Maria Island, Tasmania © Tourism Australia
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. 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 Australia has some of the world's best. Climb mountains, trek along beaches, wander through the rainforest or hike through the desert; no matter which you choose, you'll be met with Australia's diverse and dazzling natural landscapes.
How to experience it: 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.
There’s no quicker way to be humbled by the universe than by looking up into a crisp night sky. And with so many beautiful destinations located far from the city lights, Australia is a brilliant place to gaze up at the stars. You might spot the Southern Hemisphere's iconic Southern Cross constellation, or let a First Nations guide tell you about the Emu in the Sky, a significant part of Aboriginal astronomy. There's even the chance to spot Aurora Australis, a neon display of light and colour.
How to experience it: The folks from Earth Sanctuary in Alice Springs spent 10 years sleeping under the stars so that they could educate the next generation about sustainability. It’s impossible not to get swept up by their passion during an astrology tour. A six-hour drive from Sydney brings another stargazing opportunity. Take a few days to truly appreciate the crystal-clear constellations at Australia’s first and only Dark Sky Park.
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 rolling through farmland in Victoria's High Country, spotting kangaroos in the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales or cycling around calm lakes in Canberra. The best part? Hopping off the bike and exploring everything from cocktail bars to regional art galleries.
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. It's a great way to have an incredible experience as you get to your next destination.
How to experience it: 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 wildlife experiences are some of the best in the world. There are moments that will take your breath away, whether you watch (from a distance) baby sea turtles scramble toward the sea or swim with whale sharks responsibly. 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.
How to experience it: Calypso Star Charters, on South Australia’s rugged Eyre Peninsula, offers an eco-alternative to traditional shark cage diving, using music to attract pelagic predators. 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
The Great Barrier Reef needs no introduction. After all, it's the largest coral reef ecosystem on the planet. Though the reef faces environmental challenges, the region prioritises conservation. In fact, every traveller that enters the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park by boat pays a 'reef tax' of a few dollars, which is collected by your boat operator and is used to protect the islands, coral and marine life of this incredible natural wonder.
How to experience it: 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.
Forage a feast
From native berries to ocean-fresh seafood, Australia is one big supermarket. You can 'shop' the forests, coasts, deserts and farmlands for ingredients you might only try in Australia. Let the dogs' noses lead you on a truffle mushroom hunt, search the sand for shellfish and learn how First Nations people have used nature's bounty for tens of thousands of years.
How to experience it: Book a tour with Animal Tracks in Kakadu National Park to seek out bush foods that only grow in Australia. In Western Australia's Manjimup, aromatic truffles grow seasonally. Take a tour with Truffle Hill, where you'll be led by canine friends who sniff out the 'black gold' from the undergrowth.