Sunday, August 2, 2009

Zinc Travel Magazine

Go Green

Imagine getting to stay at an exotic location most people would donate their left kidney to visit. For free. Think lush World Heritage-listed rainforests, remote girths of outback, sun-sodden islands and other cool places. Plus you get to help save the world. You'll be helping everything from endangered cassowaries to spotted quolls, as well as wildlife corridors and native plant-life. And in most cases, you need zip zero nix experience. These days, there are stacks and stacks of volunteer conservation projects to choose from that can have you living virtually for free on some far-flung piece of paradise in exchange for a bit of work. So if you feel like going hippy or have already gone feral and are sick to death of package tours, then here are just a few places that will have you salivating faster than you can say mung bean.

Lush Rainforests

Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station
In Far North Queensland (about 80km north of Cairns) is Cape Tribulation, home to one of the largest tracts of virgin rainforest on the plant - the World Heritage-listed wet tropical rainforests. These rainforests have been around for 100 million years, with some of the trees being over 3000 years old. Cape Trib is also home to the famous Daintree Rainforest, crocodiles, Coconut Beach, jungle creeks, coral reefs and heaps more.

Up at the research station, one of the team's prime reasons for being there is to protect and rehabilitate their large flying fox colony, as well as to educate the public. They're also involved in the research of rainforest regeneration, energy conservation and a whole host of other eco-friendly activities. The station has up to 50 volunteers per year visiting the station, and that's where you come in. You'll be helping to look after the flying fox colony and assist with rainforest regeneration. You'll also be building and maintaining station buildings and equipment. Be prepared to be worked pretty hard, but you get Mondays off. "Happy Mondays", as it's been named by the team, allows you to head off by yourself and explore the local terrain. Visitors are also asked to be prepared to get over any fears of fungi, spiders and dirt...

Now, here are the rules. A stay of at least two weeks is requested, and they'd prefer you to stay for longer. You need to be over 25, unless you have skills they need, such as you're a tradie or a biologist. The rate is US$15 per day, which includes food and accommodation, although they are pretty negotiable. To arrange a visit, contact that station well in advance and tell them where your interests lie.

Tropical Islands

Lizard Island Research Station

Lizard Island, also based in Queensland, is 240km north of Cairns. Situated on the Great Barrier Reef and boasting 24 sandy white private beaches, it's one of the most northern and secluded islands on the Reef, as well as one of the world's most exclusive (read: expensive). Known as a hideaway for the world's rich & famous, guests have included members of the royal family and a night will set you back around $9000 a night. Boasting such stringent activities as swimming, snorkelling and general napping, it's also a diving and fishing mecca.

But as a guest of the Lizard Island Research Station, you pay next to nothing as a station volunteer. In return, you are expected to give up four hours a day to outdoor manual labour, which can include building, painting, digging and filling up scuba tanks. The minimum stay at the research station is one week, with the maximum being two but they are pretty negotiable. You've got to be over 18. You also get free accommodation but must provide your own food. Research on the island includes monitoring the troublesome Crown of Thorn starfish, which is truing to eat the Reef, and providing on-reef facilities to coral reef researchers around the world. You're more likely to be accepted if you visit in the Winter months and, again, lots of advance notice is required.

If you are a little more in the know, you can arrange to get on the island as a research volunteer by finding yourself a researcher who needs an extra pair of hands. Work includes lots of diving and lab work - perfect for the biology student with a dive certificate.

Orpheus Island Research Station
Orpheus Island is a tiny speck about 100km away from Townsville in Queensland and has a permanent population of about 45 people. It's also on the Great Barrier Reef and if you like your animals au naturale, then Orpehus is the place for you. The island has 1100 species of fish, 340 varieties of coral, 50 types of birds, giant turtles, dolphins and humpback whales. The research station on the island is run by James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville and conducts a wide range of marine work. It runs a volunteer internship that lasts from two weeks to three months. You will be expected to work 20-28 hours per week in exchange for free accommodation, but you're responsible for your own food. Those of you who have boat licenses or are qualified divers will have a much better time as you'll be able to get out and about with the research team rather than being stuck back at shore doing paperwork or looking after their gear.

Heron Island Research Station
One of the tiniest islands on the Great Barrier Reef (you can walk around it in 45 minutes), Heron Island has the largest abundance of marine life on the Reef. Located 70km off the central Queensland coast, it's a long way from the mainland but well worth the trip - it's absolutely pristine. Clear waters teeming with fish, no ugly buildings and the reef literally right at your feet. It's one of the most untouched islands you'll find.

The research station itself is well established and is seen as the most prestigious marine station in Australian, running out of the University of Queensland. The team spends most of its time obtaining information about the local ocean life and as it is literally right on the Reef, an enormous amount of work gets down there. The station takes volunteers for two weeks at a time and provides accommodation for some basic work around the station.

Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA)
Conservation Volunteers Australia is a fantastic outfit that provides excellent project opportunities for travellers looking for a little more meaning in their journey. Past activities have included:

  • Four days on Queensland's Mission Beach regenerating World Heritage rainforest to provide habitat for the endangered cassowary..
  • A four-day tree planting jaunt in Port Stephens (New South Wales) to establish wildlife corridors for native animals and birds. A must for dolphin and koala lovers...
  • Four days on Tasmania's East Coast removing the blackberry and thistle taking over the native vegetation..
  • Five days at Pelican Lagoon in South Australia locating echidnas and measuring the deep core temperature of Rosenberg's goannas..
  • Ten days off the beaten track in Mt Winter (350km west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory) based around the local Aboriginal community identifying the existence of the spotted quoll.

Interested? Who wouldn't be. Go on, get out there..