Deep in the Daintree, this couple joins tree changers switching to off-grid living

© Provided by ABC Business Janelle and Mark Moore live an off-grid lifestyle north of the Daintree River in Queensland. (Supplied)

Janelle and Mark Moore spent five years sailing around Australia on a boat they built themselves, so they know what it’s like to live “off the grid”.

The couple, who now run a resort deep in the ancient Daintree Rainforest north of Cairns, understand why back-to-nature holidays and more permanent tree changes are gaining popularity during the pandemic.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows net migration to regional Australia is the highest since records began 20 years ago — and eco-tourism operators are bracing for an onslaught when lockdowns end in the southern states and borders reopen.

The Moores live in one of Australia’s largest self-sufficient communities with about 800 other residents, and run a camping site, general store and petrol station.

“It’s not for everyone,” Mrs Moore said of the off-grid lifestyle.

“It’s a romantic notion but there’s a lot of work in it.”

Despite being in the middle of a 180-million-year-old rainforest, Mrs Moore said living off-grid didn’t mean having to forgo life’s basic comforts, like warm showers.

“That’s all [guests] really want,” she said.

Tuning in to switching off 

Thirty-five years ago, Ian and Bonnie McLennan built Hidden Valley Cabins, a solar-powered eco-lodge in Paluma, 90-minutes’ drive north-west of Townsville.

“We were the first solar-powered resort in Australia,” Mr McLennan said.

Mrs McLennan said an increasing number of people were visiting the eco-lodge to switch off from the day-to-day grind of technology.

“People when they leave here, they … appreciate the fact that they didn’t actually want to use their phones,” she said.

The couple said even nature-loving celebrities keen for an off-grid adventure had stayed with them.

“We’ve had David Attenborough here, a lot of politicians over the years … and George Harrison came here,” Mr McLennan said.

Digital-device detoxes gaining devotees

James Cook University senior lecturer in tourism Denis Tolkach said off-grid holidays were growing in popularity since the pandemic began.

“There are digital-device detoxes that have been popping up around the world where people are disconnected from their devices, where they don’t have access to TV, to news and to their emails,” Dr Tolkach said.

Another reason why eco-tourism holidays are becoming more popular is that people are looking for new adventures — and with border closures, they’re looking for them in their own backyard.

“People are quite sophisticated travellers, they’ve experienced various types of travel, and they’re just looking for something new,” Dr Tolkach said.

‘We don’t have to rely on anyone but ourselves’

An increasing number of people are also looking for something more permanent than a change-of-pace holiday.

Fluid work arrangements that enable employees to work from home, coupled with stifling city lockdowns, appear to be inspiring a surge in tree changers.

Greg Maguinness and his partner were looking for more than just a weekend away when they were driving through South Gippsland, in Victoria, and stumbled upon their future home.

“We drove onto the block and the views were amazing, and we literary bought it that day,” Mr Maguinness said.

While the land came with plans for a house, the couple had other ideas.

“We had a very large house [in Mornington], by the sea,” Mr Maguinness said.

“We had the formal living room and the formal dining room … we decided we wanted something simple.”

The pair, who moved into their new home about a month ago, said the design ensured there was no wasted space.

“It’s a bedroom up each end, a bathroom up each end, and the middle space, the core of the house, is where we all congregate,” Mr Maguinness said.

Despite living off-grid and ditching their excess belongings, the men said their new, pared-back lifestyle fulfilled almost all of their daily needs.

“[But] we can only have four-minute showers, the rain’s so precious up here,” Mr Maguinness said.

The pair said their friends were shocked when they announced they were moving off-grid.

“[But] when they saw what was done … they were literally blown away,” he said.

“It’s just a simple way of life — we have the whole thing, the vegetables, the chooks, the cows, the whole package.

“It’s just a really good way of living.”

And it’s a choice more Australians are making according to experts.

The way of the future

Architect Alexander Symes said changing technology meant people could live remotely off-grid while still feeling connected to society.

Mr Symes said the first step for anyone considering making the move, was for them to look at their energy consumption.

“Are you prepared to play around with turning certain appliances on and off to reduce the battery size?” he asked.

“You need to look at your climate with solar and calculate how many days you might need to generate backup power.

“Then you need to look at water collection, the storage, filtration.”

While Mr Symes’ practice is largely based on off-grid designs, his advice to those starting out was to start small.

“Build it to a high quality, find what works, and then build it out further,” he said.

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