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People on a swing bridge in the bush.

The swing bridge is part of the Rotorua Canopy Tours experience

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.

Explaining how the traps work.

Explaining how the traps work

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.”

Transport techniques.

Transport techniques

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.”

Man in the bush looking at track markers.

Getting directions

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!”

The Wild Things exhibition kick started Conservation Week in Rotorua with a display of the works of Madeleine Child and Philip Jarvis. The work was the results from their Wild Creations residency.

Wild Things exhibition

Wild Creations is the Department of Conservation’s Artists in Residence Programme, run in partnership with Creative New Zealand. Each year Wild Creations gives three New Zealand artists the chance to spend six weeks in natural or historical sites to experience the people, stories and challenges of the site, and draw inspiration from their surroundings to use in their work.

Mt Tarawera in nylon and polystyrene

Sculptor and writer duo Madeleine Child and Philip Jarvis came to the Rotorua Lakes region, with the idea of creating objects for an exhibition using ceramics and other materials from the area. Stationed at Lake Tarawera, the artists had unfettered access to the beauty and splendor of the mountain and lake vistas.

“This work being kind of souvenirs-of-our-time in this weird and romantic region: real and imagined landscapes, the past and present, the mythical and magical, solid and fleeting… volcanoes, rock, mud, dense weed, clouds, ash, mist, reflections,” explains artist Madeleine Child.

Mount Tarawera in nylon and polystyrene

New materials made their way into the works: fishing line, paint on mylar, polystyrene, and plaster. Working drawings and marquettes were created, with some ideas exported back to Dunedin, where further ceramic pieces have been created for the show. In keeping with the environmental theme, the works also use throwaway materials: coffee cup lids, polystyrene, and old CDs.

Lake Weed - nylon & ceramic

Lake Weed - nylon & ceramic

“Wild Creations allows DOC the opportunity to support artists to explore the natural environment, to develop new work and connect a (potentially) new audience with some of our special places via with their art (and the stories it tells).

“Often these stories are told in a totally different method and medium than the traditional forms of interpretation, inspiring others to take an interest or rekindle ones passion,” says DOC’s Robert Griffiths.

The ‘Wild Things’ exhibtion will run from the 9th – 30th September at the Rotorua Arts Village.

What do you get when two musicians are sent in song-writing exile to the scene of one of New Zealand’s largest volcanic eruption? You get a crackling new album rising from the ashes.
In 2010 Billy Earl (Andy Hummel -The Woolshed Sessions, Rhian Sheehan) and Betty Grey (Holly Jane Ewens) of Wellington folk duo ‘Rosy Tin Teacaddy’ spent six weeks on the shores of Lake Tarawera. The duo were the recipients of the Wild Creations artist in residence programme, a joint venture between the Department of Conservation and Creative NZ. They set out to research, write and record their translations of local history and isolation in a site-responsive manner.
Temporary recording studio - Lake Tarawera

Temporary recording studio - Lake Tarawera

The result is a work that explores the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera and subsequent loss of the self-appointed eighth wonder of the world – the Pink and White Terraces.

Rosy Tin Teacaddy have made use of historical anecdotes and found sounds (while holding fast to their harmonic and word-wizardry roots), in their new full-length release All Mountains Are Men. Presented with hand-numbered booklets, the album extends the duo’s artistic concept beyond the audio as they translate stories of the past into a present-day archival treasure.

Album cover - All Mountains Are Men

Album cover - All Mountains Are Men

The BATS theatre show, ‘Coffee Cups and a Porridge Pot at Frying Pan Lake’ gave audiences a taste of this experience in May 2010.

Forthcoming single Telegrams and Ashes, uses snippets from newspapers of the day with a dedication to the local telegraph master. Sitting on a bed of backwards guitar and finger-clicks there is little to suggest this album is merely two folkies strumming away in the back-blocks.

Playing on location - All Mountains Are Men

Playing on location - All Mountains Are Men

There is cheek amongst the ruins too, with songs like Blow Your Top where the duo imagine the lake and mountain flirting with one another in a present context—’Facebooking, perhaps’, while the lament Beauty, My Dear swells with loss and hope—’Can’t have a clear sky, without a frost/Beauty, my dear comes at a cost’.

Simultaneously cinematic and intimate, this album is layered as deep as the lake bed and seeks to provide fans with a slow burner through the cold winter months ahead.

All Mountains Are Men will be released with a blessing by local kaumatua at Lake Tarawera on June 10, in conjunction with the 125th commemoration of the eruption of Mt Tarawera. This will be followed at 7pm by a concert in the stunning historic Rotorua Museum of Art and History.

 Album release venue - Rotorua Museum

Album release venue - Rotorua Museum

The following evening, Saturday June 11, Rosy Tin Teacaddy will play at the Buried Village, Te Wairoa, Lake Tarawera, joining Cornel de Ronde (GNS Science) as he shares his findings of recent exploration of the Rotomahana lake bed and the discovery of remnants of the Pink Terrace.

For both these evenings, bookings are advised. Contact the Rotorua Museum (07) 350 1814, or the Buried Village (07) 3628287.

Rosy Tin Teacaddy will be touring All Mountains Are Men throughout the country with Bond St Bridge (AKL) who is also promoting his new album, Spring Summer Awesome Winter.

For more on Rosy Tin Teacaddy and their full line up of shows check out their Facebook page.