Are you a science tourist?

I began to think about Science Tourism the other day when I reflected on our recent honeymoon on Heron Island, a small coral cay in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. One thing I really loved about our stay on the island was how accessible science was, which makes it a hot Science Tourism destination.

What is Science Tourism?

Science tourism is travelling to a location to experience science. Places to visit as a science tourist include sites of historical events in science, ecotourism locations, science museums, botanical gardens and science centres.

Here are some of my favourite science tourism experiences over the past few years.

1. Ecotourism on Heron Island

The nature on Heron Island is incredible. As soon as you set foot on the island the smell of bird poo hits you, and stays with you the whole visit. This small island is covered in 10s of 1000s of birds. We visited during the nesting season for the black noddy terns (Anous minutus) and the mutton bird (also called Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Puffinus pacificus), who nest in holes in the ground.

bird in a nest

A black noddy turn nesting on Heron Island. Photo by Fly on the Wall

The namesake of the island, the heron, will be one of the first birds you see when arriving on the island as they like to hang out on the path into the resort.

white heron on a path light

A heron greeting us when we arrived at Heron Island. Photo by Fly on the Wall

Our visit also coincided with the turtle nesting season, and we were treated to the amazing site of dozens of huge turtles laying eggs on the beach each night.

There is a lovely forest of Pisonia grandis covering over half of the island, which is beautiful to walk through on the couple of trails.

All this fabulous nature, even before you get into the water. The diving was absolutely first class. We saw lots of sharks, tonnes of amazing fish, nudibranchs, beautiful coral formations, turtles swimming and feeding, and one mesmerizing manta ray.

Every day there were a number of free activities with lots of science included, like reef walks, bird walks, forest walks, and research walks. All these activities are run by some young science graduates. We both went to an informative talk about sea turtles by Tim Harvey from the Sea Turtle Foundation one evening – it was fantastic to hear from someone who is so involved in turtle research and conservation.

Heron Island from the water

Leaving Heron Island… I can’t wait to go back. Photo by Fly on the Wall

2. The Science Museum in London

I love visiting the Science Museum in London and it’s a very handy place to go for free in such an expensive city. There is huge variety of quality science presented there, and is constantly updated.

3. Questacon science centre in Canberra

A visit to Canberra, Australia, with kids must always include Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. There are great hands-on exhibits for kids, who are encouraged to play and learn. And the science shows are great fun, performed by professional actors.

4. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney

I love botanical gardens – they make for a lovely break from dense buildings when you’re travelling in cities, and they usually provide a good dose of science. The Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney are beautiful, with a great view of the harbour from many spots, a bat colony living in a couple of trees, and frequent science exhibitions.

5. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew

I made a pilgrimage to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew when I moved to England in 2005 because of all I had heard about it when I studied botany. I was rewarded with lots to great information there about science and the history of the garden.


A stunning glasshouse and cherry blossoms at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2005

6. Rutherford’s Den in Christchurch

(correction: I have found out that Rutherford’s Den was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake and is closed indefinitely. They still run outreach programs to schools)

One of my favourite experiences in Christchurch, New Zealand, was a visit to Rutherford’s Den, where the Nobel Prize winner Ernest Rutherford studied at Canterbury College – now the Arts Centre of Christchurch. Rutherford’s Den is an exhibition and education centre housed in the very rooms where Rutherford studied, attended lectures and undertook his earliest experiments.

the Arts Centre of Christchurch

Canterbury College – now the Arts Centre of Christchurch, where Rutherford studied

Science tourism – you can even study it at university!

Science tourism might be the next big thing. It turns out that you can do a Bachelor of Science in Tourism in the Netherlands, which explores the linkages between the social, environmental and economic aspects of tourism. There is also an MSc available at the University of Exeter, UK in Tourism, Development and Policy.

My Science Tourism Wish List

1. One place high on the science tourism list is The Eagle Pub, where Watson and Crick announced they had discovered the structure of life – the Double Helix in Cambridge, UK.

2. The Galapagos Islands – My parents are going to the Galapagos islands this year on a ecotourism adventure – their main reason for going it Dad’s passion for natural history, so that is definitely a science tourism trip. They are going on their boat trip with Ecoventura.

3. The Exploratorium in San Francisco – the most famous science centre in the world, known for its innovative science-art exhibitions

Where do you want to go as a science tourist? Do you have any science tourism destinations that I should know about?

This article was published in the Bare Essentials Magazine – July/August 2012 – enjoy!


Jo Savill is a writer, science communicator and entrepreneur. Stay up to date with Jo’s writing by signing up to her newsletter
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