True or not, people overseas regard us Kiwis as committed to maintaining a healthy natural environment, helped, of course, by our country being branded as 100 per cent Pure, clean and green. Though this high regard has its (economic) benefits, it also brings with it some responsibility. Here are five tips to help you keep a clean, green conscience when travelling.
1. Planning your trip: With major booking sites such as booking.com offering eco-friendly options, it's never been easier to search not only for a good deal, but also an environmentally friendly one. If booking through a travel agency, these are the experts, so feel free to ask them for hotels or activities with environmental or sustainability certification.
Here are a few questions you could ask:
• Does the hotel have an environmental or sustainability policy?
• How many local people does the tourism business employ, and does it source local products?
• Does the hotel or tour operator support any projects to benefit the local community or environmental and conservation projects?
• Is there any guidance and advice provided to guests on local cultures and customs?
• Is the hotel or tour operator certified, for example by the Green Globe Scheme?
2. Stay Green and Local: Long gone are the times when eco-conscious travelling meant having to share your bedroom with five others in some crowded inner city hostel. All around the world, growing awareness of environmental issues has led to a boom in sustainable accommodation, catering to all needs and wallets. Take Sydney, for example, with its multi-award winning, modern Harbour YHA (budget), or the secluded, quirky Old Leura Dairy in the Blue Mountains. Melbourne's Alto Hotel, the ParkRoyal in Singapore, or the Great Ponsonby Art Hotel right here in Auckland - the list of inspiring green hotels is long.
Another rising trend has been to stay with locals - people like you and me with a spare room, which they rent to travellers for a fee. Portals like AirBnB are a great way to really get to know a place and its people.
3. Getting there: For New Zealanders, this is the hardest part, as air travel will never be environmentally friendly - at least as long as solar-powered aviation is still in the skies. The best way to keep your carbon footprint as low as possible - apart from visiting places within New Zealand rather than overseas - is to offset your carbon emissions through the schemes provided by almost all of the major airlines, including Air New Zealand, or dedicated organisations like Atmosfair.
It won't make your impact on the atmosphere any better, but at least those emissions will be balanced by some tree planting or other initiative elsewhere. If offsetting is too costly, you can still do your bit by letting the airline know that you care and would like them to invest in alternative fuels, for example. Generally, the more modern your aircraft, the smaller its environmental impact.
4. When you're there: Whenever possible, leave the car and walk, cycle or use public transport. Select a hotel close to public transportation or near the places you are going to visit during your stay. Many cities now offer public bicycle schemes that you can use, or hop on one of the fun bike tours offered by operators such as Bonza in Sydney. Walk to places if you can. Not only is this the most eco-friendly way, it will also give you an authentic feel for the place. Opt for tour operators dedicated to environmental best practice and responsible tourism.
Wildlife tours in particular require good local knowledge and dedication to wildlife preservation, rather than exploitation. Look out (or ask your travel agent) for tours operated locally to make sure your tourist dollars benefit the local community. Whether koala conservation with Echidna Walkabout in Melbourne, or blue penguin support with Elm Wildlife tours on Dunedin's Otago peninsula, not only will you leave with a camera full of great shots, but also with the feeling that you did the right thing.
5. Engage, give feedback: Finally, and this is perhaps the most important bit, show that you care by letting the accommodation provider or tour operator know that you appreciate their sustainability efforts. Whenever you get a chance, talk to the manager, or use the feedback form. Tourism being demand-driven, this will encourage businesses that care to keep it up.
Don't shy away from giving feedback if you think something could be improved. Let the rest of us know about your great green vacation by sharing your experiences on review sites such as TripAdvisor.