By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
The bushfires devastating huge portions of Australia are expected to burn for months, fueled by strong winds and extreme weather, leaving a staggering environmental toll. Our hearts go out to the people affected and the habitats erased.
As travelers—especially those of us who have marveled at the beauty of Australia—it's good to ask what we can do to help. Our partners at ABC News have suggested donating to Australian Red Cross' Disaster Relief and Recovery or to WIRES, an organization committed to wildlife in Australia; or you can donate to local fire brigades. To support people affected by the fires, Fast Company suggests donating to the Salvation Army’s disaster appeal or the bushfire appeal fund set up by the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The fires have made Australia's declining koala population even more vulnerable; consider a donation to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which rescues koalas in regions across New South Wales.
Australia is among our favorite travel destinations; we recently included the state of Tasmania (which is now affected by fires) on our Best Trips 2020 list, and we have long celebrated the wonders of the continent, including the Great Barrier Reef, and supported measures to protect its treasures, including Uluru. It's not enough to love a land only when the sun shines. Now is the time to care for a faraway place as if it were our own backyard.
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Today in a minute
The newest U.S. national park: That would be White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The 275 square miles of chalky white sand—the world’s largest gypsum dune field—was renamed White Sands National Park on Dec. 20, Afar reports. The dunes, Ronaldo Ribeiro wrote for Nat Geo, “look like white linens hung out to dry on a windy afternoon.”
The world’s newest country? That could be the South Pacific’s Bougainville island group, whose 25,000 residents voted overwhelmingly last month for independence from Papua New Guinea. The volcanic islands and atolls are about half the size of Fiji. Lonely Planet tells you how to get there.
When to travel? Here’s our guide not just on where, but when. Even if your plans are closer to home, this survey is worth it, if only for the video of playful harp seals in Canada’s Magdalen Islands.
Less-traveled France: The joys of the eastern Jura region include stunning lakes, waterfalls, valleys, limestone cliffs, and more than 4,000 caves. Oh, and these coveted curds: pale-yellow Comté, Morbier, Mont d’Or, and Bleu de Gex, reports Kimberley Lovato.
Alpine micronation: Imagine a nation so small you could hike it in three days. Welcome to Liechtenstein.
Your Instagram photo of the day
Oh wow: A double rainbow appears suddenly after a shower in western Iceland. In October the colors of the tundra shift, the rainfall changing the bilberry ground cover plants to red and the mosses to green.
Related: Take an epic road trip through the land of fire and ice
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The big takeaway
All tomorrow’s safaris: Look for Chad’s stunning Zakouma National Park (pictured) and Madagascar as upcoming tourist destinations for safaris, which are evolving quickly, writes Costas Christ for Nat Geo. Sustainability, female empowerment, community action, and anti-poaching innovations characterize the new safaris.
Read: Our top travel trends of the year
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One last glimpse
From a window seat: This stunning image of the San Francisco Bay salt ponds is just one of many aerial photographs that are leagues better than anything I’ve snapped from seat 25A. Photographer Julieanne Kost said she began taking images during flights to help her conquer her fear of flying. “As long as I could see the world as an image through an eyepiece rather than as a harsh, physical reality, the threat was less real,” Kost says. We are the better for her images, from the crimson formations of Nevada’s Valley of Fire to Iceland’s multi-colored mountains.
See: The surprisingly stunning views from an airplane window seat