Tom Lynch isn't wearing co-ordinating shades of sage and beige, but he reveals himself to be a conservationist when he approvingly points out native grasses and flaxes, a stone's throw away from our cafe table.

Lynch is permanently observant.

He spends 300 days a year outside, hiking and "birding" with his Bay of Plenty business Foris Eco-Tours.

"I don't think you'll ever find me permanently in an office," he grimaces.

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Cruising the country in his Toyota Prado with his Leica binoculars, spotting scope and camera, he drives 70,000km a year, observing New Zealand's unique flora, fauna and birdlife.

"I think early on in life you decide if you're an inside or an outside person," he says, behind the lenses of dark, wrap-around sunglasses.

"I guess I've been lucky enough to spend my life outside in beautiful places, and I have a need to be doing that."

He lives in Papamoa, with wife, Rachel and daughters, Eva, 11, and Annie, 8, in a house by the beach that he likens to a museum.

Art dominates his walls, including a treasured Rei Hammond print of a kokako, from the 1970s.

Outside, he looks out on to wetlands, and to his back, the Papamoa Hills.

His backyard is small, but native plants like the clematis and kowhai make him feel like the New Zealand forest is never too far away.

Tom Lynch in Whirinaki Forest. Photo / supplied
Tom Lynch in Whirinaki Forest. Photo / supplied

He grew up in Rotorua as the youngest and "biggest" (1.98m) of three children, born to environmental activists who protested anti-apartheid tours and advocated nuclear-free New Zealand.

His step-father, Mike, worked for Forest Research Rotorua, and his mother, Meg, ran the organic farm where the family lived.

As a child, he ran around the region's forests and lakes, as well as spending time in New Zealand's national parks from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island.

By the time he was a teenager, he'd been to every national park in the country.

"Time spent in the outdoors makes you love it," he says.

"I have a great relationship with my hiking boots."

One of Lynch's talents is bird-watching.

Nothing beats a bit of experience to teach you what to look out for, and according to him, birding as it's known, is a growing hobby.

"Bird-watchers are great travellers and they use birds as an excuse to go to beautiful places," Lynch says.

"Many (bird-watchers) will have a life list of birds that they've seen, and our job will be to find as many birds that are new to them in the time that we've got."

That could mean driving from a cruise ship in Mount Maunganui to Tongariro National Park to look at a rifleman and a blue duck, and then back again in a day.

"They'll see two unique endemic birds found nowhere else in the world and they'll be happy with that.

"I took an (American) guy out that had seen 7500 of 10,000 species of birds on the planet, but he particularly wanted to see a kokako.

"So, I pick a 72-year-old guy up at 6am in the morning, take him out to Otanewainuku, to see a mythical bird. We got a glimpse of it, and for him to count it, he has to take a photograph of that bird, that someone else can identify as that bird.

"He'd seen three species of kiwi on five occasions, but hadn't taken a photograph, so they didn't count on his list."

Clients are "very educated and literate", he says.

"They usually would have read many books on New Zealand before they get here, and often have a better knowledge of New Zealand wildlife - better than most Kiwis."

Locally, you can go to Maketu and look at birds that fly from Alaska to Maketu to spend the summer.

"That's an extraordinary migration and right on our doorstep."

Tom Lynch (pictured) says bird-watchers are great travellers and use birds as an excuse to go to beautiful places. Photo / supplied
Tom Lynch (pictured) says bird-watchers are great travellers and use birds as an excuse to go to beautiful places. Photo / supplied

What bird has he not seen?

"I need to go and see a rock wren," he says of the small South Island alpine bird.

"There are birds that I haven't seen and I'm not a full-on lister. We show people what we can, where we can. I've been lucky.

"When you're in the forest, it might be your ears that are more important than your eyes," he says of the melodic noise that floats hauntingly 50 feet above.

He has a bit of a "soft spot" for the kaka.

"I like that they're noisy and talkative and they live in beautiful, old-growth forests that I like."

Bird-watching is all about being observant and understanding what you're looking at.

"You might look at a flock of birds and once you know what you're looking at, you might realise there's a dozen species lurking around them in that one flock. When you see something unusual and rare, there's a thrill to that."

He goes off the beaten track to places deep within the bush that are lonely, isolated and shaded. His big-city dweller clients love it.

"If you go into a primordial rain forest if you live in upstate New York, it's a very different environment, and the air is so clean and fresh.

"If you go into a primordial rain forest if you live in upstate New York, it's a very different environment, and the air is so clean and fresh."

"I took a US forest ecologist out to Whirinaki Forest (southeast of Rotorua) who'd literally spent 50 years studying forests. He looked right up at the canopy, did a full 360 degree spin and said: 'I can't recognise a single plant'.

"So that sort of showcases how special and unique our landscape is, and the more time you spend it in and the more you learn about it, the more interesting it becomes."

Growing up, his path to working outdoors began as a 10-year-old.

He'd earn pocket money by tying and selling trout flies to a fishing shop and dairies around Rotorua. He could sell as many as he could make.

Later, he got into mountain biking and road cycling, and then rafting while studying resource management at University of Waikato.

He spent 25 years as a rafting guide in New Zealand and overseas.

He's also a qualified secondary school teacher, and has spent the best part of the last decade running specialist conservation education programmes at Wellington's Zealandia - the world's first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary - and now, at Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari in the Waikato.

Sanctuary Mountain is New Zealand's largest 3500 hectare pest-free, 47km fenced sanctuary, with a "grab bag" of the country's endangered species from saddlebacks to tuatara, takahe, kaka, robins and kiwi.

There's soon to be 500 more kiwi, with funding secured to up their population.

Tom Lynch is also a qualified secondary school teacher, and has spent the best part of the last decade running specialist conservation education programmes. Photo / John Borren
Tom Lynch is also a qualified secondary school teacher, and has spent the best part of the last decade running specialist conservation education programmes. Photo / John Borren

Lynch, 44, is contracted to deliver Maungatautari Ecological Island Trusts' Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) education programme, which reaches 4000 preschool to university aged students a year.

The programme, which aims to celebrate New Zealand biodiversity and conservation, has grown by 350 percent since he took it over six years ago.

He says Kiwi kids are enthusiastic to be outdoors and often surprise him with their knowledge.

"I had a kid the other day who knew all the bird song of all the birds that we found in the forest, how many (people) know what a whitehead sounds like?

"I've taken probably 50,000 kids in the outdoors in the last 10 years or so and you're going to have ones that are amazingly knowledgeable and you have ones that have never stepped foot off the asphalt.

"I've taken probably 50,000 kids in the outdoors in the last 10 years or so and you're going to have ones that are amazingly knowledgeable and you have ones that have never stepped foot off the asphalt."

"Our higher-end international clients really respond to the fact that we educate New Zealanders because what's the point of having a tourism business that educates foreigners about your landscape and not your own people?"

Does he feel New Zealanders exhibit enough awareness around conservation issues?

"I think it's improving, definitely," he says.

There are sustainability challenges throughout the breadth of New Zealand, but we have no shortage of volunteers, and regional councils and the Department of Conservation do what they can with "limited" budgets.

As enamoured by nature as he is, he questions whether he'd call himself a "greenie".

"In the 1970s we were still cutting down our ancient forests. Those tree-hugger, environmentalist, greenie terms were levelled at people who were trying to protect our native forests. Today, I take people into places that those people protected, so whether I'm a greenie or not, it's a difficult question.

"I'm also in business where I need to make a living for my family, (but) my business activities enable me to do a lot for conservation," he says.

One thing he can't deny, is his love of wild New Zealand; where you can point your nose skyward and be "awe inspired" by the country's tallest native trees in Whirinaki Forest, or stop and look at tiny 100-year-old alpine plants at Tongariro National Park, clinging on to life in a harsh environment.

Is this the ultimate country to live in for someone who loves nature?

"New Zealand is small and perfectly formed," he says.

"We can get an incredible diversity of landscapes within a couple of hours drive of where we live. The Bay of Plenty-Ruapehu triangle is stunning."