painted. Others sang to us through sign language. And muscle-packed, grass skirt-clad warriors danced the meke, until a sizzling sausage barbecue replenished energy levels for all.
The funds raised will facilitate the purchase of a four-wheel-drive vehicle to allow teachers at Sigatoka School for Special Education to operate outreach programs for those unable to attend in person.
Conua District School
The following day, Mr Peter led a visit to rural Conua District School, in the Sigatoka Valley. These visits are offered to hotel guests wishing to volunteer their time assisting with community projects. No sooner were we through the gates, when tiny feet raced from the building. The faces on these kids were ecstatic, as they clasped our hands ready to show off their school.
Since 2010, the student population at Conua has increased, threefold, much due to Outrigger’s sponsored projects. A recent milestone was achieved with the construction of the Eddie Betts kindergarten (aided by the philanthropy of Adelaide Crows AFL legend), two new classrooms, a computer room, a library and a meeting bure.
The construction of additional teachers’ quarters is now underway, and during my visit, I was lucky enough to cross paths with fellow Aussie, Mark Luckey. Mark decided to return to Sigatoka after becoming inspired by Outrigger’s charitable initiatives during a family holiday. He is currently donating his time and labour to complete the new teachers’ accommodation. “I wanted to help build something constructive,” he said. “And it’s added meaning to my life.”
Outrigger has also facilitated with the addition of a maternity ward and medivac helipad at Sigatoka District Hospital. And in 2016, an eye scanner for the eye clinic was finally afforded, helping the doctors to detect early-onset diabetes. They also provide accommodation to the eye specialists from Benevolent Mission International that restores eyesight to around 80 locals per year.
Outrigger is the finest example of how companies and corporations can work together to improve the lives of others. If you too are inspired to help the lives of Fijians, why not come and join the family yourself at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort. It will change you!
Editor’s Note: The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort undertakes a number of responsible tourism programs; including Outrigger’s global conservation program called OZONE, which supports efforts to assist conserving the ocean, and reef planting projects.
Marie is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. Based in Adelaide, she has a personal passion for wildlife and conservation, and enjoys nature-based activities, dancing and yoga (and tea and chocolate!). Marie travelled as a guest of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
When passion meets practicality, you know you’re onto a good thing.
For Shannon French, founder of Rhino Horn Coffee, it was a love of coffee, social impact and rhinos that led him to start this organisation whose mission statement is to be a vocal advocate for rhino conservation, raising funds for underfunded rangers through coffee sales.
“Rhino is a keystone species. [If we protect them], other wildlife benefits from the flow on effect. If we don’t act now, this prehistoric animal will become extinct in our generation. I am not prepared to sit back and do nothing.”
In today’s economy, rhino horn is worth more than gold and diamonds put together. Statistically, a rhino is killed for its horn every 8 hours. This means that the stakes are high, and poachers go to extreme lengths to kill rhinos, with the horns being sold as part of the worldwide illegal wildlife trafficking network.
As the International Anti-Poaching Foundations explains, “anti-poaching rangers form the first and last line of defence for nature. Without proper training, equipment, management and support they cannot defend the world’s heritage for future generations.”
This is exactly why Shannon wants to fund ranger training and resources through his coffee sales:
“The idea came from my experiences in Africa volunteering as a Ranger with The International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAPF). Having served in the Australian army service and operations overseas, I felt I could contribute physically first. But after seeing the often poorly equipped Rangers and seeing their hard work, love and dedication to conservation I wondered how I could help from Australia.”
So, why coffee?
“I had previously helped to found Wild Timor Coffee, which works closely with villages in Timor Leste where our old patrol bases were,” explains Shannon.
“We were able to help build schools and provide water to the village we once protected. I thought that I could try and do the same for Rhino.”
For coffee lovers, the Rhino Horn Coffee online shop already has lots of opportunities to contribute to the organisation’s cause, from purchasing coffee to T-shirts, mugs and even equipment for rangers. 100% of profits go toward rhino conservation, and even milk for orphaned baby rhinos! Find out more also on Facebook and Instagram.
As a journalist with an international tourism management degree, Lina has worked and volunteered in many countries; including for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation in Spain. She now offers her skills to Our Planet Travel on a regular basis – which we are very grateful for. Lina also assists with our social media activities. Currently Lina works for Ecotourism Australia.
Check out these 5 Eco-friendly lifestyle technologies
In 2018 people are finally starting to place sustainability and the environment as a priority.
The media has been buzzing with this idea that this year will be huge for making steps toward the human race being more sustainable and having a better relationship with the globe. Whilst we mustn’t be complacent, it seems that many more of the world’s governments, corporations and communities are choosing to operate in a more eco-friendly manner. With the growing popularity of eco-conscious industry leaders like Elon Musk, it is becoming a requirement for every company and industry to show that they are thinking ‘green’. Everyone that’s been paying attention to these developments has been looking to contribute to the landscape of green thinking, and people are looking for more and more ways to live sustainably.
For those looking for the most up-to-date ways to keep green, we have compiled a list of five eco-friendly technologies to check out in 2018.
The huge boom in popularity for Amazon and Google’s digital assistants, the Echo and Home units respectively, has officially paved the way for truly Sci-Fi smart homes. The next few years should see people adopting smart home technology as more than just the gimmick it has traditionally been. The technology has matured, and now it really does work – you can command your Echo or Home to do a whole host of stuff, and they’ll understand you and action your command first time…usually.
The eco-benefits for the widespread adoption of smart-homes are huge as well. With the complex sensors they have to hand, these systems can detect when to turn on and off heating and lighting in specific rooms, depending on whether there are any people inside or not. They can also be more strategic with when heating needs to be on and off to maintain a consistent temperature, and as time goes on even more functionalities including window control will aid this smart temperature management.
All of these things reduce the amount of electricity and fuel users end up using, and should make a significant impact on their carbon footprint.
Sharing Economy Apps
The sharing economy has evolved hugely since the end of the noughties. The idea is simple, but has some profound implications for the global economy and the environment: it is the collection of apps and platforms that facilitate people who own things to let other people use them, often for a fee. Sharing economy apps assist us in using the planet’s resources more conscientiously.
Landmark services under the sharing economy include AirBnB and BlaBlaCar and they themselves have been reported to wage environmental benefits. AirBnB released a study of 8,000 stays and found that compared to the equivalent stays in hotels, people used 88% less water and reduced their energy consumption by 37% – impressive statistics.
Another newer service on the sharing economy block is Fat Lama, the peer-to-peer item rental app. This allows people to rent almost anything from their neighbours, from drones through to bikes. The eco-saving made here is that Fat Lama are aiming to reduce the amount people buy, therefore reducing the amount produced in a factory. In that way, people renting from their neighbours in the circular economy are contributing to making the world a more sustainable place. Fat Lama currently operates in the UK and USA; with other countries planned soon.
Ok, so Sodastream has been around for quite a while now, but it has recently seen a new wind of popularity, partly due to the eco-benefits it can bring to a household. It is a simple but effective solution to being eco-friendly – by making your own soft-drinks and fizzy water at home, you save hugely on the plastic you end up not using.
If you’re a fan of fizzy drinks, you’ll know the slow but surely growing mountain of plastic bottles and cans you produce in consuming your favourite carbonated drinks. With a sodastream, you essentially eliminate this wastage, and in the process reduce your stamp on the environment.
While solar is not new, the Guardian has reported that 2018 has been predicted as the year for solar power, going so far as to dub the oncoming popularity as the sun-rush. The idea has been around for years, but it’s only been recently that the technology has really become super affordable, as well as super efficient. If you are looking to find a way to boost your sustainability this year, definitely think about investing in solar technology.
There are now government schemes in place to help homes cope with the financial burden of energy costs by putting solar panels on people’s roofs. Elon Musk from Tesla has also unveiled a recent project whereby good-looking roofing tiles also double up as solar panels. Even outside of these, investing money into solar panelling will be an amazing investment for you and the planet.
People are really jumping on the electric car hype-train in 2018. The industry leaders appear to be making leaps and bounds with the technology, and it seems that the automobile industry (alongside driverless technology) is due a shakeup as major as the rollout of the Ford Model T in 1908.
Compared to 2013, which saw 3,500 electric cars on the road in Britain, there are now over 140,000 people driving in petrol free motors in Britain, largely thanks to a more integrated recharging network, and, critically, changing perceptions on the environmentally damaging petrol powered vehicles and the benefits of their electric counterparts.
If you are shopping for a new car, this is the technology to invest in as an early adopter, as the technology is only going to increase in popularity and viability as the years go on, especially for those living in cities.
So there you have it, five technologies that are leading the way in 2018 to a more eco-friendly future.
It was one of the most amazing sights I had ever seen and I knew I had found the place I had been searching for – the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.
As I drove up the gravel road there they were. There must have been 10 or 12 horses, heads turned my way, ears standing straight up.
I stopped and watched the horses. As I did so my mind began to wonder. Was this what it was like some 300 or so years ago when wild horses roamed the entire American West? My quest to learn more about wild horses is what brought me here to Hot Springs, South Dakota and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (BHWHS).
Wild Horses History
The ancestors of American wild horses were brought here by the Spanish in the 1400s and 1500s. In the 1600s Spanish settlers brought these horses north into what is now Arizona, Texas and New Mexico where they were used to heard cattle and sheep. Over time many horses escaped, were turned loose, or where stolen by the area’s Native people.
When settlers started moving west they brought horses with them. Some were draft horses, others saddle horses and still others were cavalry horses, mainly Thoroughbreds. Some of these horses made their way into the bands of wild horses and thus adding to the genetic traits we see today in wild horses.
Sometime around the mid-1800s there were millions of wild horses roaming across the west. For many reasons these horses were rounded up and slaughtered. Some went for dog food, some were shipped to Europe as human food and some were slaughtered by the cattle industry because they were in the way. In 1971 the U.S. passed a Federal Law that banned the “capturing, harming or killing of free-roaming horses and burros on public land”. The management of the wild horses fell upon the shoulders of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Today the BLM rounds up wild horses and tries to sell them or offer them for adoption. As well-intentioned as this sounds, many of these once free animals find themselves in crowded feed lots with many of them finishing their lives in these conditions. Some will never be adopted because they are too ugly, too weak, too old, or to high spirited. Today there is an estimated 50,000 wild horses living on private ranches, wildlife refuges, Native American reservations and federal land.
Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
In 1988 a man by the name of Dayton O. Hyde started the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary (BHWHS). The BHWHS is privately owned, receives no Federal funds and is supported by donations and tourism. The sanctuary covers 11,000 acres, all of which is on private land. It is a mixed environment of rock canyons, box canyons and grassy prairie. With supplemental winter feed of hay the sanctuary can support 500 horses.
All of the horses on the sanctuary are wild and like any wild animal they can be unpredictable. We drove very slowly as just never know where the horses will be or if they will tolerate visitors. Rounding a bend we found ourselves in a small herd. There were many foals in the herd and all of the mares stood looking in our direction, ears standing straight up. These horses made it clear that they were prepared to defend the young ones. We stayed quiet and let the horses settle down. The horses seemed to recognize the vehicle we were in and the driver so they began to relax, though they never did take their eyes off of us as we got out. I have never seen animals so sure of themselves and proud. Unlike domestic animals, these horses didn’t “need” us. They stood there because they wanted to, almost daring us to try to move them.
I saw many individual herds of horses while visiting BHWHS, each one different, but just as magnificent and beautiful as the one before it. Thankfully there are places like the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, but there has to be more that can be done.
If you wish to find out how you can assist BHWHS’s wild horses, please visit their website. You can buy gifts (wild horses/mustangs books, calendars, clothing and more) from their online store, sponsor a horse, or make an online donation.
Editors note: The Bureau of Land Managment in the US has just announced a new project to assist with the adoption of wild horses. The “Online Corral” is a new website connecting the public with wild horses available for adoption or purchase.
Dana Benner has been writing about the outdoors for over 30 years with his work appearing in both regional and national publications in the U.S. He has a particular interest in wildlife, culture and the environment, and Native American history. He holds a M.Ed. in Heritage Studies and teaches Sociology, History and Political Science at the university level. Dana is based in the USA and is a regular guest writer for Our Planet Travel.
An island ahead of its time: re-created as an island sanctuary for New Zealand’s wildlife, Tiritiri Matangi has become a paradise for people.
I waited, frozen in the moonlight, careful not to shift the red circle of light from my head torch – or even to exhale – in case I gave myself away and alerted my pursuer. There, in the middle of regenerating forest, not 10 metres from the start of the track, I was being stalked by a snuffling, snorting and utterly oblivious little spotted kiwi.
I watched as the bird circled me in an erratic gait, stopping every few seconds to sniff the air, before tottering up to my right foot, stretching out its neck and nudging the tip of its long, inquisitive beak into my right leg, as if I were an especially pungent piece of rotting wood.
I’d come to Tiritiri Matangi Island as a volunteer with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) to experience one of the world’s most successful conservation projects first hand and witness the country’s native wildlife up close. I never expected New Zealand’s threatened birds to be experiencing me.
Rebuilding an ecosystem
Tiritiri Matangi (meaning ‘tossed by the wind’) is an island ahead of its time, at once a glimpse into New Zealand’s past and a window on its potential future. Originally cloaked in lush coastal forest, the 220-hectare island was initially partly cleared through seasonal Māori occupation and later converted to pasture through European agriculture. Like mainland New Zealand, where introduced rats, stoats and possums have devastated wildlife that evolved without any mammalian predators, Tiritiri Matangi’s birds and reptiles stood little chance in rat-infested fields, and either declined or fled.
When a recreational reserve replaced a farming lease on ‘Tiritiri’ in 1971, two young researchers proposed an unheard-of plan: to replant the Island’s forests and make it a scientific reserve and open sanctuary where wildlife, research and tourism could coexist. Since 1984, DOC and non-profit community conservation organisation, the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, have united thousands of volunteers to eradicate pests, plant nearly 300,000 native trees and successfully re-introduce 11 of New Zealand’s endangered birds, three reptile species and one insect to the Island.
Today Tiritiri’s lush forests are home not only to the nocturnal kiwi pukupuku (little spotted kiwi), but the tīeke (below image; North Island saddleback), hihi (stitchbird) and kākāriki (red-crowned parakeet); the inquisitive, lunch-stealing and incredibly rare takahē; and the wētā punga (giant weta), one of New Zealand’s largest insects, among many other species.
A paradise for people and nature
By the end of the one hour and 20-minute cruise from Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi, I felt an invigorating shift from fast-paced city life to ancient, other-worldly nature, where earbuds are replaced by rare birdsong. In a single day this magical place draws local families, university groups and international photographers on pilgrimages to see species found nowhere else in the world.
As a DOC volunteer, I worked six hour days in exchange for one week’s accommodation in the island’s bunkhouse, which I shared with researchers and visitors staying overnight. I was lucky enough to volunteer alongside one of the island’s guides, Sophie, who knew Tiritiri’s secrets inside-out. After a few days of maintaining trails, preparing sugar water feeders and scrubbing solar panels, I could recognise the tīeke/saddleback’s jerky call (Sophie compared it to a stubborn car engine), the korimako/bellbird’s clear chime, the tūī’s (see below image) noisy cry, and the rich, hauntingly beautiful song of the very rare kōkako, supposedly the most beautiful birdsong in the world.
Like all forests, Tiritiri Matangi’s secrets are best discovered with patience (or better, an experienced guide); but the regenerating vegetation creates a rare opportunity to see New Zealand’s birds almost eye-to-eye. Once I glanced up to find a kereru/New Zealand pigeon staring back at me not a metre away; another time, I followed the toppling antics of a fuzz-covered pāteke duckling (brown teal), one of the rarest ducks in the world.
Besides Tiritiri’s world-famous dawn chorus, the biggest advantage of staying overnight is spotlighting – arming oneself with a head torch covered with red cellophane and playing nocturnal wildlife detective. On the same night that the kiwi pukupuku stalked my leg, I stumbled across two kororā/little penguins bouncing from bush to bush like kamikaze kids playing hide-and-seek. You can also glimpse ruru/little owls, see bioluminescence at Hobbs Beach and, if you’re lucky, spot tuatara, one of the last survivors of an order of reptiles that thrived in the age of the dinosaurs and is now confined to New Zealand’s offshore islands.
Next generation conservation
Tiritiri, which was brought back to life by scientists and citizens alike, now helps create future conservation ambassadors. Through their educational program, the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi aim to give all children in New Zealand the opportunity to experience nature and learn how communities can help conserve it. They offer reduced-fare programs for students from year one to 13 and their Growing Minds programme, launched in 2013, gives students from lower decile schools the chance to visit on sponsored trips.
DOC Ranger Dave Jenkins, who was completing a nine-year post on Tiritiri when I volunteered, says that the Island’s conservation success reaches far beyond its shores, as other projects have gained inspiration and ideas from revegetation and predator eradication on Tiritiri. “For all those people that said, “It can’t be done” it gave us the ability to say, “Yes, it can” – it’s proof of what can be achieved.”
Visiting New Zealand’s first island restoration project in person, you can’t help but be moved. One morning, while Sophie and I were filling water troughs for the birds, we found ourselves metres away from a pair of North Island kōkako, bounding from tree to tree in an intricate courtship ritual. Listening to their calls echo through the forest, it dawned on me just how extraordinary this moment was; this was one of only 1,400 kokako pairs in the world, up from less than 350 pairs in the 1990s .
For a second their enchanting song transported me to the forests of ancient New Zealand, where its one-of-a-kind wildlife did not know the peril of people, agriculture and exotic predators. Because that’s exactly what Tiri is: part reclaimed history, part living, breathing proof of what New Zealand could be with the right combination of vision and willpower. Between the lush regenerating forest, the birdsong that pulses through the air, and the passion and determination of Tiritiri’s human champions, this island feels alive.
If you have one day: a 90-minute tour with one of the island’s knowledgeable volunteer guides ($10), the Kawarau Track and its 800 to 1000-year-old pōhutukawa tree (below image), a swim at Hobbs Beach and the view from atop Coronary Hill.
If you stay overnight: spotlighting for nocturnal wildlife, Tiritiri’s world-famous dawn chorus (from late August through to December), The Arches (at low tide) and Northeast Bay.
Trained as a conservation biologist (previously geologist), Kristi has worked across four continents to promote projects that benefit people and nature. From the National Autonomous University in Mexico, to the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya, Fauna & Flora International in the UK, Ecotourism Australia and Crees Foundation in the Peruvian Amazon, Kristi’s passion for sustainability has inspired her to communicate tourism as a tool for conservation and development. With travel to 23 countries and counting, she is always discovering new adventures that benefit people and planet.
4 ways to experience Queensland’s waters without getting on a jet ski
WORDS & IMAGES: KARA MURPHY
Photojournalist and passionate marine advocate Kara Murphy shares some of her favourite ways to experience Queensland’s waters without causing environmental impact. Kara is lucky to spend the majority of her time underwater with our precious marine creatures, and is especially infatuated with sea turtles. Here are some of her top tips:
Snorkelling Lady Elliot Island
On the southernmost Great Barrier Reef, this 45 hectare coral cay is a wonderfully reliable place for marine life encounters. In 2009, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and Lady Elliot Island Day Tours achieved ‘Advanced Eco Certification’ with Ecotourism Australia. In 2014, the resort achieved ‘Climate Action Business’ certification. The island has three snorkelling options:
The shallow lagoon, on the island’s eastern side, approximately two hours either side of high tide. Here, you’ll almost certainly get a chance to swim near sea turtles and you may also see octopus, anemone fish, reef sharks, and stingrays.
The western side of the island. Depending on currents, you’ll either enter at near the lighthouse to the south or the Coral Gardens to the north. Keep an eye out for sea turtles (green, hawksbill, and loggerhead), manta rays (particularly during the winter months), and schools of trevally. In winter, listen for the songs of humpback whales; they often swim quite close to the island.
Snorkel safaris – These guided boat excursions, available for an additional cost, often travel beyond the snorkelling areas accessible from shore as they seek out manta rays and other marine life
Kara Murphy is a Brisbane-based travel photojournalist specialising in underwater and nature-based adventures. She hugs saltwater whenever possible, snorkelling alongside sea turtles, throwing the ball to her dog, or paddleboarding, and she believes picking up plastic bags from the seaside brings good karma. View her underwater photography or purchase sea turtle-themed phone cases by visiting: www.karamurphyimages.com
Dana Benner takes us to one of his favourite places – Hawaii. Bypass the tourist beaches to discover what Aloha really means to the locals of this tropical island paradise.
As I stood on the black sand beach at Punalu’u on the Big Island of Hawai’I I witnessed a truly breathtaking sight. Not one, but three honu (sea turtles) surfaced. As honu are sacred to the Native Hawai’ian people, just as it is in my own Native American culture, I considered myself blessed and honored. Perhaps Pele was looking favorably upon me.
For many people the Hawai’ian Islands are the perfect getaway due to its seemingly endless beaches and near perfect weather. Having lived in the islands for a few years and having visited numerous times since, there is something more that draws me back time and time again. It is the people, their culture and the way that this culture and the land come together as one. As each island is different, with different environments that range from tropical rainforest to high desert, it is impossible to cover everything in such a small space.
No matter which island you find yourself on, my first piece of advice is to get away from the tourist areas. That is the only way you will experience the true culture and in turn, the environment. Once you do that you will find the true meaning of “Aloha”. As you explore you will find how important “ohana”, or family, is to the Native Hawai’ian people and their culture. To be considered as “ohana”, especially as an outsider, is a distinct honor.
On any of the islands you are likely to find “heiaus”, or places of worship. They may only be a faint outline of stones, but they are still sacred places. Please show respect and don’t move or take any of the stones. Some of these heiaus were built to honor different “‘aumahua”, or ancestral deities. Sharks are considered ‘aumahua by the Hawai’ian people. The ‘aumahua can be likened to the spirit animals of my own ancestors and emphasis the connection these people had with the environment.
Almost anywhere you are likely to encounter wildlife, if you take time to look for it, in its many forms. From tropical plants to birds and animals, wildlife is everywhere. With the exception of the ocean, most mammals found in the islands are introduced species brought first by the early Polynesians and then by Euro-American visitors.
Life in the islands revolves around the ocean. Snorkeling and scuba diving are big, as is surfing. You owe it to yourself to have some fun. If you don’t do any of the previously mentioned activities, take a whale watching or dolphin watching tour. The Pacific Humpback whale and Spinner dolphin makes these waters home. If you are really lucky you may even spot the extremely rare and endangered Hawai’ian monk seal.
No trip to Hawai’i is complete without taking part in a lu’au or ‘aha’aina to the Hawai’ian people. While many lu’aus are geared towards the tourist, there are some that really stick to the true meaning of the event. ‘Aha’aina, or “gathering for a meal”, is a celebration complete with good food and storytelling. The stories of the Hawai’ian people are told through hula, or dance, and chants, or song. Some very traditional lu’aus are held at the Polynesian Cultural Center on O’ahu; the Old Lahaina Lu’au on Mau’I and the Legends of the Pacific Lu’au on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
The Hawai’ian Islands and the Hawai’ian people hold a very special place in my heart. A part of my mana, or spirit, never left. There is no word in the Hawai’ian language for “good-bye”. There is only Aloha. When you arrive Aloha means “welcome” and when you leave it means “until we meet again”.
Dana Benner has been writing about the outdoors for over 30 years with his work appearing in both regional and national publications in the U.S. He has a particular interest in wildlife, culture and the environment, and Native American history. He holds a M.Ed. in Heritage Studies and teaches Sociology, History and Political Science at the university level. Dana is based in the USA and is a regular guest writer for Our Planet Travel.
5 amazing animals to see on the Great Barrier Reef
WORDS: CAMILLA WAGSTAFF
One of the best things about visiting the Great Barrier Reef (aside from the sunshine, white beaches and crystal blue waters) is the abundance of wildlife you’re likely to see while you’re there.
Stretching 2300 kilometres along the north-east coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a whopping 1625 types of fish, 600 types of soft and hard corals, 133 varieties of sharks and rays and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins!
Here are just 5 of the iconic species you might spy. Get your checklist ready!
6 of the world’s 7 marine turtles call the Great Barrier Reef home for all or part of their lives, with thousands migrating from all over the world to the southern Great Barrier Reef Islands to nest every few years.
Some marine turtles, including Greens, Loggerheads and Hawksbills are spotted all the time. Others, like Flatbacks, and Olive Ridleys, are known to live in the neighbourhood, but are a little more elusive. Unfortunately, Leatherbacks have become extremely rare indeed. All are considered vulnerable or endangered.
Look out for surfacing turtles in shallow reef flats and seagrass beds. If you spot a turtle, approach slowly and with caution, they will quickly slip away if they feel threatened.
The largest known species of bivalve mollusc, these clams can grow up to a meter and a half long!
They vary in colour from brown to purple to electric blue, depending on the type of zooxanthellae (tiny, photosynthetic organisms that give corals their colour), living in their area.
You’ll usually find them in warm reef flats and shallow lagoons. Remember to look but not touch; clams are animals too, and will get stressed if you get too close!
White Tip Reef Shark
One of the most common and easily recognisable of Great Barrier Reef sharks, White Tips are named for the white tips on their first dorsal and tail fins.
Growing up to 2 meters long, you might see them resting on the sandy bottoms of the reef or in coastal caves during the day (sometimes in large groups!).
Like most sharks, they become more active at night, hunting mostly bottom-dwelling fish, octopus, lobsters and crabs.
One of the largest reef fish you’ll find in the world, these guys can grow to 2.3 meters and weigh almost 200 kilograms! Males are usually blue and green with an intricate geometric pattern on their heads and side body, while the females are more reddish bronze.
Most Maori Wrasse spend their days feeding on invertebrates in coral beds, and their nights sleeping in coastal caves.
Be sure not to touch one if you come close; they have a protective mucous coating that when removed can leave them vulnerable to infection and disease.
The average Humpback will migrate around 5000km every year, making their journey one of the longest of any migratory mammal on Earth.
You’ll find them in reef waters between July and September, as they’re heading north to warmer waters to calve, then again as they head south to feed.
Curious and charismatic, Humpback Whales are known for their water acrobatics and incredible breaching techniques. They will often come right up to your vessel to say hello, or to say ‘back off!’ if they have calves in tow.
Camilla is a travel, culture and food writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Luxury Travel Magazine, The Carousel and In/Out blog. She is currently working at conservation not-for-profit Wild Mob, who empower everyone to make a difference to the environment by taking them on volunteer conservation adventures to the world’s most unique an beautiful places.
From rugged mountains to palm-fringed coasts, New Zealand’s Heaphy Track packs adventure.
I was navel-deep in frigid tidal water, my pack hovering inches above the murky waterline of a flooded, prehistoric forest, when I found it. Just like the salt and fresh water that curdled around my waist as I slogged beneath Jurassic-like palms and limestone cliffs, it seeped quietly into my soul.
Ahead of me, Reg Pennels, a fellow trekker from Christchurch, had also paused mid-primordial soup to take photos. Usually focussed on herding our group and keeping team spirits high, it was a sure sign that he was as transfixed as I was.
As I tiptoed forwards like a top-heavy penguin, I realised that time moved differently in this place, becoming less important the deeper I waded, until even the chill water around my waist numbed in comparison to our alien surroundings. I sensed that when we emerged from this prehistoric world the hands of some giant clock would start ticking again, the moment would cease and something unnamed would be forgotten. It was the enchanting calm that comes from being so utterly absorbed in your surroundings that you have time to remember yourself.
Four ecosystems in four days
Once traced by early Maori in search of pounamu (greenstone) and 19th century gold prospectors, the 78.4 kilometre Heaphy Track covers rugged mountains, expansive tussock downs and lush forests before dropping to meeting the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The variety of landscapes alone makes you feel like you’re crossing an entire continent.
The Heaphy Track is buried deep within Kahurangi National Park, making it more challenging to get to than some of New Zealand’s Great Walksbut also less populated, attracting trampers of all skill levels and a baseline sense of adventure. After sharing a Trek Express trip to Brown River Hut with a group of Australian mountain bikers, I spent most of the trek with a group of co-workers from Christchurch questing for a new challenge.
On day one, the track snaked steadily up a route once surveyed for a road, offering glimpses of Aorere Valley and Mount Taranaki/Egmont (once mooted for the Hobbit’s Lonely Mountain). Near the end of the 17.5-kilometre climb, I emerged from the track at Flanagan’s Corner, the highest point on the Heaphy at 915 metres, where a 270-degree vista wrapped around me. This was wilderness wrought in large scale: mountains whose sharp edges hadn’t yet been dulled by erosion covered by bizarre vegetation that juxtaposed alpine browns with subtropical greens.
Setting out from Perry Saddle Hut on day two, I was greeted by an entirely different landscape. The Gouland Downs – a sea of stunted tussock cradled between mountaintops – grow in shallow, nutrient-depleted soils from some of the oldest rocks in New Zealand. With the sparse, open landscape and a path that curved back and forth on itself amidst mist-shrouded hills, it took little imagination to conjure up Tolkien’s orcs among distant patches of beech, as if I were racing through bogs towards the gates of Mount Doom.
When the clouds finally released their watery hoards, the landscape transformed before my eyes. Streams and tributaries swelled, drinking thirstily from the water-logged grasslands and spilling over their bounds to etch a new riverine map around me. I joined the group from Christchurch to cross rising streams with arms linked. The rain chased us all 24.2 kilometres to James Mackay Hut (the Heaphy’s flashiest upgrade), where we stumbled in to warm ourselves with fire and food.
Fighting for New Zealand’s forests
Descending from James Mackay to Lewis Hut, nīkau palms slowly invaded beech forest, offering glimpses of the swollen, brown Heaphy River. Emerging from the muted colours of the nutrient-poor downs, this forest seemed impossibly lush, alive and unexpected.
Past Lewis Hut and across the Heaphy River we entered lowland forest of rimu pines and giant northern rātā (part of which can flood after rains at high tide). As we emerged from the submerged path, Aimee, another tramper from Christchurch, greeted us with a grin that could only mean one thing: a carnivorous land snail. Roughly four inches from feelers to tail tip, the purple-grey body of this Powelliphanta looked just like a tongue after a blueberry-flavoured slushie. Found only in the Gouland/Kahurangi area, these earthworm-slurping nocturnal species are threatened by non-native predators including possums, pigs and rats.
The Heaphy Track’s striking landscapes give the impression of pristine wilderness, but it is not so. What you don’t see is the quiet battle New Zealand’s native forest dwellers are fight against alien predators like rats, stoats and possums. Kahurangi National Park is home to an abundance of native birds including tui (a songbird), kereru (New Zealand pigeon), kea (a mountain parrot) and the nationally vulnerable whio/blue duck, as well as roughly 50% of all New Zealand plant species, several of which are threatened by introduced pests. The Gouland Downs also provide habitat for the country’s largest kiwi species, the roa/great spotted kiwi, many of whose chicks are killed by invasive predators.
If it weren’t for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC), work to control pests like possums, the battle might have been over years ago. DOC Ranger Richard Rossiter puts the pest problem in perspective: “I’m catching about 20 rats a week, just around the Heaphy Hut,” he says. Given the vast scale of wilderness, DOC uses the best approach available – aerial baiting by helicopter, aided by hand baiting – using a biodegradable toxin. Because baiting can be controversial, bringing visitors through the park not only helps fund DOC’s work, but raises awareness of New Zealand’s complex problem nationally and internationally.
Back to nature
Standing on the beach in front of Heaphy Hut, the swirling currents at the junction of river and sea left no doubt as to who is in charge in this unpredictable place, where the sea can be glass one moment and a roiling, churning confluence the next. On our fourth and last day, the landscape shifted yet again, following a sandy, windswept coast through rata and karaka trees, amidst groves of nīkau palms. Not a metre from the track we passed a restless seal pup, squirming impatiently for its mother. The path took us around rocky points and across swing bridges before delivering us in an exhausted, exhilarated heap by the mouth of the Kohaihai River, souls filled with adventure, lungs filled with ocean air and minds already plotting our next trek.
From start to finish the Heaphy Track grips you, asking you to think only about the next bend, the next view, the next challenge. Somewhere between Flannigan’s Corner and the coast, away melt expectations, obligations, tomorrows and yesterdays, replaced with the immediacy of each moment. If you let it, this place strips down the unnecessary and mundane, refuelling you with something totally unexpected: your own sense of self. This is a place that will stay with you long after your pack is emptied and your blisters gone, to remind you of what’s important and worth conserving.
At a glance
Duration: 4-6 days (2-3 days by bike)
Distance: 78.4km (one way)
Season: all year
Mountain bikes permitted: 1 May to 30 September
Located on the tip of New Zealand’s South Island, the Heaphy Track can be tramped in either direction, starting from either Brown Hut, Golden Bay (about 28 km from Collingwood) or Kohaihai, West Coast (15 km from Karamea). If you’re short on time, try a two-day return trip from either end, or, for a longer challenge, tramp one way and then retrace your steps back to your starting point.
Bus, taxi and air services are available to either end of the track, but bus services are limited in winter so you may need to share with another group to hire a charter service. Be sure to read up before you start as some sections of the track are prone to flooding from tides and/or rain.
Customise your walk by choosing from seven DOC-operated huts and nine campsites along the track, which must be booked in advanceall year-round. Huts cost $32 per night (17 years and under free) and have bunks, mattresses, water, toilets and heating with fuel. Larger huts have lighting source and basic cooking facilities with fuel (and often cooking utensils). Campsites cost $14 per adult per night (17 years and under free) and offer basic facilities including toilets, sinks and a water supply.
Kristi Foster is a freelance journalist and eco travel writer, currently living in South America. Kristi’s key focus and interests are on responsible travel and volunteer travel – which has lead her to discovering eco experiences around the world. Kristi is a regular guest contributor for Our Planet Travel.
With rooftop food gardens, indigenous walks and cycling trails, Vancouver is Canada’s capital of sustainable living.
Stylish Vancouver, with its glitzy, glassy skyscrapers reflecting a shimmering waterfront, emanates an undisputed beauty. Yet it also boasts authentic eco-sensitive experiences and green initiatives.
Vancouver already has North America’s smallest carbon footprint, with 90% of its electricity sourced from hydroelectric power. Its mayor has pledged that by 2020, the city will become the world’s greenest. Its south-eastern suburbs around False Creek already operate an NEU renewable energy system, providing sustainably-heated water to residents. And the province of British Columbia has a carbon tax.
Most impressive throughout Vancouver’s immaculate residential streets are the communal veggie garden plots. I spot garlic and green beans growing kerbside — all nurtured and harvested by residents on a fence-free, honesty basis. Even the electricity boxes are decorated with leafy murals.
At Nelson Park, I find Vancouver Farmers Markets, a not-for-profit co-op. The Saturday morning stalls burst with colours and aromas from local, organic berries. I’m enticed by the purple ancient carrots and the giant blueberries that British Columbia grows in abundance. Oh, and the gluten-free dark chocolate lava cake (I’m only human!). Signs read: ‘Mix and match: save a bag!’ and ‘Vendors will take back their food packaging!’ Nice one, Vancouver!
Hiring wheels from Bayshore Bike Rentals, I pedal to Stanley Park’s 9km-long seawall. Designated bike-only lanes border pedestrian paths on this ‘forest in the sea’, alongside horse-drawn trams stating: ‘Organically powered by hay and oats!’
I wheel around Lost Lagoon, only to be stopped abruptly by a wild beaver. Thrilled by the delay, I observe it collecting grasses before swimming across the water to its den. And at Prospect Point lookout, it’s not the sweeping harbour views that enthral me most. It’s the family of four wild racoons that join the path before retreating into the bushes. Splendid.
Erika, a Coast Salish First Nations guide from Talaysay Tours, welcomes us to the Squamish lands in her native language. She begins her cultural eco walk by pointing out the importance of the cedar tree.
“This is our tree of life. From it, we carved dugout canoes, longhouses for shelter, and weaved its bark. And traditional dancers used the red powder of decaying cedars, mixed with fish oil, for face paint.”
We feel tufts of horsetail, which functioned as sandpaper to smooth wood. “Our people practised environmental harvest,” says Erika. “Bark-cutting was restricted to no more than two hands-widths.”
Erika passes us a salal berry. It looks and tastes like an extra-sweet blueberry, but is superior in texture. First Nations people dried them inside fish eggs to make an indigenous granola. “Our knowledge of resources was key to our survival,” she says. “We depended on sustainability, so no matter how much food there was, we took only what we needed.” I refrain from picking another.
We reach Beaver Lake. Abloom with waterlilies, it’s a living Monet. “The lake is rich in cattail, used for weaving,” says Erika. “But it also carries a legend of xway’xway… pronounced xway-xway. When thunderbird shot a lightning bolt at a tree, it left the xway’xway mask in its bark. These masks are still used by our dancers.”
Locals believe the forest and the sea have a spirit, so everything drawn from the land (wood, food etc.) travels with its spirit and must be treated with respect. It’s an animist, environmentalist culture.
“I never travel without some cedar on me,” says Erika. As we part, she hands me a strip of bark.
First Nations Foraging
I then join Lauraleigh, also a Coast Salish First Nations descendant, for a walk focusing on indigenous plant use on behalf of Stanley Park Ecology Society. The society and its volunteers help to restore the park’s ecosystem by removing weeds and installing wood-duck boxes. They’re currently working on encouraging spawning salmon to return to its waters.
“If these red bell-shaped berries have tiny circles under them, they’re edible,” says Lauraleigh, plucking tiny huckleberries. “We spice our meat and fish with them, and they’re high in Vitamins A and C. And bears love them too.”
Creek-side, we spot skunk cabbage, used for subterranean cooking. Wrapping spring salmon with it gives a peppery flavour. Above, a mature maple tree reveals moss that blankets bark-clasping liquorice fern.
“Liquorice fern root is harvested for throat infections and digestive tonics. And this immune booster here is elderberry,” says Lauraleigh, pulling out a small, pre-blended bottle. “Our people ferment its berry for two months.” It’s a lesson in culinary medicines — in the heart of the city.
On the roof terrace of the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel (Vancouver’s leading hotel for sustainability), I meet bee-butler, Michael King. He runs apiary tours of 250,000 resident honeybees and a 2,100-foot-square edible garden, which has recently gained organic certification.
Rows reveal alpine strawberries, apples, green peppers, garlic, fennel and kale. Michael also raises cilantro, lemon balm, cornflowers and zucchini flowers—all served from rooftop-to-fork in the hotel’s ARC restaurant. And the lavender, mint and rosemary feature in its cocktails.
We see the garden’s ‘Bee&Bee’, affectionately known in Canada as Bee Hotels. This multi-levelled timber apiary is constructed with hollowed plant stems collected from Stanley Park and the Haida Gwaii islands. Pollinating solitary bees find refuge inside.
Within a glass observation hive, Michael identifies the Queen bee by her dot and larger size. She lays around 1,500 eggs per day. It’s a reminder that bees are a global keystone species, and 30% of all food sources are due to pollination!
Will Vancouver become the planet’s most sustainable city by 2020? Whether you come here to hike, bike or taste, breathe in deeply, and you may just feel the answer in the air.
Tips for Visitors to Vancouver
Join Paul from Into the Wild. Paul leads blissful hiking and biking day trips through the valley of Pitt Meadows along the postcard-perfect Trans Canada Trail, and the thousand-year-old forests and waterfalls of Lynn Canyon Park. Observe rare waterbirds, blueberry farmers and snow-capped mountains.
When enjoying Vancouver’s food scene, look for the Ocean Wise symbol. Seafood marked with this logo comes from abundant populations. It has been caught by methods that reduce by-catch and limit habitat damage.
Vancouver’s Convention Centre is home to Canada’s largest living roof, growing in just six inches of topsoil. Alongside two beehives, it flourishes with 400,000 native plants and grasses, including: onions, 5ft-high aster, purple-flowered fireweed, and pink sweet pea flowers—all irrigated with rainwater and recycled grey-water. It opened for the 2010 Winter Olympics with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Standards (a rating system administered by the Canada Green Building Council). This iconic Vancouver landmark also uses seawater to cool the building, and features a kelp forest habitat beneath it, which feeds salmon, otters and mussels.
Based in Adelaide, the festival city, Marie is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer who contributes to various travel and health publications. She has a passion for wildlife and conservation, and enjoys hiking and cycling.