Eco-travels in New Zealand made easy

With its striking landscapes and expansive untouched wilderness regions, New Zealand is a preferred destination choice for many eco-minded and sustainable-savvy tourists.

Qualmark’s Enviro-Gold status makes it easier for visitors to take an environmentally guilt-free trip through New Zealand while making their way from accommodation to activities without ever having to compromise on their ecological values.

Established in 2008, the Qualmark Green environmental rating system is an extension to the Qualmark quality assurance scheme.

This programme was created some 15 years ago to help the New Zealand tourism industry support the 100% Pure New Zealand marketing campaign, and provide visitors with a flawless travel experience.

Exclusive rating

Qualmark Enviro-Gold is the exclusive rating level for accommodation and activities that adhere to the Qualmark Green code of practice. Enviro-Silver and Enivro-Bronze levels can also be achieved.

The Qualmark Green scheme is a world-leading quality and environmental performance assurance system which can only be attained after a stringent Qualmark assessment that looks at everything from energy efficiency, waste management, and water conservation to community activities and conservation management from a tourism perspective.

Each Qualmark licence holder is expected to adhere to basic Responsible Tourism practices, but to attain a Qualmark Enviro award, "a business must show extra commitment to caring for their environment and their local community," says Qualmark GM, Tim Keeling.

"For each step up the Enviro ladder, from Bronze to Silver then Gold, more is demanded of the business. The Enviro criteria is strict and the assessments rigorous and demanding."

There are now more than 200 Qualmark Enviro-Gold rated tourist activities and accommodations to be found throughout New Zealand.

Kauri Museum, Northland

The Kauri Museum in the small pastoral village of Matakohe - on the western route into New Zealand’s Northland region - is one of the latest tourism attractions to achieve the Qualmark Enviro-Gold rating.

A ’must-do’ Northland attraction, this museum - which frequently surprises visitors with its detail and extensive collections - celebrates the magic of New Zealand’s ancient kauri forests, and the timber and gum digging industries that attracted a flood of early European settlers.

The Kauri Museum is the natural prequel to visiting the stunning Waipoua Forest - home to ancient kauri trees that have survived for thousands of years. Tane Mahuta, the tallest of the ancient trees, is revered by Maori as ‘Lord of the Forest’, while another known as Matua Ngahere -‘Father of the Forest’ - is estimated to be 2,500 - 3,000 years old.

The Kauri Museum’s CEO Betty Nelley is thrilled at achieving the recent environmental accreditation, something that was a personal goal for her.

"It means so much for our business as we always believed we demonstrated environmental excellence, integrity and best practice, and now that belief has been formally endorsed. Our philosophy around the environment is that we wish to leave the world a better place for our grandchildren," she says.

Like many environmentally-conscious companies, the Kauri Museum is owned by a charitable trust and is funded entirely by ticket sales and donations.

Hump Ridge Track, Tuatapere

At the other end of New Zealand, the only two Enviro-Gold accredited visitor attractions in the Southland region, Tuatapere Hump Track - also operated by a charitable trust - and nearby Wairaurahiri Jet have both demonstrated a highly successful mix of business, community, ecology and sustainability.

Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track is located in spectacular Fiordland National Park - New Zealand’s largest national park - and nestled just outside the historic timber town of Tuatapere.

The three-day 62km track takes walkers on a journey of natural discovery across remote wild landscapes typical of the rugged south-eastern coastal region.

The Hump Track Charitable Trust - in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Sustainable Tourism South project - has a variety of initiatives and programmes that are helping to reduce the environmental impact on Fiordland’s relatively untouched natural landscapes.

Sustainability is a key focus for the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track and walkers are encouraged to learn about the history of the area, enjoy the wild wilderness and immerse themselves in eco-responsible ‘leave-no-trace’ tourism.

Wairaurahiri Jet, Southland

The Wairaurahiri Jet takes visitors deep into the heart of breathtaking Fiordland National Park. Here visitors can enjoy a 90km round trip across peaceful Lake Hauroko, down the fast-flowing Wairaurahiri River and along the picturesque and often tempestuous south coast.

Owners Johan Groters and Joyce Kolk have committed to help preserve New Zealand’s natural environment and wanted to prove this by attaining Enviro-Gold status.

The couple - who have been running the successful company for over 20 years - achieved the status on the back of a predator control operation they have been running alongside their jet-boating activities.

Although this type of wildlife operation is hard to measure, the couple say that after seven years of predator control, unique New Zealand wildlife is being restored and maintained. For many visitors, the highlight is hearing the beautiful dawn chorus.

Wine Art & Wilderness, Nelson

Another Enviro-Gold rated company who take wine, food and eco practice seriously is Nelson tour operator Wine Art and Wilderness. Based in the artisan region of Nelson, at the western tip of the South Island, Wine Art and Wilderness offers exclusive wine and art tours infused with an eco-edge.

Wine Art and Wilderness tours explore lesser-known gems in the Nelson and Marlborough wine regions. Using fresh, local produce, waste-reduction and conservation efforts in a variety of projects, and a no-trace approach are key elements for Wine Art and Wilderness’ owner Noel Kennedy and his team of experienced guides.

The Wine in the Wilderness tour incorporates an exquisite natural landscape infused with mouthwatering food and wine. Visitors experience two working wineries, before jumping onto a water-taxi at Kaiteriteri beach to be whisked away to stunning Abel Tasman National Park. Known for its golden sandy beaches and turquoise waters, Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand’s most iconic natural national treasures.

The day completes with a lunch of local wines expertly matched to fine local produce such as cheese, fresh mussels or scallops.

Inner city green stays

It’s not just tourism operators who promote the natural beauty of New Zealand by embracing the Enviro-Gold ethos. Plenty of city centre hotels and luxury lodges are also doing their bit to protect New Zealand’s environment by promoting sustainability and educating guests on best eco practice.

Two inner city Auckland hotels - The Heritage Auckland and CityLife Auckland - are perfectly placed to let visitors experience the best of the ‘City of Sails’. On one of Auckland’s busiest streets, CityLife’s commitment to reducing landfill waste, and support of a children’s charity and the New Zealand arts has helped the hotel achieve Enviro-Gold.

Heritage Auckland - occupying one of Auckland’s most historic and iconic buildings - was awarded Enviro-Gold as recognition of a commitment to gaining a broader understanding of suppliers and their products in order to reduce their carbon footprint.

Heritage Auckland’s commitment to sustainable living has also been an inspiration for the food they serve.

The hotel’s famous Hectors Restaurant has a vegan and vegetarian menu, while the Healthy Menu in the Lobby Bar serves tasty, plant-based, locally sourced produce.

The Heritage Auckland took their healthy-eating philosophy one step further when they became the first hotel in New Zealand to introduction a Raw Bar.

It was the observation of a more environmentally-conscious traveller, and the acquisition of Enviro-Gold status, that prompted the creation of this unique breakfast menu.

"We had observed the international trend towards more conscious cuisine in 2010 and saw a great fit with our own philosophies. As an Enviro Gold hotel we embraced the sustainability benefits of plant based meals whilst at the same time assisting our guests with their healthy goals through providing low fat and nutritious meals," said Heritage Auckland general manager Graeme Back.

Te Waonui Forest Retreat, Franz Josef

Luxury and sustainability go hand in hand in New Zealand with a wide choice of luxury lodges, hotels and boutique accommodations that cater to the ecologically responsible traveller throughout the country.

Te Waonui Forest Retreat, a five-star luxury hotel at Franz Josef on the South Island’s wild West Coast, is proud to carry Enviro-Gold accreditation.

The West Coast region encompasses Te Wahipounamu - a dramatic world heritage site that includes the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers - which is the largest and least modified area of New Zealand’s natural ecosystems. The region also boasts five of New Zealand’s 14 national parks.

The surrounding world heritage area was a significant inspiration for Te Waonui Forest Retreat and everything from the creation of the hotel, to the furnishings and the paint used to decorate the rooms received sustainable consideration.

This innovative, ecologically superior hotel has three wings to choose from, offering visitors a break from the rush of the world - it also offers all the extravagant comforts of a luxury hotel while reducing the impact on the pristine surrounding environment.

Youth hostels

It is not just the luxury hotels around New Zealand that offer ecological peace of mind - backpacker accommodation like the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) is also devoted to this cause.

With a motto of "It’s not just about fancy shampoos and a mint on your pillow - what’s really important is whether your accommodation provider is committed to the environment", the New Zealand branches of the YHA are aiming to achieve a minimum of Enviro-Silver across the board by 2014.

Two hostels - YHA Wanaka and YHA Wellington - have already exceeded this aim with an Enviro-Gold rating.

The award winning, five-star rated YHA Wellington offers a great downtown experience of New Zealand’s capital city, while maintaining the ecological ethos which is crucial to the YHA New Zealand brand and ever-evolving eco-friendly future plans.

Air New Zealand

In 2009, Air New Zealand - New Zealand’s leading national and international carrier - was awarded Enviro-Gold status in recognition of environmental efforts.

This award, given for Air New Zealand’s commitment to enforcing environmental and sustainably responsible practices throughout the organisation, is a wonderful example of big companies making sure they offset their own, often large carbon footprints and show the rest of the world that they are leading by example.

From land to air, backpackers to luxury, museums to wine tours, New Zealand is one of the most unique places on earth to experience the best eco-friendly travel, sustainable and responsible tourism. The Qualmark Green system is an assurance to visitors that they are also doing their bit to keep New Zealand beautiful.

Fact file: Qualmark New Zealand

  • New Zealand's official mark of quality for tourism
  • owned by Tourism New Zealand and the NZ Automobile Association
  • quality assurance accreditation system - includes accommodation star gradings, and an endorsement system for visitor transport, service and activities
  • Qualmark Green includes three levels of recognition for performers in responsible tourism - Qualmark Enviro-Gold, Enviro-Silver and Enviro-Bronze