Ditch modern civilisation and go wild! (Just be responsible about it.) In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we've got the top 10 feel-good sustainable travel experiences.
1. National parks volunteer, USA
Fall asleep to a chorus of wolf calls and count bears as your neighbours by volunteering at one of the USA's national parks. Volunteering positions range from tour guiding to scientific research, and provide plenty of opportunities to gain a unique perspective on nature. Opportunities also exist for artist-in-residence programs – where you can render the great outdoors. Every volunteer hour spent nourishes the chronically underfunded national parks system. For further info, check out www.nps.gov/volunteer. Volunteers work a minimum of 32 hours; remuneration for expenses is dependent on the local organisation for which you are volunteering.
2. Carpathian Large Carnivore Project, Romania
Europe's largest concentration of large carnivores roams Romania's alpine meadows. Even if a bear, lynx or wolf doesn't pass your way, a portion of the price of these CLCP ecotours goes towards protecting habitat and community development. Low-impact tours benefi t the local economy (by staying in local guesthouses) and demonstrate that large carnivores and humans can coexist. Volunteers can now register through www.ecovolunteer.org, which matches people with destinations or species to be conserved.
3. Mt Borradaile's Aboriginal rock-art site, Australia
Mt Borradaile's honeycombed escarpments and outcrops host an unknown number of rock paintings, some of which date back 50,000 years. By being one of the few visitors allowed here at any given time, you're not only participating in a momentous art-appreciation class, but also providing income to the traditional owners, the Ulba Bunidj people. Tours are strictly managed by Davidsons Arnhemland Safaris and include interpretive time-out: exploring the magnificent Northern Territory outback. Fly into Arnhem Land by light plane from Darwin; or rent a 4WD in Darwin or Katherine; you must obtain a permit to enter Arnhem Land, for details see www.nlc.org.au.
4. Hiking, Bhutan
The world's last Buddhist kingdom, Bhutan measures its success in terms of Gross National Happiness. Such an ethos ensures a preserved environment both culturally and environmentally. A tour with a government-approved operator
(see www.tourism.gov.bt) is a prerequisite, and will likely include a hike through yak meadows high in the Himalaya. Geographically cut off from the rest of the world, 70% of Bhutan remains covered in forest. Break in your body with mild and mad day hikes around the capital, Thimphu; for maps and more, visit www.trekkinginbhutan.com.
5. Whale-watching, New Zealand
The Maori-owned and -operated Whale Watch company supports the indigenous Ngai Tahu community, located in Kaikoura on New Zealand's South Island. Its boats operate all year round, and sightings include gentle aquatic giants such as sperm whales, humpbacks, blue whales and orcas, depending on the season (80% refund if no whales are spotted on a tour). Boats keep a respectful distance from these celebrity creatures, and the in-tour commentary focuses on conservation efforts and cultural information. Kaikoura is roughly midway between Picton and Christchurch on the South Island; take the (regular) bus service or drive along State Highway 1 for about
6. Sea-kayaking, Fiji
Paddle past postcard-perfect beaches through aquamarine shallows mottled with reefs, where schools of teeny fish and ancient-looking turtles break the surface to catch a breath. Sea-kayaking in the waters that lap the Pacific Islands
and camping in traditional villages make a negligible environmental impact on this stunning habitat. You'll need to pack some stamina for Southern Sea Ventures' nine-day kayaking trip, and develop a taste for kava – a beverage whose flavour has been likened to that of a dirty puddle. A five-day kayaking and camping trip around the islands with Southern Sea Adventures costs around US$1000.
7. Cruising, Antarctica
It's impossible not to see the planet differently when you're sailing through the white wilderness of Antarctica. Where else would you regularly see whales flip-flopping among the icebergs, hundreds of thousands of penguins waddling
across white plains of ice, albatrosses wheeling in the skies overhead, and sea elephants nonchalantly belching? Around 30 cruise ships work in the Antarctic waters; all are required to abide by strict minimum environmental-impact guidelines set out by the Independent Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). Before booking, check operators adhere to IAATO's guidelines. IAATO's directory lists over 100 respected operators from around the world.
8. Chalalán Lodge, Bolivia
Hidden away deep in Amazonian Bolivia there is a cluster of cabins set in a fertile area that is home to 11% of the world's species of flora and fauna. Chalalán Lodge is entirely managed by the Quechua-Tacano indigenous community, and
a share of the enterprise's profits goes to fund community health and education facilities. It's encircled by 14 well-marked nature trails, and the majority of guests choose to spend their mornings swinging through the jungle before spending the rest of the day swinging in the lodge's hammocks. The best time to visit is during the dry months from May to October; from Rurrenabaque head 30km west to the Madidi National Park.
9. Shadow the bushmen of the Kalahari, Namibia
As a visitor at Tsumkwe Lodge, you get to tag along with the San (bushmen of the Kalahari) and observe and partake in their daily activities. The San have survived in the Kalahari Desert for at least 40,000 years, so can teach a city slicker
a thing or two about living in the wilderness. A morning's outing may include sampling the ‘fruits' of the desert (berries and tubers) or witnessing a finely honed hunt for antelope. Sunvil Africa in the UK works closely with the lodge, and can advise on its suitability for individual travellers. Tours usually run from July to October and cost a minimum of US$1500-plus, depending on group size.
10. Mountain gorilla safari, Rwanda & Uganda
Sharing an hour with gorillas in the wild is an utterly unforgettable experience, but one that does require some effort. It can take you and your machete-wielding guide the better part of a morning to track a family to its 'playground', and associated costs can be prohibitive. Tourism is confined to Rwanda and Uganda and is strictly limited. Discovery Initiatives offers a 14-day itinerary that has been developed in conjunction with nongovernmental organisations working for the conservation of gorillas. The more time on safari, the more likely you will see a gorilla; three-day tours are possible, but longer ones are recommended.