eco travel and carbon footprints

Eco travel and a recycled column: first published a couple of years ago (altho the photo is only a week old! Siam Safari on Phuket in Thailand)

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of passports-holders some 80% compared with the fewer than 20% of Americans.( the most recent figure I can find) I’m a travelophile; like Asians need rice, Italians need pasta, British their curry and we Kiwi crave our fish and chips – I need to travel.

When I travel I feel great, and as a traveller and freelance writer means I visit where I want to go to – looking for both stories and fun – I don’t want to go to the flavour-of-the-month, or be ticking off some list of must-go-to-places. However with global warming and our position here at the bottom of the world, means we use more carbon to get to our holiday destinations (and this is a burgeoning problem for our tourist industry with Europeans now being told to holiday at or near home – specifically saying Australia and NZ are too far to travel. So what can I do about the carbon footprint I leave whenever I travel?

Well to start I reduce my use of carbon at home. I haven’t owned a car since 1995 and use our big red buses, a bike, and my feet. Living in the city means I can walk to a supermarket and catch the eco-friendly free, yellow shuttle bus home with my backpack and the more eco-friendly reusable shopping bags. I also recycle all I can.

However this doesn’t clear our carbon emissions but we can help by using eco bulbs, energy efficient frigs and washing machines and when we travel take as little luggage as possible. The more we carry the more fuel the plane needs and of course the more emissions it produces … so leave that extra pair of shoes behind and take a paperback not a hardcover book.

Theoretically, we can also offset our personal carbon footprint by buying carbon credits – this has been in practice for a few years but you need to check them carefully to know it’s not just a dodgy company that wants to build a fortune. Air NZ is considering ways to collect carbon credits from their customers and I have no doubt that their scheme will be a good way of salving our conscience for the pollution we produce.

We can also support genuine eco-tourism companies and practise the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism? Briefly, it’s an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the community it’s in. Independent travellers are more likely being eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country – while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home- giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge infrastructure 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 – a great eco experience. Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain 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 – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws abound.

We think of New Zealand – and market our country – as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground. And are we really conservation minded or is it just the low population that produces less rubbish? What about visual pollution? 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 participate in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has with Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes so they can see wonderful pristine sights. It this an oxymoron? It’s not only a New Zealand problem. At Lake Louise in Canada, I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see 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 have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

More recently I was shocked at the air pollution at the fabulous Taj Mahal. The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel will continue if we rely on some unimaginative travel agents and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in specific 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. What can I do about global warning and travel? Both at home and abroad I shop at locally-owned places; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g.  in New Zealand support Kiwi Host, Green Globe, YHA,) and don’t change my towels daily in motels or hotels.

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.

go ride a bike – in thailand

Last week I was riding a bicycle in Thailand ….. I’m now in the process of writing a story about it – well more about me and how unfit I am, and how hot the day was: keep your eye out for it in a newspaper or magazine.

Part of the cycle trip on Phuket in Thailand
Part of the cycle trip on Phuket in Thailand

In the meantime, thought I would tell you about Spice Tours.

I did their Bangkok bike trip ( 35k) a couple of years ago and can recommend them: and right now they have 10% off all trips  starting after 31st March and includes all of 2010 (they have cycle trips all over Asia —  from hours to days long — so if that sounds like something you would fancy, have a look at the website. (and start practising .. not just little rides around a flat city like I live in!)

Check here for information about cycling in Thailand  in particular.

the how, why, and when girl

I aim to provide authentic travel tales that make you think “I want to go there”, or conversely, “that’s the last place I’d want to be” depending on my experience.

My grandmother was right when she called me the “how, why and when girl”: curiosity is the first thing I pack when travelling, an essential but lightweight item.

Check out more about this blogger and writer   

Vibrant Gujarat, where life is a celebration

Palace and golf course
Palace and golf course

Laden with history and tradition, birthplace of religions, covered with ancient monuments and temples – which are often set in breathtaking scenery – full of pageantry, privilege and poverty, India is crammed with contrasts. Along with the droughts and floods, crowded cities and peaceful villages, fabulous festivals and varied food of India, in Gujarat I dance during Navratri (the longest dance festival in the world) and I’m shown a palace with its own golf course.

Golf is one of India’s best-kept secrets and this beautiful course is at the historic Lakshmi Vilas Palace Estate in Vadodara. In 1930 His Highness Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad developed this private course for his European guests, and sixty-five years later his grandson re-developed it and named it the Gaekwad Baroda Golf Club: using the British name for the ancient capital city, Baroda, a name that still lingers.

Set in the grounds of this magnificent royal residence we are told peacocks are often seen strutting around as if they owned it. Our guide also tells us the membership at this club is so full and desirable that a member had remarked to him, “If you believe in rebirth, you need to sign up for membership now then come and claim it in two more lifetimes.”

The lush green fairways set against the palace backdrop create a mini oasis away from the noise of the city. Golf continues to be a rich mans sport in India, with, only 200,000 players and about 250 golf courses in a country of over a billion,. The number of women golfers is probably no more than a few thousand. Most clubs are privately owned or membership-based and the sport is all the rage: Indian parents, like others around the world, hope to have given birth to a future Tiger Woods.

Gujarat is the birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi
Gujarat is the birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi

Built, by Maharaja Sayajirao in 1890, in a mixture of several different styles (Mogul, Rajasthan and western) it is still the residence of the royal family and has a remarkable collection of old armoury and sculptures in bronze, marble & terracotta. I’m also told a British architect was hired to design the palace, but there were errors in the structure and he suicided soon after it was finished.

It took an Italian master craftsman nearly a year to complete the mosaic tile floor in the ballroom – where club members are admitted to attend concerts put on by the maharaja.

I was with a group from India, a few from Europe and an American of Indian descent, and we have been given confusing messages about taking photos. I get a shock when a man shouts at us to stop taking photos in the ornate Darbar Hall. Too late. I already have some of the cattle heads mounted on the wall and of the stained glass windows through which a little light seeps through.

great murals on palace walls
great murals on palace walls

Earlier, standing on the edge of the greens we had been told more of the story of this dynasty. “In those days, under British rule, on the death of a maharaja, lands became the property of the British if there was no male heir. With no children, the Maharaja’s wife begged him to adopt a son and eventually he began searching for a suitable boy.

“Hearing this people began arriving at the palace to plead for their child to be adopted but no-one was suitable. One day a merchant took his three sons to meet the maharaja. The middle child stepped forward and said, ‘I’ve come here to become a Maharaja.’ Liking his attitude the maharaja and maharani adopted him.

“The young boy had never attended school and he soon had tutors in English, German, French, Sanskrit and Gujarat.”

From such humble beginnings, today almost everything in Baroda is called after him – the palace, the railway station, the museum, the university and the courts of law. He was also the first to send his daughters to school and even imposed fines on families who did not send their children to school.

The palace grounds also houses The Maharaja Fatesingh Museum, a building that was constructed as a school for the Maharaja’s children (with a miniature railway to take them there) and where a large number of works of art belonging to the Royal family are on display.

Also within the 700 acres estate there is a riding track, clay and grass tennis courts, cricket ground – home of the famed Baroda Cricket Club – and indoor courts for badminton and tennis, as well as the 12-hole golf course.

ready for navratri
ready for navratri

So, if you are fortunate to obtain an invitation to play here, be careful during the monsoon season, as along with the torrential rains, you could catch a glimpse of a cobra or other wildlife. Last night while dancing I saw no snakes at the Navratri celebrations.

This annual festival is devoted to the Mother Goddess – Maa Amba – goddess of Shakti or power. This festival is essentially religious and is celebrated with devotion in various temples dedicated to her, however for many thousands the nine nights of dancing take centre stage.

Garba and dandia-ras, Gujarat’s popular folk-dance, are performed each night in public squares, open grounds and streets. I too joined the festivities. Women wearing colourful, embroidered and mirrored outfits called Chania Choli surround me – all enjoying the all-night dancing and last night I am taught some of the more simple steps as we circle around earthen lamps which house the image or spirit of the mother goddess. From dancing to golf, Gujarat has it all: as their tourism department says: Vibrant Gujarat, where life is a celebration.

For more information

Heather Hapeta is a New Zealand travel writer and author of Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad. (ISBN 978-0-473-11675-0)

how to write travel stories. TOP TEN TIPS

My next one-day travel writing workshop ( They Pay you to do What!) is 13th August  2011 in Wellington, New Zealand

Chaffers Marina, Wellington, NZ

Keen on travel – like to write?  As travel editor of newspaper (now defunct so please don’t send me stories J ) here is a list of what we wanted from people who wanted to send us submissions. I hope some of these will be helpful as good tips for you travel writing.

Here’s what we asked for: Firstly we required authentic travel articles from people with a passion for travel.

  • In other words, you have actually been there, done that. If you haven’t actually got the T-shirt, you at least have real experience to write about, not information gleaned (plagiarised) from the internet or travel book. They are great for research before you go – we want to hear about your adventures after the trip; good and bad.
  • So what makes a good travel article? The goal is to transfer the emotional experience to the reader.
  • Avoid long scenery bits and a day by day, sight by sight, blow by blow  account of your journey.
  • Tempt with flavour, use weather to create atmosphere. Encourage with imaginative language, and resolve doubts with facts.
  • Take an unusual viewpoint and offer practical advice. Disabled travellers, parents with children and others need relevant information.
  • Who, what, how, why and when are always good to start with, and don’t forget smells, sounds, touch, sight and colour.
  • Tighten the focus of any story, don’t give too much detail, people want the feel of a place not all it’s history or each shop in a street. Aim for a free flowing narrative.
  • Try to keep the personal to a minimum – you, travellers and visitors are inviting words. Frequent use of the  word “I” doesn’t encourage the reader to visit too.
  • Give a strong structure to the piece . . . beginning, middle and end. Set the scene, take the reader with you, and round off the story.
  • A fact file can be really helpful – airlines, flights, costs, best season, accommodation.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Even though I write frequently, it’s when I concentrate on these basics that the story is better, the scenery brighter and the food tastier. Check out some of my  stories on

For more of my writing check out another  blog here  

Balloon seller in Bangkok
Balloon seller in Bangkok

ALSO  see the top of this blog for comments and reviews  about my book Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad . ISBN 978-0-473-11675-0


I want to cry! Writing, blogging & computer problems

I just want to cry. And cry and cry and cry.

Over the past three days I have learnt some valuable life lessons. Most of which could be summed up in those horrible lazy sayings.

Some I already know about but didn’t respond to – ‘if you are in a hole stop digging!” and “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’

The particular hole I was in involved my computer. I used some free web access at an airport and from then on I could not send email! My mail arrived fine but my out box got bigger and bigger.

I tried to fix it ( my ‘little knowledge’ part) I looked up all the things I thought would tell me how all to no avail, I rang my isp and spent an hour on the phone. Still no solution.

In the end I did one more thing and bang – NOW I have no Outlook on my laptop … resulting in having to reinstall Microsoft Outlook – a brand new version with none of my ‘stuff’ on it . I thought it would import my old email – but no.

I now have many emails unanswered and lost. AND I have travel bloggers waiting for me to thank them for (and publish) their responses to my interview question. Mea culpa.

I am sorry but now I don’t know who I wrote to, who responded or what they said … all put into a special folder in my outlook.

I have contact for editors around the world gone, I have copies of contracts gone – could go on and on ………. I also have lost my diary with plans for the year all planned out.

Now you know why I want to cry.

If you know me and I should have your address or other information please email me. If you want to answer a two question interview re travel writing and or blogging also please email me.

The one good thing was something I learnt . in the advanced settings for my ISP is a place to tick and keep all my mail floating around in the ether. I have ticked it and if this ever happens again I will have that record to fall back on.

Travel and reading: what do you read?

The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page” according to St Augustine.

I am an avid reader and traveller so want to read and see it all. I wonder how many pages you have read? Maybe you don’t believe the old saint and see the world in different ways. Of course his world was smaller than we know it today, and we all read different types of literature.

Guess that makes the saying true, maybe it is a book – if we use that word it’s widest meaning. Some will go to Rome – for instance – and read a very different book to the one that you or I will read.web passport etc

Maybe you are an encyclopaedic type person and will have read all the history you could before arriving. You will know the dates – or at least the order of – all the various reigns and many historical twists that the city has taken. You will know some of the bloodthirsty events that took place at the Colosseum and all about the Sistine chapel in the Vatican City – the city within a city.

Other will prefer their book to be a comic, perhaps a classic that will give them all the details quickly and in manageable bite-sized portions. Comic readers will be like a couple of Aussie women and me, who, when we had been subjected to more than enough views of cathedrals were saying “ABC.” Translated it meant – another b**** church, or another WEB naked-front-coverboring cathedral. It was as if Europe was throwing pearls before swine- we had lost our appreciation when each day seemed to be dominated by yet more churches, cathedrals and their inevitable pigeons – all beginning to seem the same.

Other books I have read to inform me before, during and after my travels are the travel guides. A plethora of them and these too can range from a full hearty meal, a silver service six course classy event, to some world-wide chain takeaway food on the run, or a get your fingers dirty banana-leaf curry. As always the choice is ours: our tastes change with the weather, venue and hunger.

Travelling through this mosaic-like world – physically and via words – is a wonderful privilege and just recently I read figures that really showed just how privileged this travelling life-style is.

  • While well over 50% of New Zealanders have been overseas – so must have passports – I discovered less than 25% of Americans do; World-wide the figure for people owning passports is 3%. Although I haven’t been able to verify these figures they show a number of things. DO YOU KNOW?
  • We are an island nation so have to have a passport to go anywhere! That passport owning is not a right but a privilege – and sign of our wealth – and that kiwis, despite being flightless birds, really get around.
  • Using St Francis and his saying it seems we New Zealanders are avid readers. But what does it say about the other 97% of the world?

For many, in the poorest countries, the word is not even in their vocabulary as something they could aspire to owning. But what does it say about the world’s richest nation when so few have passports. Is it any wonder we hear words such as insular and naïve credited to them at times. Perhaps it’s because collectively they haven’t read much of the worlds pages that St Francis was talking about. Remember 10 years ago – the disbelief of the Europeans (and us Kiwis) when they found out that ‘Dubya’ – the new head of so many people- had never been to Europe, or so it seemed, ever left the USA!

Once again it makes me wonder, do broad-minded people travel or does travel make people broad-minded? I have always been broad-minded – albeit forced on me by circumstances at times – but travel has made me more so: I will keep reading the pages of this world.

There is nothing more exciting than to be alive with travelling, to not know where you will sleep that night – just the absolute certainty of knowing that it will be somewhere you have never been before.

What a wonderful freedom and richness that living on an affluent island that was peopled by adventurous explorers gives us. The privileged richness of owning a passport and therefore reading so many more pages than other nations can or do.

However, remember that privileges are equally balanced with responsibilities.

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