Trial Bay Gaol Campground in the Arakoon National Park, NSW has a garbage recycling station as well as a Dump Ezy point — credit Barbara Webster
The term ‘slow travel’ may be a recent buzzword, yet for those travelling by caravan it’s just how we roll; shunning highways for byways; stopping at roadside stalls and filling our fridges with fresh produce and spending longer in regional areas, rather than ticking off locations like items on a shopping list. If this is you, pat yourself on the back, you’re already on your way to supporting a more sustainable travel future, where ecosystems, economies and communities all benefit. With a just few changes and some forward planning, you’ll be a green nomad in no time.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Surely there’s no better feeling than pulling out of your driveway singing along to Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. But, before you start going places that you’ve never been, there are checks to be done. Do you have the correct pressure in your tyres? Have you minimised wind resistance? Can you further reduce your weight (no, no, not yours, the load your van is carrying)?
Once you’re on the road, drive as smoothly as possible, keep a steady speed and use your air conditioning efficiently. The Caravan Industry of Australia’s guide to towing in Australia has some excellent tips. If you’re thinking about a new car, check the government’s Green Vehicle Guide and consider a lighter van that won’t require as much power to tow it.
Many roads and tracks in national parks are closed seasonally to vehicle traffic each year, which Leeza Wishart, Area Chief Ranger Parks Victoria, gave some information on. “When visiting parks in the wetter months, keep an eye out for temporary track closures and if it’s raining or the track looks soft, find an alternative formal route,” she said. “Water quality can be impacted when roads are soft or damaged in the wet as runoff speeds downhill, and it can pick up soil and potentially other pollutants, eventually pouring into streams, rivers or lakes.”
Wishart also suggests keeping in mind these basic tips when driving in a park: to stay off wet tracks or recently graded roads; to drive only on formed roads; to take notice of signage and only use roads that are open to the public and safe to do so; avoid wheel-spin and churning up track surfaces; and remove fallen trees or limbs from roads — don’t create new tracks by driving around them.
To avoid disappointment, check the website before visiting for changed conditions, including current track closures at parks.vic.gov.au.
RESPECT AND PROTECT WILDLIFE
The report card for Australia’s native animals ticks all the wrong boxes. Extinctions — tick. Loss of habitat — tick. Critically endangered species — tick.
As conscious travellers, we can all do our bit to minimise the impacts of our visit. The rules of engagement are simple: observe animals from a respectful distance, move quietly and do not feed the wildlife. In some instances, the feeding of wild animals has caused them to lose their fear of humans and become aggressive. Furthermore, animals that develop a taste for ‘fast food’ may lose their instinct to hunt or may succumb to disease.
Even if you don’t intentionally hand out treats, you still need to make sure food is properly stored to ensure our feathered and furry friends don’t help themselves to a midnight snack. Another issue is that many species of wildlife are being killed or injured by discarded rubbish. As a sign of the times, the RSPCA is urging people to snip the straps on disposable face masks before throwing them away, and it goes without saying, keep an eye out for wildlife while driving and put the rescue number for WIRES in your phone — 1300 094 737 (NSW).
Want to take your commitment a step further? Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA) coordinates several community environment programs and citizen science projects. Volunteering opportunities are available across all states and territories involving anything from monitoring Eastern Barred bandicoots to collecting data from camera traps. See conservationvolunteers.com.au.
Dead Horse Gully campground, Sturt National Park, NSW — credit John Spencer
TO BURN OR NOT TO BURN
Humans have long been drawn to fire for warmth, cooking and sitting around talking rubbish. So much so, that anthropologists believe campfires have shaped civilizations, allowing storytelling, rituals and relationships to develop. Fast-forward to the campground of the 21st century and the humble fire is now a hot commodity. But before you start swinging that axe, consider this: at least 10 per cent of bushfires are caused by escaped campfires.
The rules around campfires vary by campground. Whether a campfire is permitted at a particular campground is a decision made by the local park office based on available facilities, maintenance requirements and local conditions.
Ray Fowke, Manager for Parks Policy at the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), said the NPWS Firewood Policy prohibits collection or removal of firewood from parks and reserves managed by NPWS for any purpose.
“This is because fallen trees, standing dead timber and woody debris are an important part of the ecosystems that are protected in national parks, providing habitat for many native animals,” he said.
“Removal can contribute to the decline of native forests and is a major threat to biodiversity and threatened species.”
The Visitor Information section of each campground’s webpage on the NPWS website provides details on the facilities available.”
NO TIME TO WASTE
As the number of people holidaying in caravans is on the rise, so too is the waste being generated. Now more than ever, we need to be conscious consumers by committing to the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle mantra. Add in a fourth ‘R’ — Rethink — which means considering the consequences of our actions on the environment, and we’ll all enjoy a better time in the great outdoors. After all, that’s what this caravanning caper is about.
While most of us do the right thing at home, it’s easy to become lax when travelling. The trick is to start small and build from there.
Rubbish: Minimise packaging before you leave home, have separate containers for recyclables and food scraps, use beeswax paper wraps, opt for solid shampoo bars (one bar can replace three bottles of shampoo) and always carry reusable shopping bags.
Energy-saving: Consider solar power, use rechargeable batteries, choose a campground where you can walk or ride to the nearest facilities, and close your caravan curtains to keep the heat out/in.
Grey water: Dumped grey water — with its associated oil, soap scum and food scraps — can lead to erosion, contaminate waterways and have long-term impacts on soil.
“For caravans or campervans with grey water tanks, disposal in a national park may only occur where there are specific facilities in park for the deposit and collection of grey water,” said Fowkes from NPWS. “If facilities are not provided, then grey water cannot be disposed from a caravan into a national park and must be taken off park for disposal at suitable facilities.”
Further information on considerate camping in national parks can be found at nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/conservation-and-heritage/care-for-parks/considerate-camping.
LINGER LONGER, DELVE DEEPER
#holidayherethisyear, #buyfromthebush and #emptyesky are not just hashtags for social media, but grass roots tourism movements designed to help businesses recover from natural disasters. Buying locally is a good idea anytime, as many economies (particularly in regional areas) depend largely on the expenditure of tourists to survive. Since COVID-19, such support is needed more than ever, and by staying a few extra days you spread the love farther. Shop at farmers’ markets, choose lesser known but still awesome destinations (consider trading Byron Bay for Bellingen or Lennox Head) or visit a region out of season (Tasmania is becoming famous for its winter festivals. See discovertasmania.com.au/off-season).
Spending longer in one place also gives you time to make connections with other campers, local characters and, if you’re fortunate, Australia’s First Nations Peoples. Whether you explore ancient rock art, attend an Indigenous festival or walk a sacred Songline with an elder, your visit will contribute to the ongoing survival of the world’s oldest continuous living culture. In turn, you will gain insights into a deeply spiritual way of life and learn to see Australia’s landscape through ancient eyes.
Consider staying at an Indigenous-owned caravan park such as the Broken Head Holiday Park on the NSW far-north coast, which is owned and managed by the Arakwal People of Byron Bay. See brokenheadholidaypark.com.au
TICK OF APPROVAL
The good news? More of us care about doing the right thing than ever before. Sometimes we just need guidance in sorting the genuine from the ‘greenwash’. This is where ECO Certification comes in; where a tick is given to tourism products that are committed to sustainable practices and provide a primary focus on nature. Managed by Ecotourism Australia, the program is divided into three levels — Nature Tourism, Ecotourism and Advanced Ecotourism. Support a caravan park displaying the logo and you’ll rest easier knowing you’re doing your bit, even while you’re sleeping. See ecotourism.org.au
“In choosing a park that’s Eco Tourism Certified, guests have the added advantage of knowing their travel is of a lower footprint and they are contributing to a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious business,” said Fiona Lidgett from the Advanced Certified Bush Oasis Caravan Park in Townsville.
Some campsites enforce strict self-contained vehicle policies — credit Kerry van der Jagt
As well as implementing waste and energy reduction programs, the park also supports social initiatives such as Be Kind, a not-for-profit that is dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health.
Another program to look out for is EcoStar Accreditation. Managed by the Australian Tourism Industry Council, it is awarded to operators in recognition of their commitment to environmental management.
Big4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park, which sits on the Murray River in South Australia, is currently completing their accreditation. Operations Manager Susan Peucker said the park wants to ensure that any activity on the land is in harmony with the river environment.
“By following sustainable and responsible business practices, we aim to reduce our carbon footprint and to impact the thoughts and behaviours of our team, guests and local community,” said Peucker.