Rainbow Springs - one of Rotorua’s premier wildlife attractions - has become a renowned conservation and breeding haven for endangered species like the living-dinosaur tuatara and New Zealand’s flightless kiwi.
The wildlife park, which has been in operation since 1932, offers amazing up-close and personal interaction with some of New Zealand’s rare and cherished native wildlife - a unique experience for international visitors interested in helping out.
Kira, a German tourist and passionate conservationist, says her volunteer experience at Rainbow Springs has been "life-changing". Seeing a kiwi being released back into the wild "literally made my heart cry with joy".
"Volunteering is a great chance to try something new and fulfil a dream. When I arrived in New Zealand, I was so lucky to find Rainbow Springs and volunteer here," Kira said.
For travellers who want to experience something different on their New Zealand visit, volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to get close to local wildlife and learn more about New Zealand’s rich natural history.
Staff at Rainbow Springs - which houses the largest kiwi hatching facility in New Zealand - welcome international volunteers.
Rainbow Springs conservation staff say that volunteers are vital to keeping the park running smoothly - "From helping with the busy hatching programme, to feeding baby tuatara, it’s wonderful to work with volunteers like Kira who give up so much of their time, and are also passionate about our many projects."
Zealandia - a ground-breaking eco-attraction in New Zealand’s capital Wellington - is another sanctuary that is helping rescue some of New Zealand’s rarest wildlife.
The award-winning natural park, just 10 minutes from downtown Wellington, is one of the largest volunteer-supported conservation organisations in New Zealand.
Volunteers at Zealandia help with daily tasks including biosecurity, checking the integrity of the 8.6km-long high fence which protects the inhabitants and is vital to the success of the valley. Tunnels are also checked and monitored for animal pests.
Other regular tasks include building bird boxes, track cutting, feeding, bird monitoring and assisting scientific research.
At Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari - an eco sanctuary and major community conservation project near Hamilton - volunteers account for 250-plus hours per month (maintaining the fence, monitoring pests) which is the equivalent to 37 full-time staff. Visitors can appreciate the fruit of their labours - a mountain that is returning to original forest state filled with song birds and other native wildlife.
Conservation in tourism
Tens of thousands of international visitors also help contribute to New Zealand conservation efforts when they participate in activities with many tourism businesses that are involved in conservation programmes.
Rotorua Canopy Tours - a zipline tour company guiding trips through the treetops of magnificent virgin forest giants - is a new tourism business that wants to engage people in the environment and see them contributing to conservation.
The Forest Restoration Project aims to remove all introduced predators in the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve and create a safe forest sanctuary for the restoration of native New Zealand fauna and flora.
Blue Duck Station - in a remote North Island wilderness location between Ruapehu and the headwaters of the Whanganui river - is a working sheep and beef station that offers a variety of accommodation styles and the chance to join farmer and passionate conservationist Dan Steele in his quest to save local wildlife including the endangered whio / blue duck.
The ever-changing team of international volunteers keep everything ticking over from cleaning lodges, to gardening, stock work and maintaining traplines for pests.
Southern Discoveries’ Sinbad Gully conservation project - a project taking place in the world-renowned Milford Sound area in the Fiordland region of the South Island - is also helping to restore more of New Zealand’s natural wonders.
Named after the area at the base of the world-famous Mitre Peak in Milford Sound, the Sinbad Gully initiative was launched in 2009.
The aim of this project is to provide long-term pest control solutions to protect and increase the numbers of threatened birds such as rock wren, kea, whio, kiwi, and weka, as well as lizards and other large colourful invertebrates.
Department of Conservation
While volunteer and business efforts play a major role in New Zealand’s conservation story, it is the Department of Conservation (DOC) that is charged with the public protection of New Zealand’s natural heritage.
DOC has been supporting conservation in New Zealand for over 25 years with programmes that include bringing some of the world’s most endangered species back from the brink of extinction.
Conservation efforts have succeeded in saving a wide range of bird species including kākāpō, takahē, rowi, black robin, Chatham Island tāīko, petrel and oystercatcher, Chatham Island pigeon/parea, Forbe’s parakeet, New Zealand fairy tern, orange-fronted parakeet and the North Island kōkako and brown teal.
DOC is also responsible for the upkeep and administration of nine ‘Great Walks’.
Great Walks can be found up and down the country, and range from the historic Milford Track to the exquisite Able Tasman Coastal Track.
The Great Walks help to promote and educate people on New Zealand conservation and are part of the reason why DOC welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors annually in 24 visitor centres across the country.
DOC also maintains a highly successful volunteer programme, organising and supervising volunteers on a wide variety of tasks, including bird counts, historic building restoration and hut maintenance, habitat restoration, weed control, whale strandings, and tree planting.
Volunteering is a highly rewarding activity while visiting New Zealand. It is also a chance to learn new skills, meet like-minded people and see conservation in action.