Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of people with passports than most countries, and countries which are poorer are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.
I’m a travelophile. Like Asians need rice, Italians pasta, British curry, Kiwi’s fish and chips: I need to travel. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not have to go the flavour of the month.
This means I often arrive in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.
This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?
My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has least impact while providing greatest benefits.
Independent travellers are the ones most likely be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours have often paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.
Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.
Life on a marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes, the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then leave – taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – usually bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.
We think of New Zealand as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground or dirty air. So, are we conservation minded or is it just our low population that produces less rubbish? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has. Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This is not a New Zealand only problem.
It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that beside me, waiting for their turn, to record the moment, is another busload of chattering travellers.
The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.
This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”
However, help maybe at hand. An organisation called Green Globe 21 is on the rise in New Zealand. Some 200 companies have embraced its ten different indicators for sustainable environmental codes. What is even better is that many local authorities have signed up too. (www.greenglobe21.com)
What can I do? Shop at locally owned places wherever I am; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. Kiwi Host, Green Globe) are a good start.
Combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.
Fujian province, China, is unknown to most Western travellers but is the most famous and perhaps the most visited area for local tourism.
‘Secretive and reclusive’ were terms often used about China but things are changing.
You will know it’s home to chopsticks, calligraphy, acupuncture, the Silk Road, and Tiananmen Square, and of course the Chinese invented paper, printing, gunpowder and the umbrella.
Xiamen, the city by the sea, is at the mouth of the Nine Dragon River, and has frequently been labelled one of China’s most beautiful cities. It’s also been called a garden on the sea and is consistently named one of China’s most liveable cities, and was once called Amoy by Westerners. The climate is subtropical, and as it is on the coast and with very little heavy industry, and no coal for domestic heating, it’s here is cleaner than most Chinese cities.
This island city, opposite Taiwan, has been an important trading port since the Song Dynasty 960 until 1279 and was a seaport open to foreign trade. The Portuguese with the first European traders in 1541. It is still an important trading place especially as it was one of the first four special economic zones in 1981.
During my week in the area we visited their amazing library which had originally been a foundry. It retains the huge features of such a building and has been converted amazingly.
Follow my footsteps on our trip via this slide show.
NOTE: I travelled in this region as part of a cultural delegation from Xiamen’s sister city Wellington, New Zealand. See more here – http://www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for photos on Instagram.
E-copies of my three books are half price this month YAY for you lucky buyers. A reminder of what they are:
Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad (the story of me running away from home at 50, travelling the world for a year, alone, and with no plans – it was so good I did it three more times – and, of course, I’m still travelling)
Surviving Suicide: a mother’s story (all about my son’s death and my later career as a suicide bereavement counsellor)
A love letter to Malaysian Borneo: or can this travel writer be green (Malaysia is my favourite Asian country and this small book looks at my adventures in Sabah and Sarawak and discusses eco issues around worldwide travel)
Heather Hapeta AKA the KiwiTravelWriter, got her first passport and ran away from home on her 50th birthday.
With a backpack, an around the world air ticket, and no other bookings she travelled the world: this book tells of her year of adventures from Alaska to Zimbabwe. It was so good she’s done it twice more and now lives as a travel writer, photographer, and blogger.
Hard copies are available directly from the author (NZ addresses only), and e-versions from Amazon and other e-book retailers.