Margret Campbell of Dreamtime Southern X leading a guided Aboriginal cultural tour in Sydney. Photo / Destination NSW
Nina Karnikowski finds out what’s new in the world of sustainable travel and experiences in Australia’s biggest cities.
For the growing collective of travellers wanting to make their journeys count in the fight against climate change, the opening of the transtasman travel bubble comes with more good news, since Australia’s cities and surrounds are filled with conscious, regenerative travel experiences. From low-impact eateries instituting ethical farm-to-table sourcing practices and indigenous-led cultural experiences, to off-grid stays reintroducing travellers to the wild and tours that help regenerate local flora and fauna, here are some of the best eco-friendly experiences in and around Australian cities.
The experience: To properly understand a country, we need to understand the rich history and culture of its indigenous people, making these Dreamtime Southern X tours of Sydney a must. These indigenous-led walking tours introduce travellers to the Aboriginal dreamtime culture and ancient knowledge about Sydney’s landscape and seasons. dreamtimesouthernx.com.au
The eatery: The world’s first permanent no-waste cocktail bar, Re – in Sydney’s South Eveleigh rethinks the hospitality industry’s wasteful habits. Set in a heritage site that spent 100 years as a locomotive workshop, all furniture is made from recycled materials, including lightshades made from mycelium and “leather” banquettes made from pineapple-leaf fibre, while the low-waste menu champions ethical suppliers and sustainable produce – don’t miss the eggplant ceviche and the Wimbledon gimlet, made with pickled strawberries and milk wine cordial. wearere.com.au
The stay: For anyone wishing to more deeply connect to the wisdom of the wilderness, In2TheWild have set small eco-cabins in secluded nature spots across regional New South Wales. Check out the Clancy cabin, two hours northwest of Sydney, or the Edmond cabin, less than two hours’ drive south of Sydney in the gorgeous Southern Highlands. in2thewild.co
The experience: Once Melbourne’s lockdown is over and travel restrictions end, head to the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, one of the world’s leading botanic gardens and a significant cultural site for the local Kulin Nation, to take an Aboriginal Heritage Walk. Led by an indigenous guide, you’ll deepen your understanding of Aboriginal customs and traditional uses of native plants for food, tools and medicine. rbg.vic.gov.au.
For those with more time, consider a two- or three-day Echidna Walkabout Nature Tour in the Great Western Plains near Melbourne, planting trees along the way to support the recovery of koalas affected by bushfires. echidnawalkabout.com.au
The eatery: “The way we grow, harvest, transport, sell and eat our food is the most destructive human activity on the planet,” says visionary designer and anti-waste crusader Joost Bakker. He’s the creator of Future Food System, a self-sustaining two-bedroom home in Melbourne’s Federation Square that creates all its own energy and food, where award-winning chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barret have taken a six-month residence, hosting small dinners and tours until June 2021. futurefoodsystem.com
The stay: A musician couple from Melbourne spent 10 years reclaiming 81ha of former farmland on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, planting 65,000 trees and reviving native grasses, and now they’re ready to share. They’ve created two contemporary, solar-powered, glass-walled Sky Pods, designed to help travellers reconnect with nature. It’s all about listening to the bush, watching out for koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and native birds; and laying out under the stars. skypods.com.au
The experience: An hour out of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast, Saltwater Eco Tours offers a traditional sailing experience on a century-old timber sailing boat along the Mooloolah River, the traditional waters of the Kabi Kabi or “saltwater people” You’ll learn old-fashioned sailing techniques, spot wildlife, eat local bush tucker and hear stories about the Sunshine Coast’s first eco-custodians. saltwaterecotours.com.au
The eatery: Also in the hills of the Sunshine Coast in Maleny, Brouhaha Brewery focuses on natural brewing methods, steering away from additives and preservatives. This philosophy extends to the food offering, which puts local producers and seasonality front and centre. Spent grain from the brewery, for example, is sent to a local farm to feed cattle which is then used for their meat production, with a nose-to-tail approach. brouhahabrewery.com.au
The stay: For a glamping experience that’s straight out of Africa, try Nightfall Wilderness Camp in Lamington National Park, a two-hour drive from Brisbane. Sleep in a luxury solar-powered tent, hike through the 104ha property and surrounding national park, then relax in the bathtub or by the fire while stars scatter across the sky. nightfall.com.au.
For those wanting a city whirl, Brisbane’s gorgeous Calile Hotel works with natural airflow and eco-settings to reduce energy waste. It includes ethically sourced architectural elements including cork instead of wallpaper and carpet. thecalilehotel.com
The experience: Learning about more regenerative farming practices could be key to setting our ailing planet back on track. Good reason, then, to pop into a few of the minimal-intervention wineries in the Adelaide Hills, just 45 minutes’ drive from the city centre. Check out Ngeringa at Mount Barker (they’re certified biodynamic) and Mt Lofty Ranges at Lenswood (they use sustainable farming methods). ngeringa.com; mtloftyrangesvineyard.com.au
The eatery: Self-sufficiency drives the menu at The Summertown Aristologist, with much of the food and wine coming from their neighbours in the Adelaide Hills. There’s no set menu – guests are served what’s delicious and in-season (think bread fresh from the oven with house-churned butter, South Australian pipis in parsley broth, and crumbed eggplant with house-made taramasalata), with minimal intervention wines to match. thesummertownaristologist.com
The stay: Want to experience the future of sustainable housing? Earthship Ironbark in the Adelaide Hills was built using old car tyres, glass bottles and mud for the walls, is completely solar-powered, catches rainwater for the bathroom and kitchen, feeds greywater into the indoor vegetable gardens, and looks beautiful in a wabi-sabi way that fits perfectly with the rustic setting. earthshipironbark.com.au
The experience: In Tasmania’s Bay of Fires wilderness area, a three-hour drive north of Hobart, there’s a guided multi-day Wukalina Walk that combines culture, nature and luxury. Stay in bespoke accommodation, meet local Palawa elders, hear creation stories and learn about traditional medicines and foods, try kelp and reed basket-making and spot kangaroos, wombats, whales and more. wukalinawalk.com.au
The eatery: Pull on some waders at Freycinet Marine Oyster Farm, step out on to an oyster lease with a glass of crisp white wine in hand, and learn directly from farmers about local ecology and the breeding and harvesting of prized Pacific oysters. You’ll never take this nutrient-rich food source for granted again. freycinetmarinefarm.com
The stay: Just 20 minutes from the city centre, Hobart Hideaway Pods offers two low impact, earthy yet smart cottages in the foothills of Mt. Wellington. Expect incredible views over the bushland to the water, and eco-friendly design features including composting toilets for water saving, solar passive design to reduce electricity use, a self-sufficient water supply, sustainably sourced building materials and more. hobarthideawaypods.com.au
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The experience: If you want to imagine what Perth may have looked like before colonisation, take Walter McGuire’s Go Cultural tour. McGuire talks about the hunting and gathering of native foods from wetlands that once made up the city centre, explains the spiritual connection First Nations people have with the land, and shares ancient Dreamtime stories that connect to Perth’s Swan River. gocultural.com.au
The eatery: On the banks of the Swan River in the Old Swan Brewery site, recently opened Cooee is led by Michelin-star chef Alan Wise, with an all-day “gate to plate” menu celebrating the best of Western Australia’s produce including Albany rock oysters, Leeuwin Coast Akoya, kingfish sashimi and mushroom tartare. cooeeperth.com
The stay: Set on one of Rottnest Island’s most picturesque beaches, Discovery Rottnest Island on Pinky Beach has 83 eco-tents with ensuites and private decks, offering the ultimate low-impact beachfront stay. discoveryholidayparks.com.au
The experience: Explore the world’s largest and most impressive collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia. Afterwards, visit the National Museum where First Australians Indigenous Australia Tours run daily at 3pm, led by local Ngunawal and Ngambri people. nga.gov.au; nma.gov.au
The eatery: Set on the Molonglo River, just a 15-minute drive from Parliament House but feeling worlds away, is farm-to-table Pialligo Estate. Produce for the restaurant is grown in the two-hectare market garden, meals are served in the glass-sided pavilion, wines are thoughtfully curated, and the vibe is thoroughly European. thepialligoestate.com.au
The stay: Canberra’s Ovolo Nishi has won awards for its sustainable design. The 68 guestrooms include beds made from reclaimed oak and walls made from cork, clay and natural fibre wallpapers, while the show-stopping Grand Stair was made from timber salvaged from a demolished house and the building’s own construction site. ovolohotels.com
The experience: Head out across Darwin Harbour at sunset to remote Njulbitjlk (Bare Sand Island) with Sea Darwin to view seasonal turtle nesting, and to learn about Darwin Harbour’s intriguing history and habitat. Five per cent of every ticket sold goes to the Austurtle Research Project. seadarwin.com
The stay: It doesn’t get much more swoon-worthy than the “wild bush luxury” offered at Bamurru Plains on the Mary River floodplain, adjacent to Kakadu National Park. Laze in bed in your safari bungalow looking out over the remote and beautiful wilderness, or get involved in activities including fishing trips, 4WD safaris, airboating through private wetlands spotting crocodiles and birds, and guided tours to Arnhem Land’s rock art galleries. bamurruplains.com
Please check the latest border restrictions in each state and territory before travelling. For more information visit australia.com