The Long View

At Rotorua Canopy Tours, you get to whizz around on ziplines with views of the most spectacular virgin forest, while at the same time supporting a remarkable restoration of the area’s flora and fauna.

At Rotorua Canopy Tours, you get to whizz around on ziplines with views of the most spectacular virgin forest, while at the same time supporting
a remarkable restoration of the area’s flora and fauna.

The chorus of birdsong, expansive ferns flourishing under towering trees, the cool air... A walk through pristine native forest is most definitely an uplifting experience. However, actually flying through the forest’s canopy with a bird’s eye view of the beauty affords you a whole new connection.

Turns out, communing with nature is not necessarily a sedate and relaxing experience. At Rotorua Canopy Tours, you’ll learn about the forest and its inhabitants, and take in breathtaking aerial perspectives of the 1000-year-old forest, but your heart may well be racing while whizzing on ziplines, bobbing along swing bridges over deep gorges, and posing for the camera on a 50m-high cliff walk.

There are two different tours on offer, both with a maximum of 10 people: The Original Canopy Tour (opened 2012), which involves ziplines up to 220m, swing bridges and schooling up about the forest (including feeding wild birds by hand). The Ultimate Canopy Tour (launched 2018) includes all that, but heads deeper into the forest, with highlights such as a spiral staircase that winds around an ancient tree, the aforementioned rocky cliff walk, a 400m tandem zipline, and a finale of a controlled decent from a treetop platform (hanging upside down is optional).

Age restrictions are from 6 and 10 years respectively for the tours, so you might be too young,
but you’re never too long in the tooth… The oldest guest has been an impressive 93.

The ziplining may sound terror inducing to some, but the competent staff quickly make you feel
at ease with their encouraging words and stringent safety processes (for example, you’re always clipped in as soon as you arrive at each treetop platform).

As you whisk across wide open valleys and between the trees, there’s spectacular forest as far as the eye can see, with the most massive, glorious silver ferns splayed out below and birds darting above.

There’s always a photo op while taking the 50m-high cliff walk on The Ultimate Canopy Tour and afterwards, you’re sent the shots for free.

It hasn’t always been this way. Founder James Fitzgerald conceived the idea for Canopy Tours,
then started building the platforms in the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve with friend, engineer
Andy Blackford. As they ferried building supplies through the forest on foot, they noted a silence where there should be a chorus of birdsong, and bare, sickly trees stripped of foliage by possums.
The forest was bascially overrun by possums, rats and stoats that had killed the birds and decimated the surrounding eco-system.

Their commitment to returning the forest to its original state by eradicating pests has been a long
and incredibly successful journey. It started with hand-set traps, laboriously reset daily (more than 800 rats, possums, stoats, mice and cats were caught in a 50ha area in the first week), and now there’s a partnership with the Department of Conservation and traps (including Goodnature
gas-powered self-resetting versions) are set across more than 220ha. Rotorua Canopy Tours staff maintain the traps and trapping lines, and predator levels are very low (for example, possum numbers were at just 3 percent, when last monitored).

The birdsong is well and truly back — guides have observed the heartening return of birds such
as koekoeā/native long-tailed cuckoo, which join the other birdlife including tūī, toutouwai/North Island robin, kererū and miromiro/tomtit. And the healthy ecosystem of course has a burgeoning native insect population too, with inhabitants like a rare striped skink, ngaokeoke/peripatus/velvet worm, wētā, pūriri moth and huhu beetle. Two undescribed (unnamed) species were even recently discovered in the natural safe haven: a new kind of porrhothele (or tunnelweb) spider, and a variation of the pink entoloma mushroom.

The conservation work is ongoing and the company has shown how a successful tourism operation can also have a positive effect on its natural surroundings and community. Now shrieks of excitement also resound through the forest, giving those happy birds some competition.