There’s eco-tours, eco-hostels, even eco-cars and buses – it’s enough to make you want to save the world. Okay, maybe not save the world but it has made me think about my impact on our planet a bit more.
After a particularly heavy travelling binge, I was shocked to realise I’d flown 12 times in the space of three months and it wasn’t looking good for my carbon footprint. I decided it was time to change my ways, so when I made plans to head to Western Australia from Melbourne I vowed to do it without the aid of aviation.
I virtuously took the Indian Pacific train to Perth – so far so good, and the merits of being able to see where you’re going from the ground rather than just looking down on it were obvious. Heading north from Perth by road was an easy choice, but being a solo traveller on a budget made it difficult to stick to my eco-promise.
The best option for the environment, and my wallet, was joining a tour group – something I hadn’t done for several years, as I claimed to be a much more seasoned traveller than those who required the assistance of a group… but I was soon to be proved very wrong. So, I began my guilt-free trip north from Perth, through the national and marine parks that WA is so famous for, accompanied by 20 other backpackers in a 4WD truck no bigger than the average bathroom. Spacious it was not, fun it most definitely was – when you fall asleep on the shoulder of someone you met 20 minutes ago, you make friends pretty quickly.
The west coast is so much about the outdoors and I had no problems getting back to nature. I certainly had my back to it as I walked backwards off a cliff into a gorge in the form of abseiling.
Kalbarri National Park was our first stop and it was as I glanced down at our group laughing at me from below, pinpricks in the depths of the burnt red crevice of the gorge, that I decided abseiling wasn’t an appropriate form of eco transport for me!
As we scrambled out of the gorge and along to Nature’s Window, I realised being eco-friendly in WA might not be as hard as I’d thought – who would want to fly over or drive around it when you can tramp amongst the never-ending red and green of the surrounding national park with your own two eco-friendly feet?
We headed north to the Shark Bay peninsula – an eco-junkie’s playground, and standing on the stunning shores of Shell Beach we discovered just how much time this area devotes to nature and maintaining the vibrant wildlife systems.
As well as meeting three of the four possible criteria to be a World Heritage-listed area, it also houses ‘Project Eden’; established to regenerate the ecosystem of the area. By ridding the region of feral animals via the use of a large, intimidating-looking fence, the original inhabitants of Shark Bay have returned and are gradually beginning to thrive in their natural environment once again.
On top of all this, Monkey Mia is just down the road – still rolling in as many travellers’ top spot on the west coast. Hungry for attention, the dolphins lapped up their breakfast as the beach filled with tourists toting camera lenses longer than the average arm. Although touristy, nothing puts a smile on your face at 7.30am like a dolphin dancing at your feet. If Shark Bay needed anymore help being eco and wildlife-friendly, it’s also home to some of the only stromatolites in the world. These muddy lumps of cynobacteria are similar to the oldest organisms discovered on Earth and are still a major part of the world’s ongoing ecological and biological processes.
Although doubtful anything could get any more ‘eco’ than Shark Bay, the next two days were promising. First up was a manta ray swimming adventure with Coral Bay Ecotours, who work closely with the Coral Bay community to support the town’s own personal water and power supplies, run solely from renewable energy and filtered sea water.
It does mean you feel like you’re brushing your teeth in the ocean, but I grinned and bared it for the sake of my new found eco mantra. It was hardly a chore to swim with the manta rays though; watching these majestic creatures barrel role underneath you in the middle of the vast inky ocean was a spectacle not to be missed. Luckily there was more to come; just a couple of hours further north on the Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth was our base for the next adventure.
The whale shark calls the Coral Coast home for three months of the year (April to July), and our crew were hopeful of a sighting. Ocean Eco Adventures work closely with Ecocean, a research company which tracks the movement and lifespan of the sharks by photographing their skin patterns. They encouraged us to get involved as well – a perfect opportunity to take part in a real life eco-project.
Next we headed north through the Pilbara to the Ecoretreat campground in Karijini National Park and, according to our tour guide, snake heaven. My snake phobia is such that I find myself looking at the ground before every step and my heart jumps if I hear so much as a rustle in the bush next to me – not ideal.
However, walking was the only option here and I was looking at the ground to negotiate my way over the wobbling rocks rather than checking for snakes. And fortunately, the only reason my heart was jumping was in awe at the spectacular views and tranquil pools around every corner. Scrambling through cracks narrower than our bus seats and swimming through gorges fully clothed was worth every second to emerge gasping at the top of an almost vertical climb, greeted by the view of lush green and red stretching for miles into the distance.
In keeping with the campsite’s eco-theme we ate by the light of a single generator-powered lamp and water was restricted, so shared showers were pretty much compulsory. But who needs a shower when you spend half the day swimming in gorgeous freshwater pools? Previously a reluctant camper, Karijini converted me to a fully-fledged outdoorsy-type, lack of showers and all.
Weary and covered in red dust but blissfully happy, we bounced out of Karijini and back onto the highway ready for the final leg to Broome. Driving along, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself; being eco-friendly really wasn’t that hard! There were 21 of us in one vehicle, all sharing water and fuel with the added bonus of great friends and memories, not to mention that by simply going to ‘eco-friendly’ places, we were helping to promote their causes.
So I may not be a complete eco-junkie – I do plan to shower and fly again – but I’d willingly sacrifice personal space for group fun in the name of saving the planet.
The damage & the details:
A 10-day Perth to Broome tour with Western Xposure (Freephone: 1800 621 200,westernxposure.com.au) costs from $1,495. Manta ray swim with Coral Bay Ecotours (Ph: 08 9942 5885, coralbayecotours.com.au) costs from $135. Whale shark swim with Ocean Eco Adventures (Ph: 04 2742 5925, oceanecoadventures.com.au) costs from $395.
Photo: Tourism Western Australia