Wellington sanctuary has 500 year vision to save species

Zealandia is a sanctuary  with a difference:  it has a vision for 500 years – its goal,  to restore  this Wellington valley to its pre- human state. It’s twenty years into the plan!

Only minutes  from the centre of New Zealand’s capital,  and parliament buildings,  it’s a great place  to spend a few hours,  a day  or, take an evening guided walk to check out New Zealand  wildlife  flora and fauna.  I spent a couple of hours there  2 days ago  and here just a few of the many photos I took. (search in this blog for other Zealandia posts I’ve written)

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Planting mangroves in Malaysian Borneo

we arrive at the park
we arrive at the park

Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort where I’m staying under the shadow of Mt.Santubong and beside the Sarawak Cultural Village ), is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) – the estuarine reaches of the two rivers.

It’s also where I will be planting mangrove trees next week as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts – this time with wonderful Rainforest World Music Festival. I did the same a year ago, helping to offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.

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I plant mangroves in the Kuching Wetlands National Park in 2014

The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.

An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shorebirds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork.

In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.

We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work at
We walk the plank from boat to the site we will work. Note: Mount Santubong is just visible behind the tents

 

Malaysian Borneo: how eco aware can the kiwi travel writer be?

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIt seems there’s no universally accepted definition of ecotourism, and there are considerable overlaps in the meanings. It’s perhaps the most over-used and misused word in the tourism industry – often deliberately misused for marketing purposes.

Hapeta says in it, “I’m a self-taught writer, not a journalist, or an ecologist. This is not a scientific paper with lots of facts and figures, merely the musings about green issues by a traveller who wants to walk as lightly as possible on Earth”

She uses her trips to Malaysian Borneo as a way of exploring the issues. She also says she is “Time-rich, I’m a slow traveller, so stay longer in more places than most, trying to absorb the culture and flavours, to sit and watch people. It also means that although I don’t always sign up for an expensive eco-tour, I do try to practise the principles of ecotourism.”

This small book starts with her surrounded by noisy, diesel-fumed boats, nudging each other, racing their engines, drivers manoeuvring so their passengers get the best view. It made her wonder “can a travel writer, or any traveller, really be green – or is this just an oxymoronic dream, given the air miles needed to get to destinations?”
In this essay-cum-travel memoir she considers how green she was, or wasn’t, while exploring this ‘seething hotspot of biodiversity’ of an island. (Quote: Planet Earth. BBC TV).
She obviously agrees with Malaysia’s tourism tagline. ‘Malaysia – truly Asia’ and this booklet is a good introduction to the island of Borneo and green travel issues around the world.

Note: “A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo” is available in all e-book formats at Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and Amazon, plus any other such places that you prefer to buy your eBooks from.

This book has been entered in the annual Malaysian Tourism Awards (2014/15)

Otago Peninsula – ‘finest example of ecotourism in the world’

Otago Peninsula was a volcano some 10 or 13 million years ago – give or take a week or three!

65-thousand years ago it became an island when sea levels rose and, more recently, it became a peninsula.  Captain Cook and the hardy self-sufficient pioneers fought battles with the elements along the notorious 2000 kilometres coastline which is now scattered with shipwrecks.

The area is not just a day trip from Dunedin but a destination in its own right and during my ten days in Dunedin – traveling in a  car from  NZ RentaCar – and I spent time in Ngaio Cottage in Broad Bay.

This cottage, built in the 1930s,  when my hosts, Julz Asher & Lutz Ritter, bought it I’m told ‘it looked very different’ to the charming, well-appointed accommodation it is today. ‘It was unlivable. In fact, everything is new – except a few boards,’ Lutz said.

The fittings and furniture were chosen with care, resulting in beautiful and tasteful atmosphere. I have no idea how many stars this place has, but I’d give it 4 or 5!

This is a fabulous place to stay and use as a base to explore the peninsula, and the Dunedin region – check out these photos.

 

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I’m not the only one who rates Otago Peninsula:

  • Neville Peat a local nature writer based in Broad Bay says the whole area is a ‘kind of supermarket for marine life, souped up by currents and adjacent deep-water canyons.
  • Botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy said the peninsula is ‘the finest example of ecotourism in the world’   while Mark Carwardine,  zoologist and outspoken conservationist, writer, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer, columnist,  best-selling author, a wildlife tour operator calls New Zealand a “wildlife hotspot”. He also says it’s one of the best places in the world to see great wildlife and recently he was on a whirlwind tour, searching for our equivalent to Africa’s ‘big five’, the New Zealand ‘small five’ – all endangered species: hector’s dolphinkeakiwituatarayellow-eyed penguin all  which are found on or around this amazing outcrop of land.

I have written some stories about the area, and more to come about –  albatross, penguins, castleboat trips, fur seals, settlers museum, bus stops, birds, gardens, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui eco-sanctuary and more.

 

View of the harbour from the couch
View of the harbour from the couch

 

 

One turtle arrives in the middle of the night

“You are lucky I’m a pacifist’ I tell Gustino, from the Sarawak Tourism Board, “if  not, I would slap you!”

“Don’t worry”, he tells me, “many will come tonight”.  I remind him of the old saying about birds and how one in the hand is worth two in the bush – and that that specific turtle was the one in the hand. He laughs, “don’t worry, you will see them tonight” he reassures me.

 

We leave Sematan town for the national park
We leave Sematan town for the two hour trip to the national park

We are on Talang-Satang Island National Park which  is part of the Tanjung Datu National Park the smallest in Malaysia’s largest state : the tonight he’s talking about is the island where we will be in a few hours, Talang-Talang. (all National Parks are managed by Sarwawak Forestry)

He, as our host, was woken at about midnight by the ranger who was patrolling the beach to watch for landings. Perhaps they thought we were exhausted (true) after a week at the Borneo Music Expo and the Rainforest World Music Festival but seeing turtles lay eggs has been on my bucket-list for ages and I’m scared I’ll miss out!

no lifeguards here!
no lifeguards here!

Anyway, miss out that night I did but this is what I’m told:

  • it was her second egg laying visit in 10 days
  • she laid 104 eggs (80 last time)
  • the eggs were transferred immediately to a safe area (the monitor lizards must hate the rangers)
the eggs are buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators
the eggs are re-buried at the same depth as the mother did .. but now safe from predators

Despite being disappointed I did hear gibbons calling early in the morning – they remained out of sight but it was thrilling to hear them again, my first time had been in Sabah last year.

After breakfast we boarded our fishing boat for a one-hour trip to the island where I’ve been told “you will see them.”

See my next blog to see if I was able to tick off one of my bucket list items or, if I had to abandon my pacifist leanings and slap my host!

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Here is a pictorial journal of our stay on the island.

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Otago Peninsula: ‘finest example of eco-tourism’

Dunedin, New Zealand: setting the scene for a series of blogs about attractions in the area including ‘the peninsula’, the ‘ finest example of eco-tourism.’

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Otago Peninsula was a volcano some 10 or 13 million years ago – give or take a week or two.

65 thousand years ago it became an island when sea levels rose and, more recently, now a  peninsula, Captain Cook and the hardy self-sufficient pioneers fought battles along  the notorious 2000 kilometres coastline which is now scattered with shipwrecks.

With an annual rainfall of 700/800 millimetres and mists that roll in from the sea it now has 5% of the area covered in bush: mainly broadleaf trees and kanaka.

  • Neville Peat a local nature writer based in Broad Bay says the area is a ‘kind of supermarket for marine life, souped up by currents and adjacent deep-water canyons. The accolades continue.
  • Botanist and environmentalist David Bellamy said the peninsula is ‘the finest example of ecotourism in the world’   while Mark Carwardine,  zoologist and outspoken conservationist, writer, TV and radio presenter, wildlife photographer, columnist,  best-selling author, a wildlife tour operator calls New Zealand a “wildlife hotspot”.

He says it’s one of the best places in the world to see great wildlife and recently he was on a whirlwind tour, searching for our equivalent to Africa’s ‘big five’, the New Zealand ‘small five’ endangered species: hector’s dolphinkeakiwituatarayellow-eyed penguin .. all found on or around this amazing outcrop of land.

This area is not just a day trip from Dunedin but a place to base yourself – a destination in its own right.

So watch this space (make it easy by signing up for email updates on the top right-hand corner of this page) for stories about albatross, penguins, castle,  boat trips, fur seals, settlers museum, bus stops, birds, gardens, fabulous cottage accommodation, heritage city walks, the Taieri Gorge train, Chinese gardens, butterfly house and the Orokonui ecosanctuary and more!

The New Zealand rental car company I used in Dunedin  was the  New Zealand Rent A Car  (branches all over NZ)

NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the sables
NZ Rent A Car outside my accommodation at the Stables, Larnach Castle

 

Award-winning Mari Mari: Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

I see more culture at award-winning Mari Mari Cultural village near Kota Kinabalu, Sabah – locals had all recommended I go, telling me to ‘go to the dinner show at night’.  Moving through the village in small groups five local tribes introduce us to their way of life including fire-making, blowpipes, tattoos, whisky, and food, In the famously feared headhunting tribes (Murut) longhouse is an amazing indoor trampoline, the lansaran.  After a demonstration on the trampoline like floor  our group jump to reach for the ‘prize’ – I didn’t try.  Other tribes are the rice farming Kadazan-Dusun, the longhouse Rungus, the hunters and fisherman Lundayeh, the cowboy and sea gypsy Bajau.

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The tour culminated in a great concert and buffet style dinner and, in good ecotourism style, every dollar spent here stays here, helping the local native people keep their ancestor’s traditions.

Many cultural shows (around the word) can be superficial, staged authenticity, designed to entertain rather than enlighten, but this is locally driven, and it’s the locals who always need to decide what they want to share with the world and how to present it.

For more information about Malaysian Borneo just search this blog or see the Sabah Tourism Board or Sarawak Tourism Board

 

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How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind?

How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind? Do you leave any for this woman or her relatives? Or is it all going to to multi-national companies?

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I recently read something by Chris Ball that said “When you travel to less developed countries, you might think that just by being there you’re helping provide a better quality of life for the locals. You’d be wrong. Just $5 of every $100 you spend stays local.” I have often heard those figures but could not find his reference.

As he says, “Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth.  And, “We as consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.” I totally agree and contacted him – he is the Adventure Honey founder and CEO Chris Ball said that in addition to supporting local travel operators, 25% of Adventure Honey’s proceeds are invested into their ‘Changemaker Program.’

“Our site is designed for independent adventure travellers who want to find not only the coolest things to do in the world, but also ensure their travel has a positive local impact – that the locals truly benefit from their adventure.”

He also tells us “When you buy adventure tours and activities through a website like Adventure Honey you help ensure a positive impact from your travel and have an incredible adventure at the same time!

After some searching I found the United Nations Environment Programme reference to the negative impacts of tourism here.

This is topic is something I blogged about (first published in a newspaper column) about some years ago and reprint it here.

What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?

Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.

This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.

I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.

Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to participate in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.

It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting alone with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

So, what can we travellers do? I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products whenever I can.

So, by combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints, along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Shearwater Lodge named in “top ten eco-lodges”

Shearwater Lodge, Kaikoura, New Zealand, has been  named in a UK magazine (Australia & New Zealand) as one of two New Zealand “top ten eco-lodges” in their Jan/Feb 2011 issue.  (Stonefly Lodge, Nelson, also in NZ’s South Island is the other one but I havent been there so can’t comment on it.)

I went hiking to the classy lodge a while ago and can, like the Australia & and Zealand magazine, well recommend it.

This area is home to the endangered Hutton’s Shearwaters which burrow below the peak of Te Ao Wheke, (The World of the Gods) the second highest mountain peak in the area. The birds only fly home at night and leave first thing each morning, spending their days at sea feeding on small fish and krill. (see more about my hike here)

Congratulations for the accolade!

YAY - down one more valley then up to Shearwater Lodge
Shearwater Lodge is now in our sight

eco travel and carbon footprints

Eco travel and a recycled column: first published a couple of years ago (altho the photo is only a week old! Siam Safari on Phuket in Thailand)

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of passports-holders some 80% compared with the fewer than 20% of Americans.( the most recent figure I can find) I’m a travelophile; like Asians need rice, Italians need pasta, British their curry and we Kiwi crave our fish and chips – I need to travel.

When I travel I feel great, and as a traveller and freelance writer means I visit where I want to go to – looking for both stories and fun – I don’t want to go to the flavour-of-the-month, or be ticking off some list of must-go-to-places. However with global warming and our position here at the bottom of the world, means we use more carbon to get to our holiday destinations (and this is a burgeoning problem for our tourist industry with Europeans now being told to holiday at or near home – specifically saying Australia and NZ are too far to travel. So what can I do about the carbon footprint I leave whenever I travel?

Well to start I reduce my use of carbon at home. I haven’t owned a car since 1995 and use our big red buses, a bike, and my feet. Living in the city means I can walk to a supermarket and catch the eco-friendly free, yellow shuttle bus home with my backpack and the more eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. I also recycle all I can.

However this doesn’t clear our carbon emissions but we can help by using eco bulbs, energy efficient frigs and washing machines and when we travel take as little luggage as possible. The more we carry the more fuel the plane needs and of course the more emissions it produces … so leave that extra pair of shoes behind and take a paperback not a hardcover book.

Theoretically, we can also offset our personal carbon footprint by buying carbon credits – this has been in practice for a few years but you need to check them carefully to know it’s not just a dodgy company that wants to build a fortune. Air NZ is considering ways to collect carbon credits from their customers and I have no doubt that their scheme will be a good way of salving our conscience for the pollution we produce.

We can also support genuine eco-tourism companies and practise the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism? Briefly, it’s an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the community it’s in. Independent travellers are more likely being eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home- giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge infrastructure costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

web-siam-safari-sign1

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience. Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful – a great eco experience. Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market our country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. And are we really conservation minded or is it just the low population that produces less rubbish? What about visual pollution? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should participate in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has with Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes so they can see wonderful pristine sights. It this an oxymoron? It’s not only a New Zealand problem. At Lake Louise in Canada, I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

More recently I was shocked at the air pollution at the fabulous Taj Mahal. The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on some unimaginative travel agents and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in specific areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. What can I do about global warning and travel? Both at home and abroad I shop at locally-owned places; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g.  in New Zealand support Kiwi Host, Green Globe, YHA,) and don’t change my towels daily in motels or hotels.

Combining the universal codes of ‘ pack it in pack it out’ and ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’ along with getting off the well worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.