Welcome to Out of Office — a travel column from contributing editor Katie Skelly. Visiting unique and emerging holiday lodgings that are doing things differently around Australia, Skelly will be reviewing stays according to a more unconventional grading system (not just stars!). Next up, a zero-emissions weekend escape in Sydney.
I’m well aware of the impact travel has on our planet. It’s something I grapple with on a daily basis, often opting for a spirited walk over a pricy Uber, a stand-in coffee rather than a takeaway cup, and always, always, ticking the box to offset emissions on every flight I ever take (c’mon pals, it’s like $2.30).
The other thing I’m well aware of is my unrelenting fondness for travel and exploration. And when travel was simply off the cards, I realised just how important it is for my wellbeing. So, thrilled at the opportunity to travel once again, but committed to doing better in a post-pandy world, I pondered at the centre of this ven diagram for a moment before deciding to challenge myself to a weekend of zero emissions.
It was… harder than I thought? Certainly hard to be confident in my itinerary at times, but overall, I think I did it. Better still, I managed to squeeze in a five-star stay, some very cute animals, and the worst chicken schnitzel sandwich of my life which will not be making the cut in this article for obvious reasons.
Here’s how I did it.
Okay, so I had a little help. My own car has a combustion engine, and thus my zero-emissions weekend would be over before it started the second I so much as turned the engine on. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a Mazda MX-30 Electric Astina for the weekend.
With a full battery, this baby can take you around 220kms away, which is plenty of distance for a substantial weekender. If you did need to top up, the charging cable is compatible with a regular socket and can be full in 45 minutes on an express setting.
The car itself may be eco-friendly, but there’s no “roughing it” at all. In fact, it’s chic. It’s got vegan leather seats, recycled cork interior surfaces (my favourite part), and trims made from recycled plastic bottles.
Because luxury and sustainability aren’t exclusive, it’s also got a Bose sound system, heated seats and steering wheel, an 8.8-inch display, and it does this wild thing when you park where it displays a top-down view of the car on the screen, which means you’ll never do a bad reverse park again.
Ultimately though, it’s fully electric, so no matter where I went, no matter how small the errand, I didn’t feel bad about it. I actually felt really excited and 100% convinced that my next car needed to be electric too.
An off-grid tiny home might seem like the most obvious choice, but with a new family member due to arrive the weekend of my sustainable getaway, I opted to keep close to home and well within phone reception.
I stayed at the Wildlife Retreat at Taronga Zoo. Positioned within the zoo grounds, it’s a five-star eco-retreat that at once feels very bush thanks to the high eucalypts it’s nestled within, but with sweeping views of Sydney Harbour. Now, my work and my itchy-footed disposition have taken me to a lot of hotels, but this was something else.
First, my view was a red kangaroo who despite being threateningly jacked, was delightfully lazy and tolerant to my constant camera snaps. The retreat’s common areas, lobby, and restaurant were cosy, airy and considered in their decoration; greens, taupes and warm wood panelling really let the view shine.
And with any stay here comes complimentary access to the zoo and a private tour of the retreat’s own inhabitants, made up of koalas, echidnas, and the zoo’s 19-year-old platypus named Mackenzie, all hanging out in an open-air ecosystem, at the centre of which is a tranquil waterfall.
As for how the retreat maintains its five-star green rating, well it’s got rooftop-mounted solar photovoltaic systems for clean energy, recycled water from an on-site water treatment plant, water-efficient fittings, LED lights and energy-efficient appliances, and that warm timber I mentioned earlier? It has a lower environmental footprint than concrete and steel and helps to provide thermal regularity – reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling. Pretty cool.
Being that I ate at the retreat’s restaurant called Me-Gal (the Cammeraigal word for ‘tears’, referring to the salt waters surrounding the headland), which uses responsibly sourced produce, fresh and native ingredients and a seasonal menu, one could assume my lodgings definitely fit the brief on the emissions front. So far, so good.
The Day’s Activities
Here’s where things get murkier. The first day of my trip I spent wandering around Taronga Zoo. We already know the zoo is Carbon Neutral certified, with offsetting programs, recycling protocols and a wider commitment to achieving net zero. I feel pretty confident about that one.
But after that, it became quite challenging to track my weekend’s activities against their potential impact. I stopped at a few stores and local bakeries (not clear whether kitchens were offsetting emissions or using certified organic eggs).
I also popped into an organic food market to pick up some groceries for the week. Opting for Australian-grown produce surely helped, but again, it’s somewhat hard to know for sure. All the same, I always knew the trips in between all destinations were 100% eco-friendly, and with road travel accounting three-quarters of transport emissions, I felt comforted by the fact this move alone was making a huge difference.
So, can you have a zero-emissions weekend in Sydney? To that I’d say, sure! Provided you plan accordingly and do your research. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to off-grid and eco-friendly accommodation spots. It just takes a quick look online to find assurance of sustainability programs and certification.
And as for transport? Well, you don’t necessarily need an electric vehicle — Sydney’s train network is 100% net zero emissions, and we do have a fleet of clean buses running.
Of course, if you are after the convenience of a car, then having spent a weekend in the Mazda MX-30, I would certainly recommend it, that is if you have the means. At around $70,000 for the base model, it’s not exactly what we’d call “affordable”, but we also can’t really afford to keep blasting the environment with CO2!
And so if you were someone who had a choice between buying a new combustion vehicle and this one, well, I know what I’d be choosing.