Get away from it all and save the planet

FANCY a holiday? The most politically incorrect thing you could do is jump on a plane to a beach resort, bake your body, and return tanned and refreshed from an unmemorable week of pampering.

Those looking for a real change from hectic Hongkong have increasingly sought out adventure tours. But now a new option is emerging: eco-tourism - or tourism with an environmental conscience.

While it has spawned specialist travel agencies overseas, it is only just catching on in Hongkong.

Although the green movement here is still in its infancy it is not just do-gooding Westerners who are interested, as Carpe Diem Expeditions has discovered.

Founded by former Friends of the Earth director John Parker and two friends, Carpe Diem offers adventure tours that they say are socially and environmentally conscious.

''What we're aiming for is that on each trip, there would be something where people would contribute to an environmental or social problem in the country they're going through, not just in terms of money but practical effort,'' said Mr Parker.

That heavy agenda involved, on a November trip to Nepal, an optional one-day visit to an Australian forestry aid project to see the impact of deforestation and the results of asurvey on village farming techniques.

The two-week trip, the first organised by Carpe Diem, also involved a trek and white-water rafting in western Nepal, an area only recently opened to tourists.

All along the way, travellers were reminded of their impact on the environment.

No rubbish was left behind unless it would decompose - an especially sensitive issue in Nepal where the well-travelled Himalayan routes are being turned into rubbish tips by visitors.

Vegetable peelings and other organic material were dumped in covered pits, toilet paper was burnt and tins cans were crushed and carried back to Kathmandu. Only driftwood washing up on the river's banks was used for fuel and gas burners were carried as back-up to avoid chopping at trees.

''We think that one of the most effective ways of switching people on to the environment movement is by actually giving them the experience of what the environment is like,'' Mr Parker said.

''A lot of people in Hongkong don't have that, so taking people out to the wilderness is more effective than any amount of preaching on the ozone layer or the loss of species.'' But saving the planet is not the only aim of the trip. Adventure is a major ingredient. The first group of 20 follow the Karnali River, the longest in Nepal which has been navigated by only seven other groups. The core social and environmental aspect of the trips may later include involvement in wildlife surveys and putting roofs on schools.

Carpe Diem can be reached by phone on 834-6234 or by fax at 834-6646.

FRIENDS of the Earth says uncertainty over the exact route of the Japanese ship carrying plutonium, not deliberate scare-mongering tactics, led to claims the cargo might pass near Hongkong.

Responding to a recent Ecowatch story, the group's assistant director, Mr Henry Morritt, said although Greenpeace tracked the ship and released bulletins to the media on its whereabouts, some reports may have been missed. The ship, whose position during its voyage was kept secret by Japanese authorities, sailed via Australia.

''Our intentions throughout the campaign, and in organising the protest in December, were certainly not 'less than honest' as described in your article,'' he said.

''We do, however, regret any confusion which resulted from conflicting statements made by FoE over the route the vessel was taking.

''In any case, the protest itself was designed to be a symbolic gesture of opposition to the hazardous shipment.'' If you have an environmental project of interest, or wish to call attention to an environmental problem in your neighbourhood, please fax the information to Ecowatch, 811-1278, or mail it care of the South China Morning Post.