Wisdom & Insight
Voluntourism and the Seven Natural Wonders of the World
There is another set of nominations to vote on what should be the new “7 Natural Wonders of the World”.
However, even better than voting is visiting the Wonders yourself as part of a Voluntourism adventure, so here are 7 places you can marvel at first-hand AND make a difference through volunteering.
Natural Wonder: Amazon
This extraordinary jungle and water system is truly the lungs of the world. As much of the Amazon is unexplored, many of its indigenous plants and animals are unknown. Plant growth is dense and the variety of animals living is comparatively more because of the heavy rainfall and the dense forests covered with huge evergreen and coniferous forests. The forests are in fact so thick that the dense "roof" created by the leaves and branches does not allow the sunlight to reach the ground.
How you can make a difference:in Brazil, the Amazon is roughly adjacent to the Pantanal, which actually offers better wildlife viewing than the Amazon, as there is not the dense jungle to obstruct your view. You can help renovate an orphanage here, or teach English to children hungry to learn.
Seven (7) Natural Wonders Of The World
3. Halong Bay
4. Iguaçu Falls
6. Milford Sound
7. Table Mountain
In Peru, you can also help teach, and you can help install fuel efficient stoves for needy families. Not only do these stoves save on running costs, they are much safer than traditional open fires – the risk of burns is much reduced, as is smoke inhalation as chimneys are used to expel the smoke.
In Ecuador, you can help teach English in the Amazon jungle to the Anangu Quichua people whilst enjoying the delights of the forest.
In Colombia, you can help former coca leaf growers to turn over a new ‘leaf’ by running an eco-tourism operation…they appreciate help practicing English, and can also do with training in IT, hospitality, or accounting.
In Bolivia, you can help children who live in San Pedro prison as a result of their father’s offending…the whole family moves in…clearly not the ideal environment for children, and we are partnered with an organisation that takes the children out of the prison and up into an idyllic spot in hills overlooking La Paz, where they receive medical care, education, and love. You can help teach, or assist with repairs and renovations. If you have medical skills, these can be used as well.
Stay: Brazil’s Cristalino Lodge – accessible only by boat, this is a true jungle sanctuary. No heavy machinery was used in the construction, and solar energy is used extensively, as is an innovative treatment of both black- and grey-water.
The local community is also supported educationally and with environmental conservation.
Ecuador’s Napo Wildlife Center is 100% community owned and operated, and offers a high standard of comfort, superb guides, and great food, all in pristine Amazonian rain forest, with the opportunity to spot some of the 565 bird species, 11 species of monkeys, Giant Otter family and other large mammals such as Brazilian tapir, White-lipped peccary, Caiman Anaconda and more.
Bolivia’s Chalalan Lodge in the Madidi Rainforest is also community owned and run, by the Uchupiamonas people; the eco-luxe cabins are surrounded by virgin forest, and are made from local materials. With luck, you may even spot the elusive leopard…
Natural Wonder: Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
How you can make a difference: You can help conserve the Galapagos Islands for future generations by assisting local fishermen to clean up beaches on these incredible islands, even going to places normally off-limits to tourists.
Stay: Finch Bay Ecolodge –with its own desalination plant and filtering to cut down on plastic bottles, solar panels, rain water usage, organic vegetable garden, and ecologically friendly waste disposal, this lodge is designed to blend in with the environment and thus attract much birdlife.
Natural Wonder: Halong Bay
According to local legend, when the Vietnamese were fighting Chinese invaders, the gods sent a family of dragons to help defend the land. This family of dragons began spitting out jewels and jade. These jewels turned into the islands and islets dotting the bay, linking together to form a great wall against the invaders.
How you can make a difference: You can help disabled children in Vietnam by teaching English to them and the staff, as well as caring for the garden, and assisting with repairs and renovations, in a village a few hours west of Halong Bay.
Natural Wonder: Iguaçu Falls
The Iguaçu Falls are an awesome sight as tonnes of water throw themselves over cliffs and the mist rises amongst the jungle. They are taller than Niagara Falls, and twice as wide, for which Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on her first sight of the Falls: "Poor Niagara!"
How you can make a difference:
In Brazil, near Campinas is an incredible center dedicated to looking after former street kids and providing them with vocational skills. However, funds are limited, and so some parts could do with some TLC (tender loving care) and you can help paint and redecorate to help make the living environment more pleasant. And if you have vocational skills, such as mechanical knowledge, cooking, or beauty, you can help impart them to appreciative young people.
In Argentina, with a couple of weeks to volunteer, you can assist with environmental research at Yacutinga Lodge, a short drive from Iguacu Falls.
Stay: Yacutinga Lodge - Native materials, such as rocks and large logs from fallen trees have been successfully incorporated into the design of this luxury eco-lodge within easy reach of Iguacu Falls, blending perfectly into the natural environment.
Natural Wonder: Sunderbans
The Sunderbans National Park is a National Park, Tiger Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve located in the Sundarbans delta in the Indian state of West Bengal. This region is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile.
How you can make a difference:
You can help alongside a community in the Sunderbans and plant mangroves to reduce the damage caused by flooding, teach English, or help build a medical clinic.
Natural Wonder: Milford Sound
Visitors to Milford Sound will not be disappointed. It is spectacular, with scenery that has remained unchanged. In 1883, explorer James Hingston wrote "For thousands of feet upwards the eye looks upon straight cut rocky frontages, not worn smooth by time, or by wind or water, but as sharply defined and as fresh looking in all respects as if riven asunder but yesterday by the stupendous wedges of titanic masons.”
How you can make a difference:
You can play your part in a ground-breaking environmental conservation project in New Zealand to help save native birds, including kiwi.
The Cape Kidnappers and Ocean Beach Wildlife Preserve is a significant ecological mainland restoration project, situated on privately owned land on the iconic peninsula of Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay.
The vision is to restore many of the plant and animal communities that existed on the peninsula prior to human colonization.
The project is being undertaken on a large scale and across a mosaic of different habitat types. It is large enough to accommodate viable populations of most forest birds (including kiwi), and the movement of species which range widely over a variety of different habitats).
The large size of the preserve enables it to potentially support at least 400+ kiwi pairs and makes it the largest kiwi area protected from predators in Hawke’s Bay.
When to help?
The best time for you to assist at the sanctuary would be early December until early January, and early March to early April.
During these dates there are seabird chicks of two species (Cook’s petrel and Grey faced petrel) on site. The chicks have come from offshore islands where colonies still exist naturally, in the absence of predators. The chicks are hand fed on alternate days until they fledge after about three weeks and head out to sea. Feeding involves teams of 5 or 6 volunteers each time. It is a fantastic experience, ideal for families or honeymooners.
You get to help carry the chicks from their burrows to the “Petrel Station” where they are weighed, measured and fed a “sardine smoothie”, mimicking what they would be fed in the wild by their parents.
If you come any other time of year you can assist with the day to day running of the sanctuary, which would involve pest control work (servicing bait stations, checking traps, running tracking tunnels).
Stay: Fiordland Lodge - Overlooking Lake Te Anau and situated close to the Fiordland National Park, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, this lodge is made of non-native wood, and uses an innovative wastewater treatment system (dealing with waste is the biggest issue in a remote location like this).
The lodge is designed to blend in with the environment, and does so successfully, with native vegetation retained and the local ecology conserved.
And for the volunteering: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers – Amidst 6,000 acres of farmland, together with a golf course and spa treatments, and within easy reach of incredible vineyards, this boutique luxury property is an incredible base for giving back.
The buildings combine rustic and textured materials with comfortable modern furniture. There is also a gannet colony nearby, and there are excellent mountain biking, walking and trout fishing opportunities.
Natural Wonder: Table Mountain
On a clear day, the view from the top of Table Mountain is one of the world’s finest, includes the city of Cape Town, the Helderberg mountains, Bloubergstrand (literally “blue mountain beach”), Sunset Beach, Devil’s Peak, the 12 Apostles, Camps Bay, Robben Island, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head, and a bird’s eye view of the Cape Town Stadium in Greenpoint, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
How you can make a difference:
South Africa is an extraordinary country, with so much to offer the voluntourist. In terms of volunteer projects, there is a wide range of ways you can help, such as:
- Participating in an environmental education project in townships – teach people how to grow a vegetable garden, utilising what little land they have, and enabling them to eat healthily, and even earn supplemental income;
- Teach in an impoverished primary school in a township;
- Prepare and serve meals in a community kitchen, providing low-cost yet nutritious meals and healthcare in townships around Cape Town.
Stay: Vineyard Resort and Spa – despite being only a few minutes from the center of Cape Town, this resort has huge gardens to wander through, and has excellent water and energy conservation principles.
Moreover, the hotel has an impressive recycling program, and staff assist in regular programs to clear alien vegetation in a section of Table Mountain.
About Christopher Hill
Christopher Hill, 38, is the founder of tailor-made luxury voluntourism specialist Hands Up Holidays. A former investment banker, he self-arranged voluntourism trips to South Africa and Guatemala in 2002. These trips were sufficiently life-changing for him that he decided to start Hands Up Holidays in order to make it easy for others to have similar enriching experiences. His clients are mostly companies, families, private schools and honeymooners, and the company celebrated its 5th anniversary in February 2011.
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