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Putting the forest first: Canopy Tours and conservation

Rotorua Canopy Tours founders James Fitzgerald and Andrew Blackford found themselves creating much more than just a zipline tour when they began work in Rotorua in 2011.

It’s a classic Kiwi number eight wire story: a vision of a visitor experience like no other, and the ingenuity to make it happen. The section of forest James and Andrew identified for their ziplining experience was beautiful, but had significant problems. “A total rat and possum infestation was not only killing native animals, but destroying the native bush”, James explains.

Right from the get-go, the Rotorua Canopy Tours team made a commitment to do the best for the Department of Conservation land around them: to create a canopy experience by not only building the zipline mechanism, but by caring for and showcasing the surrounding natural area.

To date, the Canopy Conservation Trust they formed has invested over $500,000 of customers’ entry fees for conservation work: much of which involves trapping the pesky possums and rats that were wreaking havoc. While many people would infer that tourism has negative impacts on nature, groups like Rotorua Canopy Tours are proving that tourists can actively benefit the environment they visit. 

“Thanks to our visitors, native animals are returning to the area”, says Canopy Tours Manager Paul Button. “Native birds are coming back, including koekoeā, tomtits, and North Island robins.” Visitors are even treated to the unique experience of feeding native birds, by special permit.

The Canopy Tours team has not only focused on restoring their own section of native forest, but has assisted another local group via Trees That Count. Rotorua Canopy Tours have funded thirty trees for Bay of Plenty community group ‘Let’s Make Kaiate Falls Swimmable Again’, who are planting out 7km of stream bank to improve water quality in the area. 

“We’re so proud of all the conservation work we’ve been doing here at Rotorua Canopy Tours, and in the North Island generally with the help of Trees That Count”, says Paul. “All of this wouldn’t be possible without our amazing guests who come on our eco tours in New Zealand. We’re excited for the road ahead and the conservation gains we can make together.”



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