Nau mai, haere mai! Welcome to Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud, home of the Maori people and wellspring of rich cultural experiences ...
In New Zealand, the environment has always been at the forefront of a thrilling visitor experience. After all, many choose New Zealand precisely for its spectacular landscapes and unique wildlife.
Though created by nature, the environment has been preserved through the conservation efforts of its human custodians. New Zealand has 14 national parks, and more than 30 per cent of its land area is protected as conservation land of some description. In addition, its conservation workers are at the forefront of species management – bringing endangered wildlife back from the brink of extinction through innovative rescue programmes. One example is that of the Chatham Island Black Robin. In 1980, just five birds remained but, through careful management, the population has been restored to around 250.
Tourism and conservation come together at facilities like Kiwi Encounter in Rotorua and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve in Christchurch, which feature breeding programmes for native species, and at predator-free islands. A more recent development has been the creation of mainland ‘islands’ such as Wellington’s ZEALANDIA – habitats that are protected by state-of-the-art electric fencing and then cleared of pests. Enormously successful, these areas allow native birds to thrive, often to the point where they repopulate surrounding areas (unlike the pests, flying birds are free to come and go), and admission fees help to fund conservation efforts. Other eco-tour operators also play a part in protecting the species they’re helping you to encounter. Elm Wildlife Tours, for example, funds a conservation project to help boost the population of Hoiho (Yellow-eyed Penguins).
But it’s not only in conservation that New Zealand demonstrates a commitment to sustainability. With a population of about 4.8 million people and producing just 0.2 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to pledge a carbon-neutral future, and a number of companies have already achieved carboNZero certification. In addition, many accommodation providers and activity operators have gained Qualmark Enviro Awards, recognising efforts in areas of energy efficiency, waste management, water conservation, community activities and conservation initiatives. Green, clean New Zealand – it’s a cliché for a reason!
A small black bird unique to the Chatham Islands, Black Robins are vulnerable to predation by introduced pests and by the early 1980s just five birds remained on one tiny island. Of these, just one was a breeding female, so dedicated game rangers moved Old Blue and her companions to a larger island that was replanted for their arrival. Through the rangers’ efforts, the population slowly grew and today numbers around 250 birds – every one of them descended from Old Blue.
Visitors can make a difference by choosing green options whenever possible. A great option for an environmentally friendly stay is to try ‘WWOOFing’. Willing Workers on Organic Farms provides the opportunity to learn sustainable practices while living with a Kiwi family that has made the leap into green-dom. If this isn’t quite your thing, you can still help keep New Zealand beautiful. Park the car and use buses and trains where possible, or swap the car for hiking and cycling trips. When you do go hiking, always stick to designated tracks to protect fragile wildlife. When choosing accommodation, keep an eye out for Qualmark Enviro-accredited providers, and always clear up your rubbish at camping spots. Don’t use the great outdoors as a bathroom – look for a public toilet or wait till the next time you’re at a café. Many shampoos and soaps contain phosphates that are bad for waterways, so don’t use these in rivers and lakes. Look for eco-friendly activities, support wildlife sanctuaries and indulge in seasonal produce from farmers’ markets. Remember, sometimes it’s the little things that can make all the difference!
“In my opinion, the Otago Peninsula is the finest example of eco-tourism in the world.” (David Bellamy, Environmentalist)