7 eco-friendly day trip ideas
Go green with these sustainable experiences.
By Celeste Mitchell
Sustainability is more than just a travel buzzword. Increasingly, people want slower, sustainable and more earth-friendly travel options and experiences. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of green ways to travel in Australia.
From rejuvenating day hikes and cinematic train journeys to animal encounters designed to give far more than a cute selfie opportunity, here are seven of the most eco-friendly day trip experiences you can have in Australia.
Tread lightly on a day hike
Powered by your legs, lungs and nature’s restorative embrace, there’s no lighter – or cheaper – mode of travel than hiking. And the reward far outweighs the effort when you tread the boards of the Corrigan Suspension Bridge, dangling above a fern-lined valley in Tarra Bulga National Park, 200 kilometres (124 miles) east of Melbourne. You can escape Brisbane’s city centre to scale Mount Ngungun in the Glass House Mountains National Park and greet a line-up of peaks rich in Aboriginal Dreamtime lore. Near Sydney, skip the well-known and seek out the beak-shaped Eagle Rock in the Royal National Park. Or commune with Mother Nature’s Organ Pipes on Hobart’s Sea to Summit walk up Kunayi (Mount Wellington) in Tasmania.
There’s no quicker way to be humbled by the universe than by looking up into a crisp night sky. The folks from Earth Sanctuary just outside Alice Springs know it; they spent 10 years sleeping in swags (small, portable tents used for camping) and studying the constellations of the night sky so that they could educate the next generation about sustainability. It’s impossible not to get swept up by their passion during their astrology tours.
The Red Centre isn’t Australia’s only destination studded in stars, though. Bundle up your camping gear for Australia’s first and only Dark Sky Park (at a six-hour drive from Sydney, you’ll need at least a couple of days for this one), take a tour of the heritage-listed Perth Observatory, or catch the shapeshifting neon light show that is the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) in Tassie’s Cradle Mountain region.
Ride a scenic cycling trail
There’s no carbon to be offset on a cycling trip, so jump on one of the old rail trails or scenic cycleways snaking across the country. You might find yourself crossing historic trestle bridges and spotting whales on Victoria's Bass Coast Rail Trail, stopping to sip and swill some of South Australia’s finest drops along the 37-kilometre (23-mile) Coast to Vines trail, or rolling through bucolic farmland on Victoria High Country’s Pedal to Produce trails, along which small village cafés and wineries provide perfect pit stops.
Go on a mini adventure by train
Kick back, peel open a book and watch the views blur by as you let someone else do the driving. There's plenty to love about rail travel, and that's before you consider its eco-friendly status. Australia might be best known for its epic multi-day train journeys like The Ghan, but you'll be rewarded for lacing your sneakers and hopping on board a one-day rail adventure too. From Sydney, chug through the exceptional Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to the beautiful Central Coast. From Melbourne, escape to the blissful Dandenong Ranges for a day in the area's soaring forests. In Byron Bay, the world's first solar-powered heritage train can even deliver you into town for a cheeky Stone & Wood beer or two. Cheers to that!
Experience wildlife responsibly
Australia's amazing array of wildlife experiences are some of the best in the world. Tick off the bucket list and give back to nature at the same time by experiencing one of many incredible eco-certified experiences on offer. Adventure Bay Charters, on South Australia’s rugged Eyre Peninsula, offers an eco-alternative to traditional shark cage diving, using music to attract pelagic predators. At Victoria’s Phillip Island Nature Parks, see the state's famously sweet penguins while knowing your entry fee goes towards world-leading research. On Maria Island, you can even sign the Maria Island Pledge before seeing 11 of Tasmania’s endemic species (including its very cute resident wombats) wandering in the wild.
Reef repair within reach
Shining like a beacon of hope in the middle of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, carbon-neutral Lady Elliot Island offers an express education in understanding our underwater world, and you can reach it on a day trip from the Gold Coast or Brisbane (though you’ll likely want to stay at least a couple of nights). In the Whitsundays, the Great Barrier Reef’s idyllic group of islands, get hands-on with Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc, which has helped shift more than 203,000 kilograms (almost half a million pounds) of plastic debris from the waters that lap some of Australia’s most famous isles.
Pack your own picnic
Tasty snacks, a blanket and a pretty setting in nature are the only ingredients you need for a beautiful picnic experience. Add local produce, reusable water bottles and your own lesser-known location, and you've just elevated your meal to even eco-friendlier status. Bonus points if there's a hike involved to get back to the car or train station – you have to work off your fresh-air feast somehow, right?