Create a Coral Reef at This Bahamas Resort Thanks to Kenny Chesney

You've always wanted to save the ocean, right?

Reef Ball Foundation
Reef Ball Foundation
Reef Ball Foundation

The waves smack you across your shoulders, but you’re not going anywhere. The 5,000-pound-plus reef ball you’re steering through the waters of Deadman’s Reef, off the western coast of Grand Bahama, makes sure of it. It floats, though, and after a few minutes of swimming with the hollow beast, you and your team get to the right spot: a line of older reef balls that have already transformed into a self-sustaining coral reef. Once you deflate your floating device, your reef ball sinks and joins them, jumpstarting Mother Nature by 500 years.

Yesterday, you helped mold and build a reef ball. Today, you’ve just planted your first coral reef. Tomorrow, you’ll transplant coral plugs onto the reef ball’s surface by hand. And between all this eco-action, there will be plenty of rum punch, plenty of snorkeling, and plenty of Kenny Chesney in the background. He did help you become a reef warrior, after all.

Reef Ball Foundation
Reef Ball Foundation
Reef Ball Foundation

The first tourist-planted coral reef

The sand is disappearing from Barry Smith’s property, Paradise Cove-one of the longest-running locally owned resorts on Grand Bahama. His two villas, once 100 yards from the waves, seem just a few years away from becoming overwater bungalows. The eco-friendly, sustainable resort, known for kayaking and snorkelling, was looking at a non-existent future.

Smith had to do something. Looking for solutions, he scoured the region for eco-initiatives, eventually coming across the work of the Reef Ball Foundation (RBF), an international non-profit working to protect, rehabilitate, and rebuild our ocean ecosystems. Reef balls-together forming a new reef-could be the answer, acting as a breakwater and protecting the sand, diversifying and strengthening the area’s marine life, and making the resort’s snorkelling even better.

But to get reef balls rolling, Smith needed Kenny Chesney. When No Shoes Reefs, Chesney’s foundation, and their partner DEEP Apparel-a sustainable clothing line with many products made almost entirely from plastic-got wind of RBF’s interest in Paradise Cove, Smith’s dream became reality. With funding and materials procured, a reef was ready to be built on the western end of Grand Bahama.

By the hotel guests.

“With DEEP and No Shoes Reefs,” says Smith, “we’re developing a meaningful ecotourism package where guests stay three, five, or seven days, and either build reef balls, deploy them, transplant coral, or contribute to all three legs of the project.” Though RBF has projects in over 70 countries-and resorts boasting coral adoption aren’t unheard of-Paradise Cove marks the first place travellers are taking the wheel, literally planting entire reefs themselves. It’s ecotourism on steroids. (Kenny, you should be proud.)

Paradise Cove Beach Resort
Paradise Cove Beach Resort
Paradise Cove Beach Resort

Sorry, what’s a reef ball?

“Traditional reef design,” explains Larry Beggs, VP of Reef Ball Foundation, “is done by large contractors and government agencies.” It’s when a battleship is dropped strategically into the ocean, or even cinder blocks and old tires. This way, Beggs notes, the average person can give back. “Once you get people involved and active and learning about the ocean, they do a whole lot of different things back home.”

Beggs goes on to explain that reef balls are made from pH-neutralized marine-grade concrete-an awful lot more sustainable than those old tires. With a rough surface and coral-adaptive plug areas, they’re a basic tapestry for Mother Nature to paint, speeding up the process with automatic height and structure. “It ain’t the prettiest thing; just a chunk of concrete. But once we put it in the water, Mother Nature will take over.”

The idea was to create something sustainable yet unremarkable. “Something we could put in the hands of volunteers, school groups, dive groups, places like the islands,” Beggs explains. The team made sure it was low-cost and required no fancy equipment, using simple tools and resources found across the globe, opening up the technology to small communities and ultimately reducing the foundation’s carbon footprint. Of course, at Paradise Cove, guests will be trained and supervised when working with any tools or the massive reef balls themselves. According to Smith, guests tackling the whole project will spend part of two days pouring moulds, part of two days deploying, and part of two days for coral propagation. “The project will last year-round, but May to September offer calmer days.” In between, guests will go snorkelling and kayaking off the property, spearfishing, or even get a lesson from Smith on freediving.

Tip: If you can’t get to The Bahamas, consider adopting a reef ball. Or for a super easy feel-good, 40% of net profits from DEEP’s No Shoes Reefs line-sun shirts, hats, hoodies-go directly toward No Shoes Reefs/Reef Ball Foundation.

Bahamas Plastic Movement
Bahamas Plastic Movement
Bahamas Plastic Movement

So why The Bahamas?

The third-largest continuous reef system in the world stretches along the islands of The Bahamas, the 140-mile Andros Barrier Reef, and it’s at particular risk. Between 70 years of island mining wreaking havoc on the region and the Caribbean receiving an outsized portion of the world’s marine trash-not to mention warming seas-the outlook, as the Magic 8 Ball might say, doesn’t look good.

But a new era may be coming for the ancestral homeland of Fyre Fest: Single-use plastics were banned in January 2020 and eco-initiatives are popping up across the islands, from Smith’s grand reef-ball plan to Bahamas Plastic Movement to West End Ecology Tours. From here, travellers can put down the mai tai and pick up the baton, putting their money, time, and energy where it counts: supporting the local economy and the local environment. Plant a reef ball at Paradise Cove, and you’re doing just that.

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Jacqueline Kehoe is a writer, photographer, and geology geek. See her work on Instagram @j.kehoe.


Find Volcanoes, Wine Islands, and Thrills in Auckland

One minute you're on a ferry to wine island, the next you could be bungy jumping off of New Zealand's tallest tower.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

The city of Auckland is a free spirit. It is easily the most geographically blessed city in New Zealand. Within an hour, you could be tasting wines on an island, chasing more than 50 volcanoes, or leaving footprints on a black sand beach. Keep in mind, that Auckland is the country’s most populous city but certainly doesn’t feel cramped.

Instead, the city is buzzing with trendy eateries, boutique shops, quiet streets, and expansive green parks. Around every corner, you’re never too far from something beautiful to see.

From world-class wines to kickass thrills, here’s where to find what you’re looking for in Auckland.

things to do auckland

Seek the thrills

If you thought Queenstown was the home of the adrenaline rush, wait until you see Auckland. In the middle of the city, you can jump off a sky tower or a bridge, zip through the jungle, and scream on a high-octane jet boat ride. The Sky Tower, which can be seen from every corner of Auckland is more than just a landmark. Take a ride to the top and sign up for a Skywalk, where you can wander around the platform, which just so happens to be 192 metres above the ground. If that doesn’t get your heart pumping, you can always jump off it. It’s New Zealand’s highest jump, and can only be described as just like being a movie stuntman, or a superhero. 

The other iconic place to jump off of is the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Unlike the Sky Jump, this one will have thrill seekers dipping their hands and head in the ocean. It’s a 40-metre Bungy, and a great experience. Although, if you’d rather still take advantage of the bridge views, book a climb, which takes you right to the top for sweeping views of the city.

Another way to take in the city is via Auckland Adventure Jet, which takes passengers for spins and tricks on the water.

Just a 35-minute boat ride from Auckland is Waiheke Island, where thrill-seekers will find Eco Zip Adventures. Across three separate lines, you will zip high above a working vineyard and lush, ancient forest canopies, soaking up incredible views back to the city and beyond.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip wine on Waiheke Island

Whether you want to spend a weekend or a day, Waiheke Island is a must-visit. It’s around a 35-minute ferry ride to the island from Auckland, and once there you can hop from winery to winery. The island is quite large and the terrain is rugged, so trust the experts and book a tour with Ananda Tours. The small, family-run business is owned by Jenny who has been on the island since before the vines were planted and she’s the best person to seek out when getting the Waiheke Island experience. You can book a private tour or group tour, and they can be catered to your preferences and tastes. A few standout stops include Kennedy Point, where they produce fully certified organic Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay wines. You can also state estate-grown olive oils, which the island has plenty of. Enjoy a tasting on the deck with views of Kennedy Bay, or enjoy a picnic under the olive grove.

For the best views on the island, head to Batch Vineyard. As the highest vineyard on Waiheke, you will be treated to panoramic views of the rolling hills, blue waters, and even Auckland city. Their sparkling wine, Blanc de Blancs is a must-try.

When it comes to lunch, there are two spots to choose from. The first is Stonyridge, which is also where you can taste premium award-winning wines, including a Cabernet blend Larose‚ÄĒNew Zealand’s cult wine. The second is Mudbrick, a romantic spot, set amongst beautiful gardens with even more spectacular views, and a bar and bistro serving up some of the best dishes on the island.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Eat your way through the city

Auckland’s dining scene isn’t pretentious, but the food quality is good enough to rival the best restaurants in New York‚ÄĒbut the city doesn’t like to brag. Instead, it celebrates good food in every setting, from waterside restaurants to trendy Mexican eateries in a shopping centre.

Inca, is helmed by critically acclaimed chef, Nic Watt. Inspired by Watt’s travels to Peru, diners can expect to find Nikkei cuisine, including spicy chicken karaage, hand-pressed corn tacos filled with pork cheek and spicy tuna. You wouldn’t expect to find such a good restaurant in a shopping centre, but there it is.

Another great trendy restaurant is Hello Beasty, which is home to the famous, prawn and crab toast. This work of art starts with a slice of crispy deep-fried bread, smothered with prawn and crab mousse. On top, there are slices of wagyu, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce. Although, there are plenty of other great dishes on the menu, including a Sichuan tuna tartare, Korean fried cauliflower, and potstickers swimming in chilli oil. Try the yuzu mandarin soda if you’re looking for something fizzy to go with dinner or lunch.

Deli De Bossi is a recent opening and already becoming a favourite breakfast spot. Apart from coffee, you can get all kinds of toasted sandwiches, filled with everything from mushrooms to hams and salamis.

Another iconic eat-hit list is Parade in Ponsonby. Here, the burgers are served in a pretzel bun and filled with chicken or beef.

Most of these restaurants are casual, but if you’re looking for something a little fancy, book a table at Kingi. Taking cues from Sydney’s own Josh Niland, the dishes at Kingi focus on sustainable seafood, caught locally by local fishermen. The blue cod wings are a must. They’re covered in burnt lime and served with a ranch sauce for dipping. The stracciatella with feijoa is also a standout dish, that’s light and a great start to a meal. Inside, the dining room is cosy with bench seats, fire heaters, and exploded brick walls.

After dinner, walk down the street and grab dessert from Miann. The flavour of the day is always chocolate, and they serve up seriously good desserts. Try the tasting platter for a piece of each pastry on the menu of the day, or pick one that is most desirable to you. Although, the tasting platter is only $23 and you’d be missing out on tasting a little of everything they offer if you didn’t get it.

things to do auckland
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Discover art, culture, and movie magic

One of the best ways to learn about a city or country is by visiting its top museums and galleries. The Auckland War Memorial Museum sits atop a hill in Auckland’s Domain, which also happens to be the city’s oldest volcano. This museum is one of the most important as it tells the story of New Zealand’s natural and military history. Take a self-guided walking tour to explore at your own pace. There are plenty of interactive features for the kids and adults. The museum also hosts exhibitions. An ancient Greek exhibition is currently on display and is one of the largest exhibitions the British Museum has ever loaned to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Art lovers, spend a few hours wandering around the Auckland Art Gallery, Toi O TńĀmaki. You will find artworks from around the world, including a Picasso or two. Although, the exhibitions are a real treat. Yona Lee’s, An Arrangement of Five Rooms is an incredible installation, spanning multiple rooms, which you can sit on and touch‚ÄĒto immerse yourself in the artwork. Declaration: A Pacific Feminist Agenda, is another must-see exhibition exploring the most pressing issues of our times: climate change and resilience, tino rangatiratanga (sovereignty), activism and social justice.

While art and history museums are insightful and a great way to educate a visitor, there are some other museum types that can be a lot of fun and interactive. Weta Workshop Unleashed is a new Auckland attraction and an incredible experience you don’t want to miss. Step into the world of filmmaking, explore how horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films are made and at times feel as if you’re in a movie. Comedic tour guides will introduce you to movies that are in production and explain every aspect, from prop making to effects, and more. There are even mysteries to be solved, making it fun for the whole family. It’s truly an unmissable experience in Auckland, and one of the best, unique tours you might ever experience.

things to do auckland
Photo: @sidwithlens

Walk on a volcano

Erupting over 100,000 years ago, Pukekawa is one of Auckland’s oldest and most popular volcanoes. Today, the Domain parkland is the remains of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of Pukekawa. Most days you will see people running around the park, families picnicking on the weekend, and tourists snapping photos by the pond or under a magnificent tree, grown from an experiment conducted by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society. Enter from one end, enjoy a picturesque walk, and exit through the historic Parnell shopping and restaurant area. On a sunny day, the atmosphere is charged with romance, but even in the rain, it’s a moody, beautiful sight to see. The Auckland War Memorial Museum’s large neo-Greek architecture is also a standout, commanding top-of-the-mountain views.

where to stay in auckland

Where to stay in Auckland

If you’re looking to sleep on top of the world, you can’t beat a room in Cordis Auckland’s new Pinnacle Tower. From the pillowy-cloud-like beds, guests have sweeping views of the city from the Sky Tower to Rangitoto and Mount Eden. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the Eight restaurant downstairs, and canapes and drinks in the Cordis Club lounge on the 14th floor. There’s also a health club, spa, and swimming pool. The hotel is within walking distance to some of the best eateries in Auckland, making it a prime option.

Although, if you’re looking to stay in the heart of Britomart, Auckland’s hub of shopping, eating, and drinking, then The Hotel Britomart is where you want to be. From its exterior of hand-made bricks to its beautifully timber-lined rooms, The Hotel Britomart does detail like nobody else. Plus, the best of downtown waterfront Auckland is just outside your front door. With 5 Green Star Design and Build ratings from the NZ Green Building Council, The Hotel Britomart is the country‚Äôs ONLY 5 Green Star hotel, and has sustainability built in from the ground up.¬†

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