Ecotourism in Victoria

Founder Nic Cooper explains why sustainable travel is so important


An exclusive interview about sustainability and regenerative tourism

The Mornington Peninsula is Victoria’s premier and most loved holiday region. A haven of beaches and bushwalks, award-winning wine and first-class food, there is adventure and accommodation to suit every traveller.

The stunning Shire is located 60-90 minutes south of the Melbourne City Centre and has an area of 724 square kilometres, including endless white beaches, hot springs and bushland. Attracting millions of visitors annually, the Mornington Peninsula is the perfect blend of luxury and the great outdoors.

Preserving the region’s natural beauty has been a fundamental goal for the local communities and in more recent times, the focus has shifted towards regenerative travel. Sustainability and tourism can go hand-in-hand to ensure the longevity and future of the region can be enjoyed by generations to come.

Wild Adventures Melbourne is Advanced Ecotourism Certified with Ecotourism Australia. They offer fully guided tours that promote outdoor activities amongst the natural environment whilst leaving a minimal footprint. An advocate for sustainability and tourism, founder Nic Cooper is dedicated to conserving and showing off the beauty of the Mornington Peninsula to his tour guests. His business invites travellers to connect with extraordinary nature while learning new skills in an outdoor setting with qualified instructors teaching paddleboarding and mounting biking on an all-inclusive adventure.

Growing up in a bed and breakfast guesthouse, Nic started his love story with ecotourism early on and has lived and breathed it his whole life. After visiting, working and living in more than 75 countries, he has settled on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. He dedicates his time to his adventure company which also has a positive impact on the environment and local community.

Our Founder and Editor, Keeley Warren, interviews Nic to learn more about Wild Adventures Melbourne and why sustainable travel is important on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

Stand up paddleboarding tours with Wild Adventures Melbourne
Stand up paddleboarding tours with Wild Adventures Melbourne

Why are you so passionate about sustainability and regeneration in tourism?

I’ve spent my entire working life in tourism in lots of different countries, so I’m acutely aware that tourism is a significant contributor to climate-change and global emissions. Tourism does a lot of good and it’s important to expose people to culture. Opening their minds, breaking down prejudices, self-growth and everything that travelling is so amazing for, but there’s almost this elephant in the room of the negative effects that things like overtourism cause. 

I’m in an industry that has an opportunity to act and have a positive impact on the environment and the community rather than the complete opposite. I feel like that’s a massive responsibility for anyone that is operating in this industry, but otherwise, the tourism industry won’t exist if there’s not anything to show people in a positive aspect. So I love it. Being a sustainable and regenerative tourism operator is like a drug to me. I do find it so motivating from our purpose-driven practices.

Coastal views of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Coastal views of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Why do you think regeneration is important in the tourism sector?

Because sustainable tourism is not enough anymore, sustainable tourism is a kind of prevention. Let’s not make things worse. Let’s not litter. Let’s stick to the path. The world is in this critical stage in terms of climate, so the world needs to operate in a regenerative manner, particularly in tourism. Unless everyone works together to improve, regenerate and make a positive difference, then it’s not going to be enough.

When you started Wild Adventures Melbourne, what inspired you to start the business in regenerative and sustainable tourism specifically?

I think over the years working in the industry; there were many things I subconsciously noted as a shocking reality of tourism. So, I would actually say that the negative things I saw around the world inspired me to start a regenerative tourism business.

Seeing the beauty, the wonders and the miracles of nature makes you realize how incredible it is and how this amazing ecosystem is regenerative in its own way. Every time I spend time in nature, which is all the time, it drives me on to come out of nature and make a difference in the world.

Tasting the local delights whilst cycling through coastal trails on the Mornington Peninsula
Tasting the local delights whilst cycling through coastal trails on the Mornington Peninsula

How did you come up with the concept for Wild Adventures Melbourne?

Southeast of England was where I was born and grew up and it was in the countryside. I lived one of those childhoods where you had breakfast in the morning, and then you went running out into the fields and your mum said, be back by dinner time. And that was the only sort of instructions you got from there and then they didn’t worry about you for the whole day. And so there was just constant adventures, no matter what the weather. Whether it was snow, rain or sun, we were on adventures into nature.

Then when I was 11 years old, my parents opened up our family home into a bed and breakfast, and suddenly the house was full of all of these international visitors. We were not far from the channel tunnel going through to France, so lots of Europeans, Australians and Kiwis were coming through the house and I started meeting all these people from around the world. I think from that moment, I became fascinated with travelling and in itself ingrained into tourism.

As soon as I could afford it after leaving  school, I went off travelling and then ran out of money. The best way to pay to keep travelling is to work in tourism, where you’re on the road and you are travelling. I was literally working in tourism so I could travel, but it ended up leading to many years of experience in the industry, which led to starting Wild Adventures Melbourne. Having that sort of DNA of going on adventures in the countryside and realising that Australia, particularly where we are based on the Mornington Peninsula, is just the perfect place for outdoor adventure in nature. That combination of things led to it.

Why did you choose Mornington Peninsula in Victoria specifically?

What I love about Australia is that you can get out of the cities relatively easily, particularly Melbourne, and connect with nature straight away. I found that there were all these incredible adventures to be had, but a lot of the adventure companies are based in further out regions in Victoria. They’re up in the Grampians, in Gippsland or they’re up in the high country. They’re all brilliant companies, but I thought wouldn’t it be great if people could actually connect with nature on eco adventures on Melbourne’s doorstep. They call the Mornington Peninsula Melbourne’s playground and it is really an adventure seeker’s paradise along over 190 kilometers of coastline. And what I love about it is the variety of experiences you can have here.

Anything from swimming in a natural rock pool to surfing, to stand-up paddleboarding, to being in nature and wildlife and mountain biking, there’s just so much variety.

If someone was to book a tour with you, what should they expect?

They should expect more than a tour. We wanted to showcase the variety that was on offer here, and that means that some of our experiences are multi-activity. People coming on an experience with us are getting that perfect, all-encompassing introduction to a region where they feel like they’ve got a real grasp of what makes it so special.

So rather than solo visiting wineries, or solo going to the beach or the hot springs, we’re the guys that bring that all together and give them all of that. A unique perspective of nature with super minimal impact as well as getting a lesson from a qualified instructor. They end up experiencing this beautiful blend of action, relaxation and indulgence throughout the day to really give them that whole day experience.

What are some of the challenges with tourism in Australia?

I believe Australia is one of the most vulnerable places to climate change. Because of climate change of which tourism is a contributor to, there’s these massive natural disasters happening here in Australia as well. Those things are a direct result of climate change but at the same time it means the tourism industry is affected if they cannot operate, so they’re losing income from that as well.

That’s a massive challenge for Australia itself, a country that is a significant polluter, with the coal industry and everything like that as well. I genuinely believe that the entire industry needs to be doing something because we rely on the exact thing that is being affected [nature].

So unless we do anything, it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse, which basically means the industry is going to be more and more challenged and affected. It’s going to be negatively affecting the industry as well as the environment. I think that’s the main challenge.

What do you think that the industry can do to evolve and embrace a more responsible approach to delivering tourism experiences in Australia?

I think the industry is doing the bare essentials. We might offset our emissions or we might do an acknowledgement of country, or we might say that we only leave footprints and no litter, but that’s not enough. For every business in the world that is sustainable, net zero, or carbon neutral, there’s a million companies that aren’t. So we all need to be regenerative to make a positive impact, to make up for all of the ones that aren’t. That’s something I hope the industry strives towards—going beyond being sustainable, looking at every aspect of what they do and how they can actually make it better. 

We started by working with Greenfleet, who have reforestation projects in Australia and New Zealand. But then I wanted to support locally here on the Mornington Peninsula which is going to have a long-term positive effect. That’s when we started working with groups like Mornington Peninsula Koala conservation and we are planting native trees with them. Our guests have the opportunity to contribute to planting trees with them as well and that’s actually having a super local long-term impact. It improves community sentiment towards your company and towards tourism in general.

If we’re a responsible operator that is supporting the community, the community is going to be more welcoming to our responsible travellers. They then are going to go away and advocate for more responsible travellers to come here who are going to have a positive impact and make those ethical choices and keep somewhere like the Mornington Peninsula as beautiful as it is. It’s all connected.

What do you think is one of the biggest myths about sustainable tourism?

I think that sustainable tourism is not enough anymore. For the industry just to be sustainable, I think it needs to drive towards it. Does everyone know what it means and how they can actually do it?

For us, I’ve split it down into three areas. As a tourism operator, the key areas we want to enhance are the environmental impact, the community sentiment and community support, and the customer experience. And so if we make a decision, we ask ourselves first, is it enhancing all of these? And if it’s only enhancing one of them, is it detrimental to the others? And if the answer is it is detrimental, then we won’t do it. There’s no compromise when it comes to doing the right thing.

For example, we carry portable bins and collect rubbish. Does that have a negative impact on the customer? Well, no, it takes a few seconds out of their day. Sometimes they take part, sometimes they just see us paddling past the bottle and we’ll pick it up from there. And so, because that isn’t detrimental to the customer, but it is positive on the environment and the community, then brilliant, we’ll go ahead. I think sustainable isn’t actually enough anymore, we need to be moving forward.

What are some of the best ways people can travel in a more regenerative way?

Travelling slow is going to be the best option. Flying long haul from somewhere, like Europe, are they going to come to Australia and then hop around on small flights between all the cities? Or are they actually going to come here and spend a huge amount of time, understanding the region, its culture and how it ticks and kind of uncover it a bit more from there as well? People’s emissions are going to be way, way less from there. I think travelling slowly actually benefits the traveller in terms of their experience, but it also benefits the environment as well. 

Most of us grew up with fast-paced attitudes. Wanting to do everything at once. Let’s go here, there, and everywhere. And you realize in the end that this is part of the problem. People being informed and knowledgeable is an easy way to travel more sustainably. The more knowledge people have, it will help them travel more responsibly. 

The final thing is being prepared. Some people think that it’s often much easier in your everyday life to be sustainable than when you’re travelling. I disagree. For example, in your everyday life you’re carrying a reusable coffee cup with you, but then you go off travelling and you don’t pack your cup. Sometimes you think that when you’re travelling, you’ve got zero choice other than to take the unsustainable option, but the more prepared you are, the more you have available for every eventuality.

So when people come on our tours, we never tell people what to do, but that’s why we provide our eco packs. Then they have everything they need for the day, like non-toxic locally-sourced sunscreen. They can then potentially purchase these and use them for future trips. We as a tour operator try to inspire lifestyle changes. Sometimes not immediately, but it can just plant that seed and every small step helps to improve the industry as a whole.

Connect with Nic

Nic is a passionate and experienced adventure guide, a qualified SUP flat water instructor, a qualified Mountain Biking Foundation instructor and a certified fitness instructor. His team care for their customers and the environment, operating active tours that are progressive and sustainably conscious with sub-zero waste.

To discover thrill-seeking nature with Wild Adventures Melbourne and find out more about the boy who grew up obsessed with adventure, connect with Nic via Instagram or simply call direct: 0490 333 795.

This interview was facilitated by Keeley Warren, Founder and Editor of Wanderlust with a Purpose and Founder and Director of Mankind Digital. Keeley is an advocate for responsible travel in Australia and beyond. If you would like your business featured in an upcoming article, please send us some information about your business today.