Covid-19 has given us a chance to reset and reconsider family holiday priorities, writes Alexia Santamaria
As we navigate some of the strangest times we'll ever see, many of us are looking at travel in different ways. As we continue to explore parts of New Zealand we've always wanted to see, we're thinking about treading lighter, experiencing things that don't exploit our environment, finding ways to give back and getting closer to nature. This is the beautiful side to the beast that is Covid-19 and many of us are keen to share it with our children, in the hope they will think more along these lines when they plan their own travels in the future. Here are some great eco-friendly domestic experiences you might like to consider when planning your next family getaway.
DOC volunteer days
The Department of Conservation holds one-off volunteer days all around the country. Why not plan your next family holiday around one of these? You could spend a day maintaining tracks, picking up rubbish, planting trees, doing weed control, bird surveying or a range of other activities - and the other days seeing the local attractions. It's all listed on the site but make sure you get in contact with the local branch to check whether the project is suitable for children (some require a higher level of fitness).
Carino Wildlife Cruises
Carino are the only company in the Bay of Islands, to be awarded a Responsible Whale Watching Certificate, by international organisation World Cetacean Alliance (the world's largest marine conservation partnership). Not only do they make sure they do no harm to our beautiful marine life, they actively work with DOC, Auckland and Massey University, Orca Research and Project Island Song on conservation and research efforts. They regularly hold beach clean-ups, actively recycle, use biodegradable or non-toxic cleaning products, use wind power as often as possible and have started a tree-planting program local to them.
Glowing Adventures takes visitors on adrenalin-filled caving excursions in the large beautiful cave on their family farm in Waitomo. This one is only for older kids (12 plus) as there are no paths. It is one of only two cave systems classified as "of international significance" by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. They are certified Climate Positive, are restoring the native forest around them, are involved in pest control (with the support of local council), are attempting to restore the waterways on their property that flow into the Waipa area and work with fundraising for the local St John.
Rotorua Canopy Tours
Not only is whizzing down ziplines in a beautiful native forest with Rotorua Canopy Tours immense fun, but the money you pay to do it helps enormously with local conservation. Their mission is to return the patch of forest they use to a prehuman state, by trapping predators, so everyone can experience what native bush in New Zealand should be. And so far they've done an amazing job, setting traps across 250ha and seeing incredible results in just a few years; once-decimated trees now flourish and native animals like the long-tailed cuckoo/koekoeā, rare striped skink, tomtit and North Island robin are returning to their habitat.
Foxton Beach Top Ten Holiday park
Top Ten Holiday parks are well-known for providing affordable family accommodation options, and the one at Foxton Beach has recently achieved Toitū (formerly Enviromark) Carbon Zero certification. They have cut down on petrol and diesel use by using electric scooters instead of 4x4 motorbikes, changed the company that took away their waste to one that 100 per cent recycled all glass, found ways to cut down on water flow that reduced the use of gas for heating, and are in the process of moving to a 100 per cent carbon zero electricity supplier. The team has also looked at other environmental projects in the area and has been actively planting native trees as well as participating in rat and stoat trapping.
Sustainable Coastlines regularly holds tree-planting and clean-up days all over the country and you can pretty easily plan a weekend or school holiday getaway around one of these. It's great for kids to get stuck in and do something to help our environment, rather than just hear parents and teachers talk about it at home and school. It's much easier for them to understand when they see the problem first-hand and can actually participate in doing something about it.
The team at Abeltasman.com offer water taxi services and guided kayak trips in one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. But the best bit is that they are aware just how important it is to put back into the environment so they use a portion of their profits to plant native trees, restore waterways and restore the area's biodiversity. They also offset 100 per cent of their emissions and are certified as a Zero Carbon business.
West Coast Wildlife Centre, Franz Josef
Franz Josef may be best known for its majestic glacier but not everyone knows the Wildlife centre there is a hatching and incubation facility for the world's rarest kiwi — the rowi (there are less than 500 left alive in the wild). They have a partnership with the Department of Conservation and Te Runanga o Makaawhio and your entrance fee will get you a 30-minute self-guided exploration to spot rowi and tuatara in their natural bush walkthrough. A Backstage Pass combo ticket gets you a first-hand, behind the scenes look at their hatching and incubation programme and Tuatara Encounter. This year will be a bumper hatching season — DoC is due to deliver 70 rowi eggs found in the wild to the centre next month.
Queenstown Trail Network
If you're in Queenstown, a great way to see the scenery without producing a ton of emissions is to embark on any of the bike trails (130km of them) on the Queenstown Trail network. It's a great way to see the crystal clear lakes, stunning river gorges and magnificent alpine vistas that Queenstown, Arrowtown and Gibbston are so well-known for. The Trail now allows public access to unspoilt private land and the Trails Trust has undertaken substantial environmental work to develop sustainable infrastructure including planting 5000 native plants alongside it. They worked closely with DOC's Project Gold and the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust in the development of the trail network.
The fee you pay to walk around Dunedin's Orokonui Ecosanctuary (do a guided tour if you can, it's even better) goes towards the ongoing maintenance of the South Island's flagship biodiversity project. Up in the swirling mists of this magical sanctuary in the clouds, multiple species of plants and animals are protected from predators by a fence surrounding the 307 hectares of Coastal Otago forest. Many rare and endangered species have been reintroduced and are doing well - check out the takahē and the kākā, hours of entertainment for delighted small people. Make sure you have a cheese roll in the cafe afterwards.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew