Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Rotorua: A new zippy way to explore (+video)

Rotorua Canopy Tours guide Alex Barr enjoys a ride on New Zealand's first zip-line tour through the native tree canopy. Photo / Alan Gibson
Rotorua Canopy Tours guide Alex Barr enjoys a ride on New Zealand's first zip-line tour through the native tree canopy. Photo / Alan Gibson

A new eco-tourism operation offers a different perspective on our native forestry by sending customers zooming through it on a zip-line cable.

Rotorua Canopy Tours opened at the weekend to become New Zealand's first zip-line tour through the native tree canopy.

The operation, painstakingly developed in a 500ha block of ancient virgin forest, is also serving as an ambitious conservation effort to lure back several species of native birds.

Former tourism manager James Fitzgerald had the idea four years ago, after reading about the popularity of zip-lining in Central America.

He teamed up with an old friend, Andrew Blackford, a structural engineer and thrill-seeker, and the pair spent hundreds of hours in the forest mapping out an aerial route that would leave its towering trees untouched.

The result: a 1.2km network including 800m of suspended zip-lines, one ride spanning a breathtaking 220m, and a series of platforms elevated as high as 22m above the forest floor.

Visitors to have completed the course - a fear-busting experience for those scared of heights - ranged from young children to those in their 60s.

"A lot of people have been in native forest but not many have actually been above it," said Mr Blackford, who had never ridden a zip-line before.

"It's got that mass appeal, and it offers people a unique perspective on conservation. I didn't think I would be involved once it was finished, but I get such a buzz out of seeing other people enjoying that I want to stick around."

The operation holds a concession from the Department of Conservation and Mr Fitzgerald hoped it would eventually help lure back cherished species such as kokako and kaka.

"We're hoping to get a corporate sponsor that will help us get the conservation project well and truly under way, so we can bring it back to a pre-human state, possibly within three to five years."

Tourism New Zealand corporate affairs general manager Chris Roberts praised the attraction, calling it a "fantastic asset" for the Rotorua region.

"Zipping through the canopy will provide an exciting new interactive activity for international visitors to experience New Zealand's unique forest landscape first-hand, while also taking environmental responsibility seriously."

- NZ Herald

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