- We explore opportunities to combine amazing experiences with environmental mindfulness when travelling in Australia.
- Discover the best low-impact activities, and where to stay during your adventure.
- Take it one step further by dining sustainably at one of our list of eco eateries. Both your tastebuds and the planet will thank you!
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) announced there were 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals in 2018, an increase of 6% from 2017. Low cost flights have aided this rise in tourist numbers, making travel easier for everyone. But these traveller statistics come with a cost and leave a serious environmental impact in their wake.
It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, though. Responsible travel is at the forefront of people’s decision making more than ever before with travellers bearing sustainability in mind when booking their trips. A study by Booking.com revealed 55% of global travellers reported they are more likely to consider sustainable travel choices when planning a trip than they were even a year ago.
With summer just around the corner, why not think green for your next holiday? Australia is positively brimming with amazing options for environmentally conscious travellers. Here we share our top picks in the country.
What to do:
Dive the Great Barrier Reef
Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Made up of around 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is a diver’s dream. Learn how to dive by staying on a liveaboard out on the reef, or stay somewhere along the coast and take day trips to see the colourful coral up close and some of the 1,500 species of fish that call this home.
See manta rays and turtles off Lady Elliot Island
One of the southernmost islands on the Great Barrier Reef is Lady Elliot Island. Here you can join Project Manta to research manta rays on the reef or get involved in the Rapid Monitoring Survey, which records key species and helps keep track of the health of the reef. Lady Elliot Island is also the place to be in turtle season when hundreds come ashore to nest, although you can see them in the water all year round. The island uses renewable technologies throughout to function and plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2020.
Avid trekkers and hikers are truly spoiled in Australia. Home to some of the best walks in the world, hiking is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Australia’s spectacular countryside. Opt for day or multi-day walks, guided or self-guided, depending on how experienced you are, or whether you want the company of others. Tasmania is home to the infamous Cradle Mountain walk, where you traverse tough terrain carrying your own equipment for the duration of the hike. Spend a few days wandering along the Great Ocean Walk, where you can experience the beauty of the Great Ocean Road minus wheels, or venture into deepest Central Australia and discover the raw beauty of the Larapinta trail that runs for 230km along the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs.
Making big news recently, Uluru is the largest monolith in the world and for years has attracted people wanting to climb to the top. However, the traditional landowners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have long declared the site sacred to their people. Tourists climbed it anyway. In October 2019, after a lengthy campaign, Uluru was finally declared closed to climbers. Instead visitors are welcome to walk around the rock and can take a tour with one of the aboriginal guides to discover more about the landmark and the area.
Stay with an aborginal community Arnhem Land
There is a lot more to Australia than Sydney, sea and sand. If you want to discover the real Australia, head inland or up north where the majority of indigneous Australians live. Tourists are allowed to stay in some aboriginal communities, but you have to get permission before you go, and pay to enter. Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory is particularly special and has been home to the Yolngu people for at least 60,000 years. It’s a hard trek to get there, but when you do it’s one of the best places in the country to learn about aboriginal culture and traditions.
Discover the indigenous heritage at Kakadu National Park
While you’re in the Top End make sure you pay a visit to the largest national park in Australia – Kakadu. Covering almost 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is jointly managed by Parks Australia and the Aboriginal traditional landowners. Take a hike through the rainforests, join a guided tour to see some of the 20,000-year-old rock art or cool off under waterfalls. Just don’t go swimming without first checking for crocs!
Take the Ghan through the middle of Australia
Originally named The Afghan Express after the Afghan camel drivers who came to Australia in the late 1800s to help move goods through the interior, The Ghan is one of the greatest train journeys in the world. It takes three days to travel almost 3,000 kms from Darwin to Adelaide, with a four-hour stop-off in Alice Springs and other optional side excursions. But it’s worth taking the journey just to see the colourful interior and to get some idea of the vastness of the country.
Visit one of the fabulous wine regions
Australian wines are well-known the world over, and within Australia are held in great esteem. Most of the wine regions are in the southern parts of Australia and aren’t easy to visit on one trip so you need to pick a region and go and enjoy. The Barossa Valley in South Australia is an easy hour’s drive from Adelaide. The Yarra Valley is only an hour from Melbourne and many companies run bus tours from the city centre, which means you’ve got your very own designated driver. If you’re planning to visit Margaret River in Western Australia, you’ll need to find somewhere to stay in the region as this luxuriously decadent area is a good three-hour drive from Perth.
Cycle the rail trails through Victoria’s high country
Once upon a time Australia had a great train network. Railways were mostly used to carry timber, but after townships were built and more roads connected the country, many rail routes were surplus to requirements. Thankfully, the lines were left intact and in recent years have been graded to allow for walkers and cyclists and to travel through the states. Victoria’s High Country has the most spectacular trails in the country and includes the Great Victorian Rail Trail and Murray to Mountains trail. Pass through historic villages, stop off at gourmet shops and stay in beautiful accommodation along the way.
Sail around the Whitsundays
Sitting in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef is a collection of 74 islands called the Whitsundays, and it’s a water baby’s dream. Here you can go snorkelling, diving, visit one of the best beaches in the world – Whitehaven Beach – or just relax on one of the islands and soak up the sun. But that would be boring for some. If you want to feel the wind in your sails, why not take a cruise around the Whitsundays? There are plenty to choose from including sunset cruises, day cruises and liveaboards.
Go whale watching
There are few people who wouldn’t want to see whales in the wild, and in Australia you have a number of places you can see these great creatures in their natural habitat. Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia is a prime nursery area for humpback whales and popular with whale sharks, too. Fraser Island, on the other side of Australia, is another great destination to spot humpback whales. The whales take up to two weeks to rest here on their annual migration from and to Antarctica. And Logan Beach in Warrnambool on the Great Ocean Road provides a nursery for southern right whales.
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Where to stay:
Eco accommodation is plentiful in Australia so it would be hard to list each one, but we do think some stand out above the others so we’d like to share them with you. And, if after reading this list you’re searching for more options, have a look at our guide to the Ultimate Glamping Spots in Australia.
Lady Elliot Island, Great Barrier Reef
If you do decide to visit Lady Elliot Island, there are 43 bedrooms on the island accommodating everyone from families to backpackers, luxury travellers to researchers. Families can stay in a room with a queen bed and bunks. There are dorm cabins for the budget conscious, two bedroom villas for families wanting their own space and glamping tents for those looking for something a little more upmarket.
Longitude 131°, Central Australia
This luxury eco resort just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park has possibly one of the best views in Australia. Located only 10 kms from Uluru and with uninterrupted views of the giant red rock, Longitude 131° is the perfect place for a sundowner at sunset.
Sal Salis, Western Australia
Get away from it all by staying at this eco-camp on a barren stretch of coast 70km from Exmouth. Sal Salis’ private tents have double beds, sofas, ensuite composting toilets and solar powered showers. Ningaloo is the nearest reef where you can swim with whale sharks, see the humpback whales or go kayaking along the coastline.
O’Reillys Rainforest Retreat, Queensland
Established in 1926, O’Reilly’s started out as a log cabin-style guesthouse catering to people who wanted to escape the Gold Coast and enjoy the serenity of the mountains. It has since grown to become a nature-based retreat and is especially popular with bushwalkers keen to explore the hinterland.
Daintree EcoLodge, Queensland
Nestled within the ancient Daintree Rainforest north of Cairns you’ll find this unique spa and eco lodge. Here, 15 secluded wooden villas are perched on stilts under the forest canopy and although beautifully appointed come without TV or Wi-Fi so you can truly switch off and enjoy your time. A gourmet breakfast is served daily and an a la carte menu is offered during the day, showcasing produce from the onsite kitchen garden as well as seasonal foods from the local area.
Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania
At the other end of the scale is Saffire Freycinet, which some of us eco travellers only ever dream of visiting. It’s higher than the top end of your budget, but if you’re lucky enough to afford the luxury, this eco lodge offers amazing immersive experiences in the local area and Wineglass Bay. There are 20 suites, a plethora of dining options and a tailored service for every visitor.
Kooljaman, Western Australia
Kooljaman is a remote wilderness camp on the Dampier Peninsula, run by the Indigenous Bardi Jawi Communities. It’s a tough place to get to, but once you’re there you feel like you’re sitting on the edge of Australia. Kooljaman is run off-the-grid and uses only solar power and local bore water. Accommodation is provided in safari tents or cabins and there is a restaurant onsite.
Eco Beach YHA Apollo Bay
Getting back to reality, consider Eco Beach YHA in Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s a hostel. It’s probably one of the best hostels you’ll ever stay in. The accommodation is amazingly well equipped with a large shared kitchen. The living room boasts two huge L-shaped sofas along with a wood fire burner, and the bedrooms, while basic, are clean and comfortable. Plus, it’s only a couple of blocks from the ocean.
Big 4 Holiday Parks
Some of the cheapest options for environmentally conscious travellers are caravan and camping grounds. Many of the Big 4 holiday parks are set in the most beautiful parts of the country, and are cheap to stay at on the whole. Check out Big 4 Hervey Bay if you’re planning on whale watching near Fraser Island, or the Big 4s near Marysville and Bright if you want to experience Alpine Australia.
Where to eat:
It would be completely impossible to list all the sustainable or organic restaurants in Australia. But we can share a few places that we think you should add to your foodie bucket list if you decide to travel the country.
Attica, Ripponlea, Victoria
As well as being a multi-award winning restaurant, Attica is unreservedly sustainable. Owner Ben Shewry aims to create an earthy menu that respects the land, which he says is inspired by the ruggedness of rivers, bushland and oceans. He incorporates greenery into his dishes, uses only sustainable seafood and gives Heston Blumenthal a run for his money. Expect dishes like hand-picked crab with wattle bread, pearl meat cooked in paperbark and grilled marron with desert lime.
Agrarian Eatery, New Norfolk, Tasmania
The Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School & Farm has attracted food lovers from all over the world to experience making their own food from foraged and garden produce. In 2017, the owners opened Agrarian Eatery, a space to showcase their ideas, presenting authentically cooked food that allows the ingredients to speak for themselves. Their new initiative will see the cooking school and farm moving close to the restaurant with the aim of fostering a community of local growers and farmers.
Nomad, Surry Hills, Sydney
Somewhat of an institution in Sydney, Nomad is a champion of sustainability. Although having experienced a fire that devastated their last space, Nomad Up the Road has recently opened, offering the same menu as before. All produce is free range and locally sourced. Any fish on the menu is line-caught and meat is bought whole and broken down in-house to use every part of the animal. The restaurant repurposes used oil into biodiesel and makes its own carbonated water using the Vestal system to avoid waste.
love.fish, Barangaroo, Sydney
This responsible restaurant lists the origin of every fish on the menu and works only with fisheries in Australia and New Zealand who are respectful of the environment. Any food left over from service is transformed into organic fertiliser or converted to green power, and all packaging used by the restaurant is either recycled or reused. The same philosophy carries over to love.fish’s drinks menu for which all drinks are Australian-made and sourced.
Swan Valley Gourmet Farm Cafe, Baskerville, Perth
Set in the heart of Swan Valley, this farm cafe offers a paddock-to-plate menu with a gourmet twist and has impressive eco credentials listed on its website. Adhering to the four Rs of sustainability – refuse, reuse, repurpose and recycle – Swan Valley farm cafe is pretty much zero waste. All packaging is reusable, they use second-hand crockery, feed food waste to their farm animals and even produce their own electricity using solar panels.
No need for flight shame – explore your own backyard
So what are you waiting for? You can still travel and eat in Australia without sacrificing your green principles. It’s all there on your doorstep, ready to be discovered.