In a landscape spanning white to black sand beaches, mountains, forests, rivers and lakes, and volcanic marvels, New Zealand’s scenery leaves nothing to the imagination and everything for those looking for compelling eco-experiences.
Almost one-third of the land has been set aside in national parks, reserves and heritage sites to preserve the country’s ecological heritage – a pristine panorama of ancient forests and landforms, rare birds and creatures that have survived since prehistoric times.
There are many opportunities to explore New Zealand’s treasured expansive and untouched wilderness regions, with a budding eco-tourism industry aiming for sustainable tourism models. Here are five savvy eco-experiences from the Northland to the Southland.
Aotearoa – Star Spotting Eco-Experiences
By day, New Zealand has some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth. By night, the beauty is out of this world.
Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf is one of only three spots in the world – and the only island – to be granted Dark-Sky Sanctuary status by the International Dark-Sky Association.
To be awarded this status, a location must have an “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights” and on Great Barrier that’s enhanced by the fact that its small population lives entirely off-the-grid.
A tour with Good Heavens is the best way to see the stars on the island and learn the importance of the night sky to Māori culture.
Wellington – Zealandia Eco Sancutary
The brainchild of conservationist Jim Lynch, Zealandia Ecosanctuary was inspired by a vision to return part of Wellington to its pre-human condition.
As an educational, interactive experience, Zealandia showcases New Zealand’s unique natural history and tells the story of the world-famous conservation movement that is working to protect rare and threatened species native to the country.
The sanctuary takes on many innovative sustainable measures, one of which is promoting sustainable travel in partnership with Switched On Bikes – an electric bike hire company operating from downtown Wellington. Visitors who use hired e-bikes to get around the city and travel to Zealandia are refunded their Zealandia day admission fee when they return the e-bike.
Whanganui – E-Explore Eco Experiences
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E-bike rentals and tours are popping up across New Zealand, near major cities and tourist attractions – it’s easy to see why they’ve become so popular. There are few better ways to explore the country’s colourful cities and breathtaking natural landscapes than via speedy, environmentally friendly, electric pedal power.
Whanganui is a quiet rural centre, known for its rich past as a base for both Māori and European settlers. Discover the Whanganui River Road via E-bike, stretching from Pipiriki (a tiny settlement up the river) back into the town. The trail runs through Ranana (the Māori word for London) and Parikino, where visitors have the opportunity of visiting traditional settlements and meeting grounds.
This scenic route is all gentle hills, lush ferns and trickling rivers – perfect for a slow and relaxing day of cycling and exploring.
Kaikoura – Conservation In Action
Kaikoura, in the Canterbury region, is one of New Zealand’s top nature tourism destinations, offering year-round whale-watching experiences off the coast of the rugged South Pacific coastline. Kaikoura is leading the charge in community conservation and sustainable tourism for New Zealand, offering many whale-watching and tourism services that are stellar eco-experiences that are also dedicated to protecting the natural resources of their community.
Many local operations, such as Whale Watch Kaikoura, are enriched with stories of the local Māori people, their traditions and history, and local efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
Operating as a charitable entity, Whale Watch returns a significant portion of profits into the community for education and employment, and to protect the environment. As the community’s major employer, it has inspired other successful green businesses.
West Coast – Paparoa Track
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New Zealand’s newest Great Walk, the Paparoa Track, explores some of the most rugged, diverse and untouched environments in the country. Māori for “Long Place”, this spectacular mountain range looks out over New Zealand’s dramatic West coast, punctuated by peaks and threaded with rivers.
On the new 55km track, hikers and mountain bikers will experience the remnants of the region’s mining history and ever-changing forest that transforms from beech to rainforest, studded with nīkau palms.
Zealand is fast becoming a world champion in environmentally friendly tourism, offering a wide choice of eco-retreats, sustainable and local dining experiences and eco experiences throughout the country.