By Jennifer Gaskin
For some, opening a travel company during one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons and just before
a global pandemic might have been a bump in the road, to say the least. But, as soon as I started
talking to Alan Toner, founder of EcoWalk Tours, I could tell that someone with his infectious passion for his work would always find a way to succeed.
Alan has a background in adventure tourism, has been a commercial boat driver, a scuba instructor
and is also an army veteran. But, in recent years, he retrained as a geography teacher and it was by
taking students out into Australia’s harbourside bushland that he saw a business opportunity.
“I’ve worked in and around the bushland areas as well as the harbour here in Sydney for many years
and I’m very familiar with the historical sites, military land and aboriginal culture in the area. But it
was when I started doing fieldwork in Sydney Harbour National Park that I saw there were
educational and cultural opportunities for people to get outdoors and learn a bit more about the
heritage there, but there were no guided walks in the area.”
“When I was looking around Sydney’s bushland, I could see that there were lots of people
participating in the walking trails but that they weren’t actually slowing down and taking in their
surroundings. Or, if they were, they didn’t know what they were actually looking at. For example,
could they identify plant species and bird life? Were they missing historic relics? Did they understand
the cultural significance of aboriginal site? Probably not.”
Delve a little deeper
Guided walking is sometimes seen as an activity for the elderly or package tourists, but there are
many benefits of using a guide, whether you’re exploring your own country or somewhere further
afield. Aside from keeping you safe, guides are experts in native plant life and, in Alan’s case, the
Aboriginal culture of the Sydney area.
As he says, “We start every tour with an acknowledgement of country that comes from the heart. It
allows my visitors to connect with the land and realise there once were Aboriginal clans in the area
who walked the same trails that I explore with my guests. I also weave a lot of cultural awareness
and activities into the walks by pointing out the native plants that the clans used for food or to make
weapons and tools.”
So near, yet so far
Sydney is blessed with bushland that is close to the city yet feels a million miles away from anything,
and that’s what makes walking here so special. As Alan explains:
“My favourite walk in Sydney is the track between Bradley’s Head and Chowder Bay. It has a rainforest feel with bracken ferns and huge trees that makes you feel so isolated, yet it’s just a short ferry ride from Sydney’s CBD.”
EcoWalk Tours also offers tours in other areas of Sydney Harbour National Park and whether you’re
a local or a visitor, you’ll get the most from your hike if you go with a guide who knows the area.