New take on age old park practice

Visitors to the Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand’s South Island may think they’re experiencing a modern trend in eco-friendly tourism, but practising sustainability is nothing new around here.

Sustainable practices and eco-friendly activities have been a driving force in tourism for more than 30 years in one of New Zealand's most visited national parks.

Wilsons Abel Tasman - a family business that operates tourism ventures within Abel Tasman National Park, on the South Island's northwestern coast - says it was practising sustainability long before it became a buzz word for modern business.

Three generations of the Wilson family are involved in the business, and chief executive Darryl Wilson says the family has "always worked to make sure we leave something of value for the next generation".

Abel Tasman National Park

Thousands of national and international visitors enjoy the Abel Tasman region each year, spending anything from a few hours to several days in the park's huge expanse of sheltered coastal waters and native forests filled with diverse wildlife.

When the family business first began operating in 1977, Abel Tasman national park was little known outside of the region, according to Darryl Wilson.

From a single passenger launch transporting visitors into the park, the business has developed over the years into a diverse operation offering a range of tourism services including water taxis, cruises, guided walks, sea kayaking and accommodation.

"Our marketing of the area has been so successful our main focus now is on managing our impact on the environment," Darryl Wilson says.

Tourism awards

This commitment to sustainability has been recognised with several major awards.

Founder John Wilson received a Queens Service Medal for 'Service to Tourism', recognising his part in turning the park into an international tourist destination.

Other awards include a New Zealand Tourism Qualmark (2006), Qualmark Enviro Gold (2013), and a Tasman District Council Heritage Award (2003).

Wilsons Abel Tasman is also a founding member of two regional sustainability initiatives - the Nelson - Tasman Sustainable Tourism Charter, and the Abel Tasman Birdsong Trust.

Growing commitment

Wilson says it has required constant improvement and the introduction of the latest technologies to grow the business without compromising the environment.

Carbon neutral means much more than planting trees and recycling, Wilson says, and initiatives introduced to minimise the environmental footprint include:

  • solar panels on two lodges producing 50% of high season, and total low season energy requirements
  • bio-active, self-contained sewerage and water systems
  • low impact technology used when upgrading buildings
  • timbers milled from renewable forests
  • organic and biodegradable cleaning systems
  • food sourced from local organic and environmentally responsible suppliers
  • rubbish recycling
  • itineraries, luggage transfers and supply deliveries designed for scheduled transport services
  • small groups
  • highly trained guides who encourage environmental conservation
  • regeneration of the natural forest promoted through pest control and replanting initiatives.