WHILE holidays are there to cater to our every whim and offer us complete indulgence, there are times when we want a little bit more out of a travel experience.
For most of us, nature holidays are a perfect way to fill our soul with new energy - but there are scores of ways we can connect with a new road of discovery, and still come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
For some of us that's being afforded the privilege of visiting with our animal friends; for others it's exploring untouched wilderness, witnessing new cultures or “giving something back” through volunteer programs.
Here, we look at some challenging, exciting and fulfilling travel products to make your next holiday experience one you'll measure by the everlasting memories, new talents and knowledge you've acquired and sense of purpose you've achieved, as well as the new found spring in your step.Whale of a tale
Everything's bigger and better in the West, including their underwater world. Take on a Nigaloo Reef trip so you can come home and boast, “That's not a shark … this is a shark!”
Western Australia is, thanks to our low cost air services, now a completely affordable destination.
Swimming with whale sharks takes a little courage, despite the fact that the ghostly behemoths, which gather each year on the reef, are harmless to humans.
To get up-close-and-personal with a whale shark, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef is offering exclusive whale shark encounters, with accommodation, at its luxury tented camp on the edge of the reef.
Sal Salis has partnered with Ocean Eco Adventures - which has operated whale shark expeditions on Ningaloo Reef for 15 years - to offer guests private tours to swim with the whale sharks between April and June.
As the sister property of award-winning Bamurru Plains in the Northern Territory, each Sal Salis tent is appointed with fine furnishings and linen, and the dining room serves the best and freshest Australian produce.
There are three and four night whale shark packages between March 31 and June 30, costing from $2970 and $3655 per person, twin share, respectively.
■ For more, call 1300 790 561 or visit www.salsalis.com.auIt's a zoo out there!
There are not many places left on earth where you find wildlife as curious about you as you are about them; and this is the case on the Galapagos Islands.
Situated 1000km off the coast of Ecuador, this World Heritage sanctuary is not for those who want an easy stroll in a manicured garden.
It's not an easy place to get to, but it is worth every effort and should be on every “one day” wish list.
The islands' inhabitants include vast numbers of land and seabirds, reptiles and marine mammals, many of whom are found nowhere else on the planet.
This is where Charles Darwin drew his inspiration for his theory of natural selection.
Peregrine is a Melbourne-based adventure tour group with excellent responsible tourism credentials and, luckily, the company has just added the Galapagos Islands to their destination list.
Travelling with Peregrine means you'll have a local guide, your money will be generating income for local communities and everything you experience will be authentic.
Peregrine's MV San Jose is a first class vessel built in 2003, which will act as your “floating base” for exploring the islands.
The vessel carries just 16 passengers in eight comfortable cabins, and the small group size enables intimate and accessible wildlife experiences.
It costs $4260 per person, land only, twin share, ex Quito, departures between May and December.
The 16-day Ecuador and the Enchanted Isles tour combines six days cruising in the Galapagos islands with a couple of days in the Amazon at the Cotococha Jungle lodge, followed by a climb of the live volcano, Mt Cotopaxi and a recovery in the spa town of Banos.
The Ecuador & the Enchanted Isles tour costs $5390 land only, per person, twin share, ex Quito. Departures May through to December.
■ For details, contact Peregrine on 1300 854 500 or go to www.peregrineadventures.com
There is another way to see the Galapagos - as a conservation volunteer.
International volunteer travel group, i-to-I enables volunteers to visit this extraordinary wildlife destination while being involved in conservation work at the biological research station.
As a volunteer, you will assist researchers and park managers with maintaining island trails, conducting surveys and collecting data on the islands' unique and spectacular birds, reptiles and marine life.
Volunteers must make a minimum commitment of two weeks, with the opportunity to stay for up to 10 weeks.
The cost is $1705 per person for two weeks, with additional weeks costing $345, including shared accommodation, all meals, airport pickup and all on-ground support from the i-to-i team.
■ For details and bookings, visit www.i-to-i.com or call 1300 88 1590.Guiding light
Whether you are keen to enter the workplace as a nature guide, or simply want to extend your bushmanship and take your level of knowledge about Australian conditions to a new level, EcoTraining Australia's 28-day Australian Field Guide course will equip you with all the basic skills to start either a career or new passion in nature tourism.
It covers a broad array of subjects including indigenous culture and history, bush navigation, basic ecology, geology and climate, plant and bird identification, animal tracks and tracking, 4WD driving skills, basic survival, animal behaviour, conducting wildlife drives and astronomy.
The EcoTraining camp is located on Swim Creek Station, a 300 sq km buffalo station on the floodplains of the Mary River, to the west of Kakadu National Park.
Courses are scheduled to start on May 4, August 21 and October 23 and cost $4950 for the 28 days. This includes accommodation, meals, tuition and game drives.
■ For more, call (02) 8922 2650.Conserve your passion
Love Sydney Harbour? Then why not spend five days at Sydney Harbour National Park contributing to the conservation of one of our nation's most scenic areas?
Each day volunteers will travel to a different location within the park, including a day on Clarke or Shark Island, and be involved in either bush regeneration or heritage conservation activities.
These activities will contribute to the conservation of historical sites and improvement of native animal habitat.
Accommodation will be in the historic Governor's Cottage located within the National Park. Volunteer numbers are limited to eight and all participants are required to stay on-site for the duration of the project.
Conservation projects which do not include an overnight stay are free. Conservation projects which include an overnight stay cost $40 per night for short stays of 1-3 nights, including meals, accommodation and project-related travel.
Longer projects start from $208 for a week-long mini-break.
■ For more, go to www.conservationvolunteers.com.au or, for the Sydney project, call (02) 9564 1244.
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