How do you take a small reserve, with no visitor/recreation infrastructure, that is low on any biodiversity priorities and make it into a real conservation success story?
Rotorua Canopy Tours has achieved just that in just a little over four years, creating a business that is fun, exciting and engages people in the environment and sees them contributing to real conservation outcomes.
Sometime in 2008 James Fitzgerald got a great idea in his head after reading an online article about the popularity of zip lines (that’s flying fox in Kiwi speak) in Central America – he thought, why has no one done it here in some magnificent virgin New Zealand native forest? Not only would it be fun, the customers could also learn all about the natural ecosystems and conservation in New Zealand while deep amongst it.
After doing a spot of trawling around Google Maps for some likely locations around the Rotorua District, James stumbled upon the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, just a 15 minute drive from town.
In mid 2010 James strolled into the Rotorua Lakes DOC office and met with the visually formidable yet highly enabling Ron Keyzer, concessions ranger.
“Prior to meeting Ron I really didn’t think I had a chance of setting up on DOC land,” explains James. “However, my perceptions were quickly proved wrong. Ron was fantastic to work with and kindly steered me through the concession application process. In hindsight it was the birth of a partnership that continues to bring mutual benefit to both parties.”
In August 2012 after five months of construction, where every piece of equipment and material was winched in to place by hand, New Zealand’s only native forest zip line canopy tour opened to the public.
Twelve months on and business is zipping along (pun intended). Customers are enjoying the fun and excitement combined with the natural beauty of the forest, with over 10,000 clients through in the first year. However, James and his team always knew that if they wanted to have a truly extraordinary experience they would need to put something back into the reserve to enhance the experience and engage people with the environment and conservation.
Conservation Week 2013 will signal the start of their Forest Restoration Project. The vision for the conservation project is bold: to remove all introduced predators from the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve and create a safe forest sanctuary for the restoration of native New Zealand fauna and flora.
James and his team are clear on the task ahead:
“Our ultimate goal is to significantly reduce the number of pests and return as much of this 500 hectare reserve as possible back to its pre-human state. This will be done by the removal and control of all introduced pests.”
The project will be kick-started with a one week intensive trapping blitz for a full range of pests including possums, stoats, ferrets, rats and mice. James and his business partner Andrew are optimistic about what will be achieved during the week.
“We have worked closely with DOC to set up a comprehensive trap network to ensure we get maximum results from our efforts. Pre feeding has already commenced and we will be clearing the traps daily for the week, so we are confident we will pull a significant number of pests out of the reserve.”
Conservation Week is just the first step in setting up the Forest Restoration Project. Funding the project to date has come from both a portion of the trip ticket and donations from customers but plans are afoot to gain greater sponsorship for the project.
“While we allocate a portion of sales back into the project we have been really surprised by how willingly people make donations after being on the tour. The interpretation by our guides on conservation in New Zealand, its challenges and what is being done about it really pulls a cord with people. They definitely engage by hearing of the conservation work we are doing to improve the reserve and want to contribute.”
“As a result we now have a number of local businesses and corporates lining up to get on board with our sponsorship programme and become a part of the project,” explains James.
“We have designed the sponsorship programme to enable people to easily contribute on varying levels, be engaged and become involved. If they sponsor a trap or trap line we will be able to provide them with a location, a measure of their success and opportunities for further involvement via volunteering to assist the conservation work. We can share in the success together.”
Stay tuned with progress on the pest control programme through Conservation Week on the Forest Restoration Project web site.
In the meantime “Happy Birthday Rotorua Canopy Tours!”