7 ways to be a more conscious traveller in Australia
How to explore the best Australia has to offer – without leaving a heavy carbon footprint.
When you visit Australia, chances are you'll want to immerse yourself in our spectacular natural environments, experience a culture unlike anything else on Earth, and encounter extraordinary wildlife – and you’ll want to do it without harming habitats or increasing your carbon footprint. Guess what? It’s very achievable if you make some smart choices from the start. Follow our tips for treading lightly across this magnificent continent and, at the same time, enriching your experience of the country.
1. Close encounters of the ethical kind
Australia is home to thousands of endemic wildlife species that don’t exist anywhere else on Earth. No doubt you’ll be familiar with our cuddly koalas, precious kangaroos and adorable quokkas, but you might not have heard of our equally fascinating animals, such as pademelons, fat-tailed dunnarts and bilbies.
For the green-minded, why not consider experiencing our wildlife and supporting conservation at the same time? On Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, a portion of the cost to swim with whale sharks contributes to the conservation of these majestic marine giants. At Mon Repos, near Bundaberg on the Queensland coast, the fee to witness endangered loggerhead turtles laying their eggs (November to January) or to observe tiny, precious hatchlings making their epic journey to the sea (January to March), goes to research and protection of the species at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre.
2. Think local, buy local
How and where you spend your money in Australia is important. Use your tourist dollars to buy locally produced food and souvenirs, and take part in activities that support small communities. Choose restaurants that focus on locally grown food instead of fast-food chains, and avoid big international fast-fashion operations in favour of local, ethical designers.
If you plan to invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, ensure the piece you’re buying benefits the artist and community from which it came. The Indigenous Art Code offers a helpful guide. Shop in a reputable gallery and request authentication documents to ensure you’re getting the real deal.
3. Eat well, do good
Restaurants like Harvest in New South Wales’ Byron Bay region, Brae in regional Victoria, and Three Blue Ducks — which has four outlets on the east coast — are leading the way in local and ethical cuisine. Chef Jock Zonfrillo is also at the forefront of the movement through his Orana Foundation (named after his now-closed restaurant in Adelaide). The scheme works to preserve Aboriginal food culture, encouraging others in the food industry to explore native foods which benefit the environment, and the Aboriginal communities that grow or forage them.
4. Help out a mate, or a couple of thousand
The Take 3 for the Sea initiative launched in Australia in 2010 when a marine ecologist, a youth educator, and an environmentalist realised they could make a difference. This “movement of people connected to the planet” has since had a global impact.
There are plenty of ways visitors can contribute to some of our most important causes. The Take 3 for the Sea initiative encourages beach-goers to collect three pieces of litter and dispose of them thoughtfully when they leave the beach — a simple yet hugely effective scheme.
Another excellent way to help is the Great Reef Census. Just a small section of the Great Barrier Reef has been surveyed, with the vast majority unknown. After a successful 2019 pilot program, the annual six-week survey is set to start in the Southern Hemisphere spring of 2020 with the help of volunteers.
To explore more options, such as caring for baby kangaroos and working on an organic farm, check out Conservation Volunteers Australia, Oceans 2 Earth Volunteers, WWOOF Australia and Go Volunteer.
5. Support the world’s oldest living culture
Find a tour operator
Not sure where to find an Aboriginal tour operator? Tourism Australia’s Discover Aboriginal Experiences is a curated collection of some 130 authentic Aboriginal tourism offerings around the country.
Australia’s First Nations People have lived in a diverse set of communities — each with its own language, dreaming stories and customs — for more than 60,000 years. Support these cultures by opting for Aboriginal-owned and run tours and experiences. Around the country, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people welcome visitors to learn about country, culture and history, from Northern Territory cruises and women-only cultural experiences, to inner-city heritage tours.
6. Play your part in our bushfire recovery
In the Southern Hemisphere 2019/20 summer, Australia endured some of the most severe bushfires on record. The effects were felt all over, particularly in small coastal and country towns. While the recovery is well underway, you can help by visiting and spending your money in some of the worst-affected communities. It might be as simple as buying two cups of coffee in a café, but every little bit helps.
Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, is known for its abundant wildlife, splendid sunsets, and top-notch food and wine. It was severely impacted by the bushfires, but the landscape is recovering quickly and animals are beginning to venture back into the bush. Tour operators such as Exceptional Kangaroo Island are working hard to create new and varied itineraries for travellers so visitors can learn about its history, ecology and recent woes — and be part of its bright future.
7. Carbon-offset your flight
The majority of travellers will arrive in Australia on a plane, but flying doesn’t have to be an unsustainable choice. To counteract some of the environmental effects of air travel, you can offset your flight. Most airlines offer carbon-offsetting, which you can select when you purchase your ticket.
So, what does it mean when you check the offset box? The modest fee you pay on top of your airfare is used by the airline to mitigate the effects of the flight’s greenhouse gas emissions, by investing in carbon-offset programs. These programs remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by either planting trees or protecting existing forests. Carbon-offset programs also invest in renewable energy and fire-abatement projects, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions.