Being sensitive to your environment can lead to a world of travel options, writes Louise Southerden.
You don't have to stay home, pitch a tent on the deck and go to bed at sunset to minimise the environmental impact of your next holiday. There are more eco-friendly ways to stay and play across Australia than ever before. From lodges and kayaking trips, to conservation tours and eco-campervans - it's easy to wear your green heart on your sleeve.
Conservation holiday: Montague Island
Picture this: you're on a small, wild island 350 kilometres south of Sydney and 9 kilometres off the coast of Narooma, encircled by an ocean teeming with seals, whales, turtles and dolphins. Overhead a big, cloudless sky is filled with hundreds of squawking, flapping seabirds. And there's you, spring-cleaning the nesting boxes of fairy penguins, being to Montague Island's seabirds what Dian Fossey was to Rwanda's gorillas. As if all this isn't enough, you get to spend the night in a fully restored lighthouse-keeper's cottage. Conservation Volunteers Australia runs overnight and weekend conservation tours on Montague, including boat transfers from Narooma, all year round, starting from $550 a person. The company has 2000 projects on its books and runs conservation trips in the Grampians, Tasmania and Arnhem Land. See conservationvolunteers.com.au.
Eco-idyll: Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island, 600 kilometres north-east of Sydney, is one of the most eco-conscious places in Australia and one of the best places to minimise your holiday's carbon footprint without even trying. Only 400 visitors are permitted on the World Heritage-listed island at any time; everyone gets around on bikes; public rubbish bins include a section for food scraps (which go into the island's massive composting unit) and there's a food co-op to encourage re-use of containers. Even David Attenborough once wrote that "few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt" as Lord Howe. Nature is the main event here: swimming, kayaking and snorkelling in the lagoon, cycling to one of the island's 11 beaches, hand-feeding metre-long kingfish at Ned's Beach, birdwatching with Lord Howe's resident naturalist Ian Hutton and climbing Mt Gower, one of the island's twin peaks. See lordhoweisland.info
Rafting an icon: the Franklin
Tasmania's Franklin River is the epitome of an environmentally friendly destination, having been the setting for Australia's first major conservation battle, which ultimately saved the wild river from a proposed hydro-electric dam in 1983. And there's no better way to experience it than by spending nine days paddling, pinballing and peacefully drifting down the river. World Expeditions pioneered commercial rafting on the Franklin 30 years ago this summer and now this trip is one of the world's most iconic wilderness adventures. Best of all, the river itself remains as pristine as ever - thanks largely to the ongoing responsible tourism practices of operators such as World Expeditions, which now runs "river care" rafting trips, sponsored by The Wilderness Society. See worldexpeditions.com
Hit the road: Eco-campers
Want to take a guilt-free road trip? KEA Campers doesn't promise emissions-free travel but it has the most environmentally friendly rental vehicles on Australia's roads. Eco-features include solar panels, renewable materials (such as timber joinery inside, from renewable plantations), GPS to avoid using paper maps, the most advanced emission-control standards, best-practice waste management systems and the lowest fuel consumption rates of any rental campervans in Australia. KEA is also the only campervan rental company in Australia to have achieved Leave No Trace certification. Two-, four- and six-berth campervans, motorhomes and four-wheel-drive campers are available from $115 a day. See keacampers.com
Take a hike: Friendly Beaches Lodge
The beauty of staying in an eco-lodge is that nature follows you home at the end of your day in the outdoors. That's especially true at Friendly Beaches Lodge, on Tasmania's east coast, which was designed by the architect Ken Latona, a guru of environmentally friendly design. Getting there involves joining a four-day guided walk through Freycinet National Park. Each morning you'll be transferred to a different part of the Freycinet Peninsula for a day of coastal walking, including scenic splendours such as Wineglass Bay. Each evening you'll enjoy hot showers and catered meals at the award-winning eco-lodge. The all-inclusive Freycinet Experience, which won the 2008 Gourmet Traveller ecotourism award, costs $2075. See freycinet.com.au
Castaway camping: Lady Musgrave Island
Ever wondered what it would be like to be a castaway? You'll find out on Lady Musgrave Island on the Great Barrier Reef, 32 nautical miles east of the Town of 1770. A boat will deposit you, your camping gear and supplies on this idyllic coral cay in Capricornia Cays National Park and pick you up a couple of days, or weeks, later (dates are arranged, of course, before the boat leaves). In between, it's just you, a few other would-be Robinson Crusoes and the island's permanent residents: thousands of sea birds and marine turtles and, in its massive lagoon, 1200 species of tropical fish. Lady Musgrave is closed from January to April to minimise visitor impact on vegetation, breeding seabirds and nesting turtles. Camping permits cost $4.85 a person, a night; boat transfers to the island cost $320 a person return. See epa.qld.gov.au.
Coastal kayaking: Hinchinbrook
Hinchinbrook Island, halfway between Townsville and Cairns, nestles next to the north Queensland coast like a dugong calf next to its mother - the channel between the island and the mainland is one of the last known habitats of dugong in Australia. The island is also one of the best places in Australia to do some minimal-impact sea kayaking. The island's east coast is scalloped with sandy coves protected from Coral Sea swells by the Barrier Reef; the prevailing southerly winds during the May to October kayaking season are a blessing when you're paddling north and there are countless deserted beaches to camp on each night. And when you come ashore each afternoon, you get to explore the land as well: waterfalls and swimming holes, rainforest trails littered with purple quandong fruit, viewing rocks overlooking the island's World Heritage wilderness. Seven-day kayaking trips along Hinchinbrook's east coast cost $1795 a person. See southernseaventures.com.
Eco Dreaming: The Kimberley
For a wilderness experience unlike any other, head for Kooljaman, an Aboriginal-owned eco-resort 220 kilometres north of Broome on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula ("Kooljaman" is the Bardi word for Cape Leveque). There are 14 safari tents ($250 a night twin share) offering low-key luxury in the shadow of the cape's lighthouse as well as bush cabins and log cabins (from $140 a night). For a real back-to-nature experience, try one of the 11 "beach shelters" ($60 a night). Each shelter has a thatched roof, palm frond walls, a sand floor, a barbecue and an outdoor shower and is right on the beach. BYO tent or a couple of camp beds and a light sleeping bag. Activities include Aboriginal cultural and mud-crabbing tours, reef-walking, snorkelling and swimming - there are no crocs or stingers and the water temperature gets up to 33 degrees. See kooljaman.com.au.
Tent city: Cockatoo Island
What better way to minimise your carbon emissions and avoid traffic than by camping in your own backyard? (Not literally of course.) One of the most unusual experiences you can have without leaving Sydney is to camp on Cockatoo Island, the largest island in Sydney Harbour. It's a world first: 135 waterfront sites on a National Heritage-listed island just 10 minutes by ferry from the centre of the city. Sites cost $45 or $75 if you want to rent a tent, two sleeping bags, two chairs and a lantern. See cockatooisland.gov.au.