This publication aims to introduce the strategic role that sustainable procurement can play to transform tourism by scaling up the market of sustainable products and services in the sector, enabling the reduction of GHG emissions and the shift towards a more resilient, resource-efficient development. It has been developed as part of the United Nations Environment […]
The magic of storytelling lies in its ability to simultaneously educate and inspire you; to pull you into another’s world and then spin you around to see how their life relates to yours.
When Michelle Reynolds, great granddaughter of pastoralist Steve Reynolds, tells the story of Skytrek Willow Springs Station, a Nature Tourism certified working sheep station 21km north east of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges, it’s easy to see all the elements of a great tale of endurance and adaptability.
Once a large family business in Merino Wool, Skytrek diversified into tourism when Michelle’s parents Brendan and Carmel joined her grandparents, Kevin and Margaret, as partners in the farm. With long-term environmental and economic sustainability of the farm as their prime motivation, they could not have imagined the many benefits that this sideways step would bring.
A humble but modern recently constructed shearer’s quarters that was only being used by farm workers for up to two weeks of the year was easily converted into accommodation for visitors, and Skytrek’s prime location near Wilpena Pound meant that their first venture into the tourism industry was relatively easy.
Tourism thrived in the region and despite the many hurdles they faced – a collapse in wool prices, high interest rates, droughts, floods and bushfires, just to name a few – the Reynolds family resolutely continued expanding the tourism side of their business. Soon, other existing buildings were converted to additional accommodation for travellers: the former Jackeroo’s Cottage became a self-contained cabin with two bedrooms, and the building which once housed School of the Air classes became a quaint holiday home perfect for couples and young families.
But the Reynolds family didn’t stop there: in 1994, Brendan and Carmel opened a 70km 4WD track which catapulted Skytrek from a station with some visitor accommodation to a destination for 4WD enthusiasts from all over Australia. Soon, the success of the 4WD track meant the family had to set up extra facilities for people to camp, and an increased workload meant that they had to bring on additional staff.
By the time Michelle came back to take over the tourism part of the business in 2011, her parents had diversified into yet another direction by starting a waste management business together with neighbouring properties. This business service today services many other parts of the region including Advanced Ecotourism and Climate Action Business certified Rawnsley Park Station, Advanced Ecotourism and ROC certified Wilpena Pound Resort and others.
The tourism side of Skytrek, which is by now a stand-alone enterprise, meanwhile employs two permanent staff and two additional casual employees throughout the main tourism season.
Although the Reynolds have diversified their work significantly since the station’s early days as a sheep farm, Michelle says that pastoralism is still a major focus of the station.
“Despite the drought, wool growing is still a major focus,” she says. “We’ve destocked to just a bare minimum of breeding ewes, under a quarter of our normal carrying capacity for the station. However, we remain confident it will bounce back in time – unfortunately tourism can’t make it rain.”
Whilst tourism can’t bring rain, it can bring visitors to the region who in turn provide jobs and income for local residents (not only stations but local cafes, petrol stations and stores benefit when people visit the region). Tourists also bring seasonal income which can help through periods of drought or downturn, and perhaps most importantly, they can provide real mental health benefits for rural landowners.
“The opportunity to see the area through someone else’s eyes is uplifting and reminds us how beautiful the landscape can be even at its harshest,” says Michelle.
“Sometimes just that short conversation with a visitor can completely change your day.”
Interestingly, whilst the drought provides an ongoing uphill battle for the Reynolds in terms of their pastoral side of their business, it’s not something which has put off Skytrek’s visitors. In fact, Michelle notes, guests are coming to realise that you “don’t need wildflowers or running water to make the Flinders Ranges beautiful.”
“Visitors to the region aren’t just looking for a resort to relax anymore,” she explains.
“People want to be educated, they want to learn about the different lifestyles and find out new and exciting things. We regularly get questions from our guests about life out here – how does the station work? What are the daily activities? How do the stock survive in such difficult times? This is bringing more meaning to their everyday lives back at home. They are appreciating where their clothes are from, how the meals got on their plates, etc. Additionally, we find people are being more respectful around water usage and their environmental impact.”
It’s this storytelling aspect that is key to the visitor experience at Skytrek, and which can really leave a lasting impact on visitors.
“Tourism gives you the ability to socialise and be proud of something,” Michelle says. “Your product may put a smile on someone’s face and leave them with an unforgettable memory that they may still be talking about 20 years later. It’s an adventure that imprints on their minds, [something] that they may continue to tell their children about for the rest of their lives.
“That is something we can be proud of through this difficult drought.’
[Header image credit: Skytrek Willow Springs Station]
Our ecotourism journey has been full of adventures and opportunities. We successfully applied for Advanced Ecotourism certification in 2018 so we could display our commitment to sustainability. We have always felt what we are doing is ‘bigger’ than our business of Noosa Everglades Kayak Tours. That said, we have a responsibility to protect sacred natural places and to educate our guests and other operators within our industry. Since we began the journey our business has grown in leaps and bounds and we have been inspired to further develop our sustainability and ecotourism practices.
Operating kayak tours in a pristine natural area, it became apparent sustainability practices were needed to take us in to the future. Sustainability for Kanu Kapers means we can operate a successful and profitable business with little or no impact on this delicate eco system.
Established in 2002, our passion is to provide unique and awe-inspiring experiences to people of all ages, whilst promoting love and respect for nature and preserving the Noosa Everglades System for future generations to enjoy. Considered by Lonely Planet as ‘One of the most pristine water ways in the world!’, we feel privileged to have created a business where we share such an awesome Noosa day tour experience whilst educating our guests from all over the world on sustainability and the cultural heritage of this special place we love so much.
Kanu Kapers’ kayaks are an integral component of our tours, designed and purchased with sustainability at our core. They leave no trace on this pristine waterway. They are locally handcrafted expedition sea kayaks that are comfortable, fast, sleek and stable. The kayaks are durable (the original four still in use today) and have a long water line and rudder system, allowing guests to enjoy the full extent of the Noosa Everglades 65km waterway in comfort with full kit and without the need for a motor.
Our Sustainable Kayak Adventures and Business Practices
Kanu Kapers continues to be recognised as the best sustainable adventure tour company in Australia. We will use our sustainability innovations – to inspire change for other businesses and help to implement solutions to environmental issues.
Applying for our accreditation inspired us to:
- Implement recycling with vigour-including compost to grow fresh veggies
- Become Plastic Free Champions by eradicating single use plastics from our operation
- Work towards being carbon neutral by 2020. We continually strive to reduce our carbon footprint.
Every morning following our welcome to country we share with our guests Kanu Kapers’ commitment to sustainability. We then take the opportunity to educate our guests on their carbon emissions created by their drive from Noosa and give them the option to offset their carbon via a donation to our partners the Queensland Koala Crusaders. Our courtesy bus travels to Noosa and Sunshine Beach every morning to transport our day tour guests, so carbon offset is imperative as this is the only aspect which hampered us being carbon neutral. We believe due to the generous donations from our Noosa Day Tour and Multi Day Tour guests we have achieved our goal of being carbon neutral.
Our Partnership with The QLD Koala Crusaders
This has been our proudest and most important partnership innovation to date. The QLD Koala Crusaders (www.koalacrusaders.org.au) are on a mission to create safe koala habitat in QLD, in order to help improve koala numbers.
While educating our guests about delicate koala habitat we give them an opportunity to be Koala Heroes by offsetting their carbon and donating their gold coins to the QLD Koala Crusaders.
How you can become an Ecotourism Hero
Anyone operating a tourism business or any business for that matter can make sustainability a priority. You can undertake a sustainability audit assessing your recycling practices and anything you do that harms the environment. Where can you reduce the use of harmful chemicals which damage our precious natural environment? Kanu Kapers Australia is a chemical free operation, using only natural cleaning and other products. We also switched to a carbon neutral power company. Is there a wildlife charity you can become partners with?
It feels good to operate sustainably and we have found our guest numbers have increased on our Noosa kayak tours because people are looking for clean green experiences.
If you’re an Ecotourism Australia certified operator and you’ve been inspired to share your ecotourism journey in the world, get in touch!