Eli Orzessek takes to the trees in a Rotorua Forest and manages to hold on to both camera and stomach.

In woodlands outside Rotorua, the quiet stillness of the forest is punctuated by occasional screeches.

Sometimes, it's the unusual song of a native bird. But most of the time, the sound comes from a much larger flying object.

The distant screams come from a group taking on Rotorua Canopy Tour's original tour through the trees. I'm here for their latest offering — the Ultimate Canopy Tour, an epic 3.5-hour ziplining adventure that's even more extreme than the original.


Rotorua Canopy Tours runs out of a reserve of ancient native forest on the outskirts of the town. Most of us have probably driven past it on the way in to Rotovegas, but as it looks quite unassuming from the outside, you might not realise the wonders that lie within. The forest is accessible to the public, but there are no walking trails except for those operated by RCT.

It's a bit like stepping back in time — this kind of forest once covered 80 per cent of the North Island and was home to moa and huia.

Brave souls hit the ziplines and bridges of the Rotorua Canopy Tour.
Brave souls hit the ziplines and bridges of the Rotorua Canopy Tour.

Before we get to the ziplines, we take a short trek through the bush and eavesdrop on the earlier group screaming through the trees.

As we stop to examine some ferns, a curious visitor arrives in the form of a cute North Island robin. I'm amazed by its tameness, as it perches on its little stick legs less than a metre away.

Turns out it's an example of cupboard love — guides Spencer Kirk and Cheynne McCalman carry small tins of mealworms as a treat for the robin and his mates. But it's a strict ration — three worms per bird, so they don't become lazy and dependent.

Surprisingly eagle-eyed for such a tiny guy, the robin swoops forward in a split second and snatches a wiggling worm right out of my palm.

Watching our feathered friend flit around, I start to anticipate my own flight through the forest.

Though I've ziplined before, I have to admit the video of the tour I watched the night before has my nerves up a little. The platforms, swing bridges and ziplines all look extremely high and I'm not used to seeing trees from that bird's eye angle.

Approaching the first platform, we're given a safety briefing before we ascend. On the drive to the forest, we were told people tend to get "grabby" at great heights, but everyone manages to keep their hands to themselves.

At the top, we're attached to a loop around the tree and lined up for the first ride — which as you can imagine, is a bit of a leap of faith. We're told to tuck our legs in — some of those trees are pretty close.

I let myself fall over the edge and immediately gain a lot of speed. The forest turns into a greenish blur as I spin around and end up backwards.

I imagine I'm slipping into a wormhole and zooming back to prehistoric times.

Once I've done the first zipline, I'm craving more speed and height, and the build-up is real. Each new zipline seems a little bit longer and higher than the last, and I quickly learn that going backwards is actually the most fun.

After a short coffee break on one of the tall canopy platforms, we're faced with the longest zipline — an epic 400 metres. And it's only natural to start this one with a backwards entry for a real thrill.

I volunteer to be the first rider, which is a great way to experience the peacefulness of the forest on the other side. Until the next person comes screaming down, that is.

As we cross the longest swing bridge on the course, I realise our tour is nearly over.

While three and a half hours seems like quite a long time, I can tell you it really zips by when you're flying through the forest on an ongoing adrenaline rush.

The last zipline is a great way to tire yourself out at the end — there are several long flights of stairs to get to the top, but we're rewarded with an amazing view through the trees to Lake Rotorua.

Battery depleted on my GoPro, I decide to take the risk and film the final fling on my iPhone — and I hold on to it with a death grip.

Despite the long drop below, our guide tells us only three people have dropped their phones on the course. And they even managed to retrieve a couple of them. However, if yours lands in a tree, you're probably out of luck.

After my phone and I make it safely to the other side, the tour ends with a controlled descent down from the final platform.

As we're lowered gently to the ground, Cheynne catches us all in her arms — now that's dedicated tour guiding.

Brave souls hit the ziplines and bridges of the Rotorua Canopy Tour.
Brave souls hit the ziplines and bridges of the Rotorua Canopy Tour.



For information on prices and bookings with Rotorua Canopy Tours, go to



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Posted by NZH Travel on Monday, 30 July 2018