New Galapagos travel rules help protect the islands for future visitors

New travel regulations in the Galapagos Islands will help protect the environment thereA month ago we told you about some significant changes to the rules of travel in the Galapagos Islands that will go in effect in 2012. In a nutshell, the new regulations say that a ship cannot visit the same island twice within a 14-day period, which will likely have an impact on the available itineraries that are currently being offered to visit the place. While the intent of that story was to inform travelers of these changes and how they could impact any future plans to visit the Galapagos, the article failed to mention exactly why these changes are being made.

As most travelers know, the Galapagos are a unique and very special place. Located approximately 525 miles west of Ecuador, they are home to a large number of plant and animal species, many of which aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Those creatures include several types of sea turtles, the flightless cormorant, warm water penguins, and a marine iguana that actually dives under the ocean to capture its prey.

The Islands were famously visited by Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, back in 1835, and his observations of the endemic plant and animal life there led to his groundbreaking work The Origin of Species. The Galapagos are like a fantastic, living laboratory, offering Darwin, and other researchers that followed, an opportunity to observe the way animals adapt to their environment in a natural setting that is unlike any other on the planet.Because of the diversity of plants and animals on the Islands, UNESCO designated the Galapagos as a World Heritage Site in 1978, and in recent years it has become a popular tourist destination. So popular in fact, that the number visitors has begun to threaten the fragile environments of the Islands, which were amongst the most pristine, well preserved wildernesses on Earth. In an effort to ensure that they stay that way, the Ecuadorian government has instituted the new travel rules to help prevent over crowding and to spread tourist traffic more evenly across the 19 islands that make up the chain.

It should be noted that while these new regulations will force tour operators to change their itineraries, and in some cases the way they do business, the announcement has been met with universal applause. By prohibiting vessels from visiting the same location twice in a two week period, they are also limiting the size of the crowds on an island on any given day. This makes the experience all that much better for the visitors, while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum as well.

While doing some research on this topic, I corresponded with several tour operators, and it quickly became clear to me how much they loved the Galapagos. Each of them remarked about how happy they were to see these regulations put into place and how it would help preserve the Islands for future visitors to enjoy as well. This is an example of how sustainable tourism can allow us to continue to visit the spectacular places of our planet, while also protecting them from harm. As avid travelers, I’m sure that is something that we can all get behind.

Driving from Australia to Norway without stopping for gas

Four men plan to drive from Australia to Norway on biodiesel alone. Four Aussie men are preparing to make an epic road trip that will see them drive from their home in Australia all the way to Norway. That, in and of itself, should make for quite an adventure, but they’ll also make the journey without stopping at a single gas station along the way. Instead, they’ll use biodiesel to power their vehicle and they’ll gas up by collecting cooking oil and animal fat from restaurants and pubs, which they’ll convert into fuel instead.

The journey has been labeled The Green Way Up and it will get underway in March. The drive will start in Hobart, Australia, the southernmost point on that continent and will end more than 28,000 miles later in the northernmost part of Norway. Along the way, the team will pass through 30 different countries, spotlighting the use of alternative fuels on a local level along the way.

In fact, the focus of the entire trip is to bring the use of alternative fuels to the attention of the general public, placing an emphasis on their importance to the environment and the future of energy for the planet. The team is so committed to using biodiesel for instance, that they’ve built their own special processor to create the fuel they’ll use along the way, and their putting the final touches on a biodiesel-powered boat that will carry them from Darwin, Australia to Singapore, with stops on the islands in East Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia along as well.

To find out more about this expedition, visit the official website and check out the video below. Anyone else feel inspired to go on a big road trip now?

[Photo credit: The Green Way Up]


Green Way Up from Jo Melling on Vimeo.

Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

Australia floodsWhat is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Photo of the Day (10.16.2010)

Sure, a sunset is a cliche. But really, who doesn’t love a good sunset? Especially while on vacation. If I were in this picture, I’d probably be just finishing up happy hour and daring myself to swim out to the boat to make some new friends. Alas, I’m typing this from the carpeted floor of my parents’ office, only wishing I was one of the three dipping my toes into that soft water.Thanks, Ka Wai Punahele, for this shot of Australia’s Mindil Beach.

Have any sunset photos that spark vacation envy? Post them to Gadling’s Flickr pool, and we just might choose one for our Photo of the Day feature.

Photo of the Day (8.24.10)

I think it’s fair to say that everyone deserves to experience a moment like this in their lifetime. A remote beach. A dramatic sunset. Stormy clouds hanging in the distance with nightfall soon approaching. Flickr user Ka wai punahele immortalized this picture perfect moment on the coast of Australia’s sparse Northern Territory, just outside the city of Darwin.

Casuarina Beach (the gorgeous subject of the photo) is in Darwin’s northern suburb of Brinkin, which is just a stone’s throw from the Darwin Airport. Darwin is one of Australia’s most modern capital cities, having been rebuilt once after WWII and again in 1974 after Cyclone Tracy.

Do you have a once-in-a-lifetime moment from your travels that must be shared? Upload it to our Gadling Flickr pool and it could be tomorrow’s Photo of the Day!