Monday, January 12, 2009

It’s Easy being Green, especially in Queensland

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Travelling with an eco-conscience is easy in Queensland with its myriad of tours and hotels doing their bit to help save the fragile natural surrounds writes Jessica Reid.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is an award-winning interpretive facility an easy two hour drive north of Cairns where visitors can explore the surrounding World Heritage-listed environment via boardwalks, a 23m high canopy tower and an aerial walkway in the rainforest canopy. The Centre itself provides an introduction to the wonders of the rainforest and runs a range of programmes and activities including a Tree Planting Initiative designed to restore a nearby degraded rainforest habitat.

Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa prides itself on ecotourism activities which are as extensive as the services it offers to guests. Management systems, best practice techniques like energy, waste and environmental management, specialist strategies and strategic alliances are all put into regular practice. Emphasis is also placed on preserving Aboriginal culture in the cultural tourism activities and following strict guidelines, protocols and ethics relating to Aboriginal affairs. Guests at the lodge stay in rainforest villas and can enjoy pampering at the Spa and dine on contemporary Australian cuisine with a native touch.

Also in the Daintree, Red Mill House offers deluxe accommodation for guests interested in nature, wildlife and conservation. A philosophy of 'rethink, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle' helps Red Mill House identify, manage and reduce their environmental footprint. They also work closely with the local school, helping students calculate their environmental footprint and reduce energy and waste levels. Red Mill House undertakes best practice activities in water, electricity and waste management areas.

Adventure diving and marine research are combined on Undersea Explorer's live-aboard scuba diving operation on the Great Barrier Reef. Operating since the 1980s, their goal is to provide a stimulating environmental experience for divers while caring for the environment and conducting research projects which contribute to marine conservation. Two complimentary berth spaces are provided for marine scientists each week and a biologist is employed as a crew member providing for valuable research on a regular basis on remote coral reefs.

The award-winning Skyrail rainforest cableway at Kuranda is one of only 18 attractions in the world, and the only one in Australia, to receive the prestigious Green Globe Gold Certification. It is awarded to companies who achieve Green Globe Certification for five consecutive years, demonstrating outstanding, continuous commitment to environmental performance and improvement. The Skyrail Rainforest Foundation reinforces its commitment, increases awareness and protects the rainforest environment.

Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours, Cape Tribulation, is a unique and exhilarating way to experience the Daintree. The series of flying fox cables and tree platforms were constructed entirely by hand after nine years research and development. Their innovative design allows each platform to sit securely around the tree without a single nail or bolt penetrating the trunk, ensuring 'jungle surfers' have a minimal environmental footprint while still enjoying unprecedented access to all levels of the forest canopy. Paths in and out of the forest follow fauna trails, all boardwalks and buildings utilize recycled materials, waste products are recycled, and the entire operation runs on renewable solar and hydro power, with fossil fuels used only in the transfer vehicles.

Hidden Valley Cabins and Tours are Australia's first carbon neutral accommodation and tour company operating on renewable energy. Situated 90 minutes drive from Townsville, the resort offers the perfect 'get away from it all' environment and operates entirely on solar power. The interpretive centre explores the operational aspect of renewable energy.

In a first amongst Great Barrier Reef cruise operators, Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises has achieved the highest level of certification under Eco Tourism Australia's inaugural Climate Action Certification Program and gone carbon neutral. The award-winning company runs half and full day cruises to Green Island. It has implemented numerous emission reduction actions and is offsetting the remaining through Greenfleet Australia. Passengers on Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises will also be invited to offset their own carbon footprint at cruise check-in.

Management of the environment is a "way of life" at Capricorn Caves in Central Queensland, winners of the Steve Irwin Ecotourism Award at the 2008 Queensland Tourism Awards. Located north of Rockhampton, the system of above-ground caves in a limestone ridge has tours ranging from easy walking and wheelchair accessible to wild caving adventures. Protection of the caves, the remnant vegetation and the dependent native fauna including bats is vital and management at the caves is also involved in revegetation programmes, weed eradication, best water and energy management practices and natural lighting. A Threatened Species Recovery programme in conjunction with Greening Australia is also in place to save the fern, tectaria devexa, from extinction.

Wilson Island is a tiny coral cay, surrounded by, and part of, the Great Barrier Reef. It is also the site of rare turtle and bird breeding grounds so precious the island closes for a month in late January for the bird breeding season. A maximum of 12 guests stay in comfortable, designer-inspired tent accommodation and enjoy exceptional snorkelling, bird watching and island and reef walks. The eco-accredited Voyages resort provides all power by battery or solar and is rainwater reliant. Wilson Island is located north-east of Gladstone and is accessed by boat and helicopter.

'Conservation through exciting education' has always been part of Australia Zoo's philosophy. The multi-award winning zoo on the Sunshine Coast is committed to raising awareness and protecting the world's environment. The Wildlife Warriors organisation aims to protect and enhance the natural environment, provide information to and educate the public, raise awareness of wildlife issues, undertake biological research and research and assist in the protection of threatened or endangered species. The Australian Wildlife Zoo, Endangered Species Breeding, Priority Species Breeding, Field Study, Habitat Acquisition, Rescue and Documentaries are other conservation programs run by Australia Zoo. and

Mt Barney Lodge Country Retreat, a 90 minute drive from both Brisbane and the Gold Coast is a proud member of Wildlife Tourism Australia and a founding member of the Rainforest Way drive linking 14 World Heritage-listed National Parks. The retreat offers guests cabin and camping accommodation as they escape to the bush. A philosophy of living in harmony with people and nature is projected to guests through a variety of initiatives including CREATE (Children's Recreational and Environmental Activities That Educate), the lodge's holiday programme for kids.

Hire vehicle companies, KEA Campers and Europcar, are doing their bit to combat climate change. KEA offers late models, environmentally-friendly campers with solar panelling, renewable materials, advanced emission control standards, best-practice waste management systems and the lowest fuel consumption rates of any campervan rental company in Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. They are also the only Australian campervan rental company to achieve the Leave No Trace certification of the Campervan Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA). Europcar Australia has partnered with Greenfleet to offset the carbon emissions of every new vehicle added to its fleet by planting 17 native trees per car. These trees help create a forest to absorb the greenhouse gases the car produces in one year. and

Some of Queensland's best natural regions, including three World Heritage Areas, can be explored on the world-class walking tracks which form the Great Walks of Queensland. The Walks at Fraser Island, Gold Coast Hinterland, Mackay Highlands, Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Wet Tropics and Whitsundays are already open and another four will open at Carnarvon in Central Queensland, the Conondale Range and Cooloola on the Sunshine Coast and the Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail in the next two years. Ranging from short, easy strolls to half and full-day walks and extended overnight adventures, people of all ages and abilities can enjoy Queensland's parks and forests.

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