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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!
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.
This could well be the most enticing event this year – a long-weekend of eco-adventure, gourmet food, and spectacular wilderness. Sounds like the the perfect antidote to me – to balance my demanding work and family schedule.
WILDfest is an exclusive and all-inclusive event experience – escaping into the wild, and taking place in the New South Wales Southern Highlands on 27-29 October 2017.
The event is a unique celebration of nature through soul-stirring and authentic wilderness experiences, including remote glamping and wilderness adventures, canoeing, gourmet food, and complete with concierge and custom-designed bell-tents with lavish interiors and a host of creature-comforts.
We interviewed Amanda Fry, the creator and founder of this ultimate all-inclusive glamping weekend to find out more.
What was your initial motivation to create WILDfest?
One of my celebrity assignments had me trekking in Vietnam to experience an encounter with the endangered Black Gibbons and this ignited my heart for conservation so much so, that it became the driving force in my professional and life path. The group I worked with in Vietnam felt it was too late to influence the baby boomers en masse and that the best hope for these magnificent creatures and other endangered species in the region was to engage up-and-coming generations. So they started a program in the wild in a way that got millennial’s connected with wildlife at a deep level to change the culture of wildlife protection. I knew then that I wanted to play a part in making that happen in some way, and the best place to start was at home in Australia.
What is the key goal of WILDfest?
Upon returning to Australia, I unplugged from my fast-paced professional life and made the permanent move to the New South Wales Southern Highlands where WILDfest became my raison d’etre. That feeling of absolute awe for the wonder of nature is what I want people to experience at WILDfest. And Joadia is home to large populations of Kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, platypus, kookaburra’s, monitors and birds of prey.
The Highlands has great pockets of wilderness with no wifi reception. I needed to un-plug, re-boot and re-connect with the wild by immersing myself completely in the environment. It showed me how many places there are just 2 hours from Sydney to get lost in nature.
“What better way to get people excited about nature and the preservation of our beautiful open spaces than to create a festival – so Wildfest Southern Highlands was born. It’s a festival celebrating the wild and all of nature’s diversity, beauty and unpredictability. In the wilderness there is a sense of freedom that overtakes you, letting you leave the daily grind behind. We add in the right modern luxuries, and some artisan and creative elements to make our outdoor adventures special and transformative experiences.”
WILDfest Package details
The premium experience includes a welcome lunch of local produce; a Hike & Harvest trek to a magnificent escarpment where deckchairs and cool climate wines await your arrival; sundowners by the waterhole with rare wildlife encounters; a gourmet fire feast out under the Milky Way; wild bush yoga or tai chi; sumptuous breakfasts; an exhilarating wild cycle; the wild native feast in the ruins of a remote mining settlement; a wild escarpment or 4WD experience; a rejuvenating wild bush spa and more!
For the ultimate experience at WILDfest, book the all-inclusive, Premium Experience Package which includes remote glamping with king, twin or quad accommodation. The bespoke 3-day, adventure-packed glamping experience starts from $2,500 per person. For full event details, costs and program visit the event website: www.wildfest.com.au
In the bushland and coastal heaths of Croajingolong National Park, small native mammals like this Swamp Rat are more active and night, however this one was out basking in the sun, close to where we were sitting and chatting. What a sleek coat!
On one of our walks a lyrebird was scratching for insects right beside a walking track and looked a bit indignant when we stopped to snap this quick photo.
Lizards are great fun to watch, often darting around over rocks catching insects. At first glance this beautiful Jacky Dragon was so well camouflaged on a sandy track near the beach we nearly walked right past.
Quite different wildlife is found on the seashore, either beach-washed or in rockpools. A Big-bellied Seashorse was an exciting find on an early beach walk one morning, washed ashore on a sandy beach near Point Hicks as were these egg cases from two different shark species. Not something we often get to see close-up, so it was a great opportunity to delve into our field guides and learn a bit more.
Amongst the rocks and remains of the historic jetty, a fragile paper nautilus shell had come ashore, largely intact. When the tide is low we can peer into the clear rock pools and enjoy the colours and amazing rock pool life within.
Marine mammals are always exciting to observe and in Croajingolong National Park one of the best places to be watching out is from the verandah of the Point Hicks Lighthouse cottages while you relax with a cuppa (or a glass of wine). Humpback whales pass here twice a year and in spring they will be migrating south with news calves alongside.
With a breeding colony of both Australian & NZ Fur Seals at The Skerries near Wingan Inlet, it is not surprising that they are often seen at Point Hicks. Most commonly they are lounging around in the swell or playing in the waves, but sometimes they come ashore to bask on the rocks like this little group.
Birds – there are so many lovely birds, so where do we start? Thinking about the coast, it’s hard to go past a majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle, who never fails to impress as they soar effortlessly along the coastline.
Spring is a great time to celebrate the joys of more common birds like little Swallows and a colourful Galah swaying in the breeze at the top of an old fruit tree.
And don’t forget the little creatures!!! Some have glorious colours, like this Jewel beetle. When we think of wildlife, we often overlook the fascinating world of invertebrates and they are everywhere, but you do have to look a bit more closely!
Other invertebrates have amazing detail so take a moment to look closely at the different antennae on each of this moth… just beautiful!
When you explore in nature you really need to take your time and be observant otherwise you can walk right past wildlife and not know what you have missed.
Gippsland High Country Tours encourages you to explore slowly so you have the chance to enjoy the local wildlife and learn more about them. It’s all part of a rich and full ecotourism experience and part of our philosophy as a tour operator with Advanced Ecotourism certification.
What You Should Know When Visiting Morocco During Ramadan
WORDS: JOE OLDS
While some people might baulk at the idea of visiting a Muslim country during a time of fasting and abstinence, Ramadan is actually a fascinating experience and a great opportunity to see a whole new side to Morocco’s culture.
As a responsible traveller, before you travel there during the Muslim holy month, you’ll want to research a few things about Ramadan and what impact it may have on your holiday.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a month-long Islamic holiday dedicated to fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam (the other 4 are giving to the poor, daily prayers, saying the Shahadah and making the pilgrimage to Mecca). It occurs during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the moon, so the dates change every year. In 2018 it will start on Wednesday, the 16th of May and will continue for 30 days until Thursday, the 14th of June.
During this month, Muslims abstain from alcohol, tobacco and sex, and, from sunrise to sunset each day, they abstain from eating and drinking as well. This is broken by a meal at sunset (iftar) and then a pre-dawn meal (suhoor), after which another day of fasting begins. The only exceptions are those who are ill, pregnant, or under 16 years of age.
Ramadan ends with a holiday known as Eid el-Fitr, which consists of three days of feasting with family and friends, with children often given presents or money during this time.
Don’t eat and drink openly on the street – while Moroccans don’t expect non-Muslims to fast, it is common courtesy not to flaunt the fact while they are fasting. Restaurants, cafes, and other eating establishments will mostly remain open, so of course, eating inside these places is expected and those working there will be used to seeing tourists eat.
Don’t smoke in front of the locals – many Moroccans are smokers and may be experiencing nicotine withdrawals during Ramadan, so again, best not to flaunt the fact that you’re able to smoke in front of them.
Don’t be alarmed if you hear cannons – these aren’t an act of war, but are fired each day by Moroccan officials to mark the beginning and end of fasting.
Other useful tips
Most restaurants will remain open, so you can try some delicious Moroccan food. Image via G Adventures
The majority of restaurants and cafes remain open throughout Ramadan, so don’t worry about being able to find food in Morocco.
The streets are practically deserted in the daytime during Ramadan, so if you don’t like big crowds, this could be the perfect time to explore as it is very quiet.
Morocco is a very hot country and a combination of fasting and sleep deprivation can make tempers flare amongst locals at times, so always be polite and don’t take it too seriously if you see a heated discussion.
While alcohol is not widely available in Morocco, particularly during Ramadan, you can still buy it at some supermarkets during certain hours, but you’ll need to present your passport to prove you’re not a local.
Photographers are expected to request permission before taking pictures of people or their belongings, so remember to ask before you start snapping.
If you can, try and stay off the roads an hour or so before sunset, as everyone is heading out for their first meal of the day and traffic is notoriously bad.
Travelling to Morocco during Ramadan is certainly different to visiting at other times of the year – but that’s all the more reason to experience it at least once. After all, travelling is all about getting an insight into local cultures and different ways of life.
Title image credit: Ait Benhaddou, Morroco. Image via G Adventures
Joe’s unquenchable thirst to see the world has taken him to North & Central America, across Asia, through Europe and around Oceania. Flying his British nest to travel, Joe has paused in Melbourne, Australia, where he can be found pursuing his love of travel working at G Adventures.
Fast fashion – clothes produced at low cost to mimic the latest fashion trends – is unwittingly spurning an explosive trend in sustainable apparel. Here we share 6 Australian fashion brands that put planet before profit.
To meet demand for fast fashion, clothing producers churn out collections of questionable quality and, sometimes, ethics. The textiles used in the fast fashion industry are usually derived from man-made/synthetic material, which can be produced quickly and at a reduced cost, but lack the biodegradability of natural fibres.
According to sustainability consultant Jane Milburn of Textile Beat, two-thirds of the clothes and textiles sold are made of synthetic fibres. These fibres are a derivative of petroleum and shed thousands of micro plastic particles into the environment.
Australians buy around 27kgs of clothing every year, and, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics dump about 23kgs of the textiles bought into landfill. When discarded the fibres may never break down, leaving a devastating long-term impact on the environment.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of fashion labels producing clothes that are made with the planet in mind, designing clothes that will last in our wardrobes for much longer than a few seasons. Let me introduce you.
With the catchy tag line “life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it”, this artisan clothiers is run by three sisters from Newcastle, NSW. Rowena, Juliana and Angela have a collaborative approach to their designs, inspired by memories, stories and landscapes, which they incorporate into their creations using printed and natural fabrics and beautiful stitchwork. The result of their handiwork is a long-lasting and high-quality product. Website: High Tea with Mrs Woo
Etiko products are fast giving certain big name brands a run for their money, proving that the demand for sustainable and ethically made products is well and truly on the rise. Created by Nick Savaidis in 2005, this family owned and operated business was born from the desire to be able to wear and own goods that were made without exploiting workers or using child labour. Nick, no matter how much he researched, could not be confident that many of the brands he looked at were 100 percent ethical. So he made his own. Etiko consistently rates A+ for ethical production in Australian Fashion Reports and is growing year on year… without anyone being ripped off. Website: Etiko
Using only pure cotton fabric, Bestowed is “a healthy fashion choice, both for you and the environment.” Based in Brisbane, this chic sustainable and vegan-friendly label source all their certified organic cotton knit fabrics within Australia, which are produced to the highest world standards. To ensure their environmental impact is kept to a minimum, their patternmakers, cutters and sewers all work within a 30km radius of the Bestowed studio. And the bonus about Bestowed clothing? Everything can be washed and worn without and iron in sight. Website: Bestowed
Pure Pod’s journey began in 2007, when ethical designer Kellie Donovan and photographer Sean Watson collaborated in creating a fashion brand that holds people, passion and the planet at its core. The result is one of Australia’s longest running ethical fashion brands. Made with premium sustainable fabrics including bamboo, hemp and soya bean textiles in the mix, Pure Pod’s contemporary designs and bold prints keep conscious shoppers coming back for more every year. With the aim of being as transparent and as possible, along with each collection comes explanation of how the clothes were made and who made them. Website: Pure Pod
Vege Threads is a small independent fashion brand who started out wanting to create clothes that were made locally and made simple. One hundred percent of their products are made in Australia, their emphasis being to keep the production on home soil. They only use organic and eco-friendly materials and keep dye to a minimum in their collections. With accreditation from Ethical Clothing Australia, Veggie Threads definitely keeps it all under the Aussie sun. Their multi-seasonal basics represent their brand to the core – beautiful, simple and sustainable. Website: Vege Threads
Madonna Bain’s beautiful collection of intimates for women are all carefully handmade by skilled artisans using only the highest quality eco-friendly textiles. From the beginning of the design process to the end of manufacturing, incredible thought has been invested in the conception, design and production of Bain’s brand. Working with a small team of artisans based in Bali, who Madonna says offer exemplary craftsmanship and quality, the team recreate her designs to the standard and details she and her customers demand. Website: Madonna Bain
Are you tempted to ditch fast fashion for a more sustainable brand? Let us know of brands you love.
Other images: courtesy of Etiko and Pure Pod – Facebook pages
Linda McCormick is a freelance journalist and travel writer living in Melbourne. Originally from Northern Ireland, Linda’s obsession with travel started at a young age when she set off in search of a warmer place to call home. While travelling she became more aware of the negative impacts of globetrotting and the importance of sustainable and responsible travel. She now travels with a different attitude and shares her passion for the natural world and eco travel in her writing. Linda’s work is published in a number of leading magazines, papers and websites, and on her own travel blog: www.EcoTravellerGuide.com
We’re heading to the US with this article – to “the land of the free, and the home of the brave”. It’s timely to remember that the purpose of leaving England to venture to the “New World” (America) was for freedom.
Where else is better to experience this glorious freedom than in the National Parks of the USA? Our interview with adventurer and nature-lover Scott Moses from ‘Live Once Live Wild’ takes us there.
Who am I?
I’m a guy who hates the fact that I have to work to support myself. If I had it my way, I’d be outside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 366 days a year (because I’m not about to let that one extra day during Leap Year slip away). There is simply so much out there to explore, and so little time to see it all. Unfortunately, getting to these places, having the right equipment to enjoy them to their fullest, and being able to eat once in a while, do cost money. I live in Brooklyn, New York which isn’t exactly the place that naturalists dream of. The office work that I do is nothing more than a necessary evil that allows me to indulge in weekends and extra-long vacations into the wider world that is always awaiting.
On a practical level, I’m a hiker, skier, and surfer, which allows me to enjoy pretty much everything that nature has to offer, from waves to mountain peaks to everything in between. I love being in nature so much that I suppose I felt it kind of like a duty to share with the wider world some of the best places to visit and some of the best gear to get the most out of any adventure, and that’s why I started the Live Once Live Wild blog.
Several years ago, a buddy of mine and I were planning an epic trip to the Sierra del Cocuy Mountains in eastern Colombia. We had been saving for several months and were about ready to book our tickets when my friend approached me saying that he wanted to cancel the trip because he had read somewhere that there was some possible danger related to the Colombian Civil War. I reluctantly gave way and we cancelled the trip. About a month later I ran into a person who had gone trekking at the Cocuy Mountains and she couldn’t stop raving about the massive glaciers, untouched wilderness, and unique indigenous civilization.
I decided right then and there that my personal motto for the rest of my life was going to be live once, live wild. Life is short, often much shorter than what we think, and common sense too often gets in the way of unforgettable experiences. I guess I figured that if I only have one life to live, I might as well make it as wild as possible. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “I want to suck all the marrow out of life”, and living wildly is for me the only way to do that.
I’ve never been the type of guy that has found much inspiration or mysticism within the confines of formal religion. The churches, mosques, temples, and other edifices of formal religion have always felt too stuffy and stale for my personal flavor. At the same time, there is something within me that cries out for deeper meaning than what is superficially apparent.
Being in nature allows me to connect to that mysterious something which is beyond our normal human experience. It gives me a more profound perspective on life and helps me to transcend some of my own selfishness. I guess on a practical level connecting with nature is also profoundly therapeutic for me helping me throw off the sluggishness that comes from sitting behind a desk all week. The fresh air, the beautiful sights, the adrenaline of spotting a gray wolf on the trail: this is what keeps me alive and ticking.
Whew… this is a difficult one because there is so much diversity out there. How can you compare the barrenness of the Badlands in South Dakota to the lushness of Glacier National Park in Montana to the smell of salt water hitting the forests of Acadia National Park in Maine? Then there are also the hundreds of national wilderness areas, national forests, state parks, and other protected areas that, though less explored, also offer a unique insight into the beauty of our world.
I suppose that if I had to choose one national park in the United States, I’d say that Joshua Tree National Park is my favorite… or at least my current favorite. I’ve recently started getting into rock climbing, and Joshua Tree National Park has some sweet climbs that aren’t too technical for my beginner skills. Also, there is something otherworldly about walking through the barrenness and aridity of a desert landscape, and then suddenly coming upon a lush, almost tropical oasis. During my last trip out there, I spent a night at one of the oases, and the combination of the sight of hundreds of shooting stars blending in with the Milky Way, the cries of nearby coyotes, and the gentle trickle of a small stream was something I’ll never forget.
My top tip for visiting Yosemite National Park is:
I’m going to cheat here and offer two tips for getting the most out of your trip to Yosemite. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, make it a priority to get outside of Yosemite Valley. The valley is undoubtedly beautiful, and that’s the reason that the majority of visitors never leave the valley. However, 95% of Yosemite is a designated wilderness area and there is SO much explore that most people have never even heard of. So yeah, take a couple of days to see Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, but after that get out and explore some of the lesser known areas. If backpacking is your thing, there are hundreds of miles of trails that will put you into the heart of the Sierra Nevada wilderness where every bend in the trail will bring a new marvel.
Secondly, don’t go during the summer time. While I love seeing people get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of Yosemite, I have had plenty of experiences where noisy tourists scare off a black bear I’m trying to photograph. If you can, make it a priority to get to Yosemite in mid-spring. The snowmelt brings the park to life. The waterfalls are mightier, the wildflowers more vibrant, the snow-capped peaks more majestic… and best of all is that you’ll pretty much have the park to yourself. If you have more questions about Yosemite National Park, you cancheck out our guide here.
Next I’m off with few buddies and we’re are heading to Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is home to the largest known cave system in the world. Spelunking is something I’ve never gotten into, but I figure it’s high time to start exploring the wonders of the natural world that are underneath our feet. I’m a little claustrophobic, but hey, since we only live once, we might as well live wild!
Scott Moses is an outdoor adventurer who spends most his time stuck in front of his laptop. When he has a chance, he takes his dog ‘Mr B’ to National Parks across the country. Follow Scott’s adventures at: www.liveoncelivewild.com
Images credit: Creative Commons via Flickr (as noted) & author’s own image