Mama Holiday: is eco-tourism an oxymoron?

When you think about it, eco-tourism is an oxymoron. To go on a holiday you have to travel on pollution-producing planes, trains, or automobiles.

We all try to do our best but it's not easy. You pay the couple of bucks for the carbon offset on Qantas/Virgin/Jetstar only to be buried under piles of packaging when your snacks arrive. (Dear airlines: Please offer the option to recycle paper and bottles onboard. That is all.)

At least when it comes to accommodation, Australia is ahead of the rest. Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, behind the Blue Mountains, was the world's first carbon-neutral property of its kind. Here, kids can plant trees, tend the organic vegetable garden and search for the endangered quoll.

Another of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, Lizard Island, in far North Queensland, has been certified by Ecotourism Australia since 1996, as "environmentally, socially and economically sustainable".

Children over the age of 10 are welcome to stay on this turquoise-fringed piece of paradise, which boasts a research station run by the Australian Museum.

Further south, there's an international coral reef research station on Heron Island and nearby Lady Elliot Island has more than 1200 species of marine life, including manta rays, and green and loggerhead turtles.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Why is paradise so pricey?"

But you don't have to break the bank to go green.

Murramarang Beachfront Nature Resort, near Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast, was recently named by Holidays with Kids magazine as being the number one eco-park in Australia, for using 100 per cent rain and bore water.

The director of greengetaways australia.com.au, Amanda Lambert, recommends Binna Burra Mountain Lodge in the Lamington National Park, high in the rainforest behind the Gold Coast, or Curringa Farm in Tasmania's Derwent Valley.

"Tim and Jane, from Curringa, have been awarded for their sustainable farm management practices, and visitors can contribute towards their Landcare activities," Lambert says.

In Victoria, the Tidal River Wilderness Retreat in Wilsons Promontory National Park is Advanced Ecotourism certified, with "low-impact" accommodation, locally made furniture and chemical-free hair and body products.

"Most people aren't willing to pay extra for eco-friendly amenities," says Lauren Whybrow, the publisher of exploreaustralia. net.au.

"So families are taking being eco-friendly into their own hands, and minimising their impact while travelling."

Meanwhile, for sustainable culture, you can't go past Kooljaman, at Cape Leveque north of Broome, which is owned by the Djarindjin and One Arm Point Aboriginal communities. You can take the kids mudcrabbing, cook bush tucker, and go bird or whale watching.

But what about those who, as Eva Gabor sang in Green Acres, prefer "Times Square" to "fresh air"?

The Alto Hotel in Melbourne has the coveted Earthcheck Gold Certification: a one-night apartment stay produces an average 11.8 kilograms of carbon, half the amount of the average hotel and all the power is generated from renewable sources. They also keep bees on the rooftop for breakfast honey.

So I guess eco-tourism doesn't always have to be an oxymoron.

After all, as the saying goes: "We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

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Act up in the act

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