How to explore New Zealand's natural wonders and help save it

Many New Zealand tourism operators are helping drive conservation efforts through their tours and activities.

Tourism operators in New Zealand are helping drive conservation efforts through significant investment in environmental protection and sustainability projects, and by donating some of their visitor take to this work.

Exploring New Zealand’s magnificent and diverse scenery is high on the agenda for any tourist. Now they can help preserve the country’s flora and fauna themselves – either by volunteering or by embarking on an excursion run by a company that protects the natural beauty on show.  

Canopy Tours, Rotorua

Canopy Tours is a novel way to see New Zealand’s magnificent primeval forests the way the birds do – from the treetops. The three-hour tour through Dansey Road Scenic Reserve outside Rotorua lets you soar through the forest along ziplines, cross treetop swingbridges and perch on treetop platforms up to 22 metres high above the forest floor.  

Canopy Tours help fund a conservation programme to protect the forest and its native fauna, which have been threatened by introduced pests like possums and rats. Trapping has been highly successful, and birdlife has steadily returned. Visitors can spot the rare North Island robin, kereru (native wood pigeon), and kaka (a native parrot) as well as the Pacific gecko. 

Travel Tips

About 3 hours' drive or a 40-minute flight from Auckland, and less than an hour from Hamilton, Tauranga and Taupo, Rotorua's central North Island location makes it a great base. Relax in the naturally heated waters of Kerosene Creek, just 35 minutes south of Rotorua, where hot springs and a freshwater stream meet to create soothing bath-like waters. 

Blue Duck Station, Ruapehu

Look at a New Zealand $10 banknote and you will see a picture of the endangered native blue duck, the whio. Blue Duck Station, in the heart of the Whanganui National Park, has high numbers of whio and kiwi, as well as weta, native bats, and fish. 

The station takes measures to encourage the bush to regenerate, enhance water quality and trap predators. It also educates visitors about flora and fauna and local history. You can stay in one of several accommodations at various budget levels and go on a bush safari, try clay bird shooting, take a helicopter flight, go horse trekking, hunting, jet boating, kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking - or volunteer for important conservation work.

Travel Tips

Ohakune is nestled in the centre of the North Island, just over 4 hours’ drive from Auckland or 3.5 hours from central Wellington.  The nearest airports are Taupo and Whanganui, both of which have rental car facilities and are less than 1.5 hours’ drive from Ohakune itself. Make your way into the Tongariro National Park to immerse yourself in this volcanic adventure playground.

Kapiti Island Nature Tours, Wellington

Rugged Kapiti Island, northwest of Wellington, was once the stronghold of fearsome Maori chief Te Rauparaha, who launched raids into the middle part of New Zealand in the 1820s. Later, whalers based themselves here, but since 1897 Kapiti Island has been designated by the government as a wildlife sanctuary.

Local tangata whenua (Māori people of the land), continued to own a small piece of the island and today they welcome tourists, serving as kaitiaki (guardians) of the land and its taonga (treasures). In 2009, Kapiti Island Nature Tours and Kaitiaki o Kapiti Trust supported the Department of Conservation’s stoat eradication program to return Kapiti Island to its former predator-free status. The Kapiti Marine Reserve links the Kapiti Island Nature Reserve and the Waikanae Estuary Scientific Reserve on the mainland.

Visitors to Kapiti Island can take a day tour or stay overnight in the lodge and go kiwi spotting.

Travel Tips

Wellington is nestled at the bottom of New Zealand’s North Island, with an international airport connecting Australia, Fiji and most domestic cities and towns. The Kapiti Coast an easy hour’s drive from Wellington with Kapiti Island Nature Tours ferry departing from the Kapiti Boating Club at Paraparaumu Beach. 

Zealandia, Wellington

Just a few kilometres from the heart of Wellington, Zealandia describes itself as “the world’s first fully fenced urban ecosanctuary” and “about the most biodiversity-rich square mile of mainland New Zealand in terms of the species living wild here”. 

Zealandia’s founders have a 500-year vision to restore the valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. Already the ecosanctuary has reintroduced 18 species of native wildlife back into the area.

As well as going on a tour, you can also donate, become a Zealandia member, or join Zealandia’s volunteer workforce.

Travel Tips

Zealandia is a short bus ride or 5-minute drive from downtown Wellington. An hour’s drive from Wellington is the charming wine village of Martinborough, where visitors can cycle between vineyards sampling some of the country’s best pinot noir.  

Whale Watch, Kaikoura

A deep ocean canyon just off the coast at Kaikoura on the South Island’s east coast attracts a rich abundance of marine life, especially giant sperm whales in search of their favourite prey, giant squid. The coast is also home to fur seals and crayfish, after which the area is named.  

Whale Watch is a Māori-owned company committed to hospitality to visitors and reverence for the natural world. It contributes to ongoing scientific research through detailed record-keeping, identification of every whale seen, its location, and any unusual whale behaviour. 

Whale Watch is a staunch supporter of the marine conservation movement including the ongoing international fight to protect whales from commercial killing.

Travel Tips

Kaikoura is a stunning 2-hour drive up the east coast of the South Island. Just a 1.5 hour flight from Auckland, or less than an hour from Wellington, Christchurch boasts the second largest airport in New Zealand, connecting the city to all major national, and some international hubs.

Real Journeys, southern South Island

Explore spectacular scenery in a variety of ways: tours, cruises, horse treks, kayaking and rafting. Visit Queenstown and Te Anau and experience the beauty of isolated Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds, and Stewart Island. 

Not only does Real Journeys take you there, the company actively helps keep the environment as pristine as possible. Back in the 1970s, founder Les Hutchins supported the campaign to save Lake Manapouri from the impact of a big hydro project. The underground power station went ahead, but steps were taken to preserve the state of Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau. It’s a fascinating place to visit. 

Passengers contribute more than $50,000 a year to the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation via a $1 passenger levy on Doubtful Sound operations. The foundation supports all kinds of conservation measures including dolphin research, protection for endangered birds, outdoor education camps, and getting rid of wilding pines. It also holds a “Birds of a Feather” charity ball to raise funds for the Department of Conservation.

Travel Tips

Queenstown airport is very well serviced by both domestic and international flights and, with its Remarkables Range alpine backdrop, boasts one of the most scenic landings you’ll ever experience. Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland National Park is a 2.5-hour drive from Queenstown. Stewart Island is accessible via ferry from Bluff, or in a light aircraft from Invercargill. Stewart Island is also home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Rakiura Track.

Wairaurahiri Jetboating, Fiordland

Hang on tight for a heart-thumping ride when you catch a Wairaurahiri  jet boat into the heart of Fiordland National Park across Lake Hauroko and down to the rugged southern coast via the wild Wairaurahiri River. Rock-strewn, grade-three rapids make this an experience to remember. You can opt to stay overnight at Waitutu Lodge, or add a helicopter ride as well. Wairaurahiri Jets also transports hunters and trampers to remote areas of the park. 

The company is committed to being economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. In 2015 volunteers picked up nearly 10 tons of rubbish in a coastal clean up. Tourists can also become part of a stoat-trapping project. The price of a jet boat ride sponsors a stoat trap for two years and also includes a jet boat ride to the Waitutu Forest. 

Travel Tips

Wairaurahihi Jet departure point is a 2-hour drive from Te Anau or Invercargill.  Te Anau is a 2-hour drive from the famous Milford Sound, a must-do for anyone wanting to witness New Zealand scenery at its magnificent best.

Eco Wanaka Adventures, Mt. Aspiring National Park

Lofty peaks and pristine alpine lakes made Mt. Aspiring National Park the natural backdrop for The Lord of the Rings movies. Tourists can choose from cruises on Lake Wanaka, guided walks or heli-hiking. 

Eco Wanaka takes an active environmental role, and guests can plant a native tree on the Eco Lake Cruise / Walk Tour on Mou Waho Island with its “lake on top of an island”.

Trees planted provide food to the varied species on the island, including the buff weka, a rare flightless bird, extinct on mainland New Zealand.

Travel Tips

Wanaka is just over an hour’s drive from Queenstown and just over 3 hours from Invercargill and Dunedin. Gateway to some of the country’s most famous ski-fields, Wanaka comes alive during the winter months (June-August), when hordes of snow-bunnies descend to make the most of the world-class slopes.

Elm Wildlife Tours, Dunedin

Elm Wildlife Tours on the Otago Peninsula give visitors the chance to see rare yellow-eyed penguins, Hooker’s sea lions, New Zealand fur seals and little blue penguins as well as albatross at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head. 

Tours include one-day and multi-day excursions, as well as shoreline excursions for cruise ship visitors.

The company helps protect yellow-eyed penguins, considered to be the world’s rarest penguin species, with just over 5000 remaining in the world. Measures have included extensive habitat planting, construction of nest sites and predator control.

As a bonus, university students discovered in 2004 that the numbers of little blue penguins were increasing. Elm Wildlife tours also helped set up New Zealand Sea Lion Trust to fund research into this threatened species.

Travel Tips

Dunedin, a bustling student town, is just 2.5 hours’ drive from Invercargill, 3.5 hours from Queenstown and 4.5 from Christchurch. The coastal city boasts a great number of spectacular beaches, the majority of which are no more than 15-20 minutes’ drive from the city centre. Head out to beautiful Aramoana beach, just 30 minutes’ drive away, to encounter sweeping sands and majestic albatrosses.

Ulva Island Tours, Stewart Island 

Known as Rakiura in Maori, Stewart Island is New Zealand’s southernmost main island, accessible either by ferry or aircraft. Ulva Island, close to the main settlement in Halfmoon Bay, is teeming with native birdlife. 

Ulva Goodwillie, who was named after Ulva Island, is a direct descendant of the first Maori people of Stewart Island, and in 2000 she established Ulva’s Guided Walks. Ulva and her team of local guides offer visitors a range of bird watching and botanical experiences.

Ulva’s Guided Walks sponsors Gadget, the rodent detector dog, who is a member of New Zealand's Conservation Dogs Programme. The company also supports the Stewart Island/Rakiura Community and Environment Trust (SIRCET) Sponsor-a-Hectare programme and the Halfmoon Bay Habitat Restoration Project. 

Travel Tips

New Zealand’s third largest island sits 30 kilometres south of the South Island and is accessible via ferry from Bluff, or in a light aircraft from Invercargill. Head offshore to the marine reserve and bird sanctuary of Ulva island, a short 10-minute boat right from Golden Bay. The island is one of the country’s only predator-free sanctuaries and is an incredible place to encounter the native flora and fauna.