Jolly green hol­i­days

Chris­tine McCabe presents the coun­try’s best eco ex­pe­ri­ences for an­i­mal-loving youngsters

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

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.

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