Jolly green holidays
Christine McCabe presents the country’s best eco experiences for animal-loving youngsters
REENPEACE has nothing on most children when it comes to environmental agitation. Many parents have had their recycling skills held up to ridicule by an alarmingly well-informed five-year-old. So why not help channel this green passion with a holiday that enhances your child’s understanding of the environment (albeit in a totally fun way) while you sneak off for a quick cocktail and a lie-down?
Range far and wild: Even in today’s hyper-connected world children are still beguiled by the concept of the island castaway. On tiny Heron Island, a pictureperfect Queensland coral cay perched on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast from Gladstone, young guests can realise their Robinson Crusoe dreams while parents enjoy some minor refurbishment in the Aqua Soul Spa. A Junior Ranger program, tailored for children seven to 12 and developed by the island’s team of marine biologists and nature guides and the University of Queensland, features activities designed to stimulate children’s interest in the environment.
Reef walks, bird-watching, beachcombing, tree-planting and paper-making enable children to progress through a series of badges, scout-style, culminating in the very cool Junior Ranger decoration. The program operates during eastern states’ school holidays (or by prior arrangement). A one-off $65 registration fee helps fund the Queensland Turtle Conservation Program. www.heronisland.com.
Also in Queensland, on the larger but no less magical Fraser Island, Kingfisher Bay Resort is raising its own crop of Junior Eco Rangers. With a series of programs for children five to 14, Kingfisher promotes a lively exploration of the environment through play and more scientific activities, including water testing and plant spotting. Head ranger Colin Anderson says the various programs (operating morning, afternoon and evening) have been designed to entice even young teens through bush art, guided walks, story telling, orienteering, rope courses and canoeing.
At night, children can spotlight for bats, sugar gliders and frogs or make damper on the campfire. During the day the entire family is welcome to join in a free daily program of bird-watching, mammalspotting and marine, mangrove and bushtucker walks. The eco ranger program is available weekends and during school holidays. www.kingfisherbay.com.
Say boo at the zoo: Today’s best zoos serve as conservation arks devoted to the breeding of rare and endangered animals. At the 1000ha Monarto Open Range Zoo, an hour from Adelaide, older children can observe this process first-hand by becoming a zoo keeper for the day.
Working side by side with wildlife management staff, they help care for a menagerie that may include cheetahs, lions, rhinos, African dogs and giraffes. The program operates Wednesdays and Sundays and costs $350 for nine hours. While this one is for older teens (minimum age is 15), juniors as young as 10 are welcome to meet the Monarto lions, help with feeding and tuck them into their night quarters ($100 for one hour). And
Nature lesson: A sea cucumber gets close attention from youngsters participating in the Junior Rangers program while staying on tiny Heron Island
Safe distance: Animal magic at Werribee Open Range Zoo older children (minimum age 16) are able to meet face to face inside the enclosure with the zoo’s hand-reared cheetahs Skukusa, Askari and Tsotsie ($170).
With the recent acquisition of adjoining land, Monarto is set to become the largest open-range zoo in the world and has plans to establish an African-style safari camp. www.adelaidezoo.com.au.
In Victoria, the Werribee Open Range Zoo, 30 minutes from Melbourne, already operates an atmospheric safari camp and the zoo’s many brilliantly landscaped exhibits feature lions, hippos, monkeys and cheetahs. Behind-the-scenes tours for children five to 12 operate during school holidays (bookings essential). Children as young as eight are also welcome to witness the lions’ Rip Roaring Feed ($50 children; $70 adults) while the African-style open vehicle adventure takes them on to the plains to commune with zebras, antelopes, giraffes and rhinos.
But best of all is the Slumber Safari operating September to May and suitable for children aged from 12. Bunking down under canvas above the Werribee savannah is as about as close to Africa as you’ll get in Oz (from $285). www.zoo.org.au.
The real deal: On the cusp of Kakadu, Bamurru Plains and EcoTraining Australia have come up with the perfect family holiday for the July break. While parents loll in five-star luxury under the canvas of a safari suite at Bamurru (replete with ravishing flood plain views, open bar and fab food), their children will be nearby in camp, working with the staff of EcoTrain- ing Australia. (Launched earlier this year, this is Australia’s first hands-on guide training program. See T&I, May 23.)
Children are taught bush skills and learn about Aboriginal culture while experiencing the region’s teeming bird and wildlife including crocodiles, buffaloes, brumbies and wallabies. They join their parents on guided bushwalks, open-top safari drives and thrilling air boat tours of the flood plains and drowned melaleuca forests before hitting the camp cot.
And if your children decide they’d like to go on safari permanently have them apply for one of EcoTraining Australia’s wilderness guide scholarships. www.bamurruplains.com; www.ecotrainingaustralia.com.au.
Learn the ropes: The not-for-profit Earthwatch Institute, which enables travellers to join scientific and environmental field research across the globe, also operates student-only, week-long projects for participants 16 to 18 years. Not just for science geeks, these programs, based around frog research in NSW and the echidnas and goannas of South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, provide on-the-job training while offering students the chance to experience life in the field.
Participants work alongside experts and, on Kangaroo Island, after a day spent radio-tracking echidnas, enjoy the comforts of a world-class research station with the resident cook.
Children as young as 10 are welcome to join family teams as part of the frog project in the Watagan National Park near Newcastle. Children are excellent frog spotters and there are plenty of other diversions (games and bushwalks) to keep them busy during the less active aspects of the project. www.earthwatch.org/australia.
Just deserts: One of Australia’s most enthralling eco attractions lies 10 minutes from Alice Springs and is essential viewing for kids of all ages. The acclaimed Alice Springs Desert Park showcases the animals, plants and mesmerising landscapes of our deserts, together with their various uses by Aboriginal people. Interpretative tours (many led by Central Australian Aboriginal guides) and a wonderful nocturnal house are diverting but the star attraction is the free flying birds of prey show. (Expect cries of delight when the wedge-tailed eagle lands.) During school holidays, the park operates themed interpretative tours for children as well as an education-based website for teachers and kids. www.alicespringsdesertpark.com.au.