Kaitiakitanga: It's no secret why many sustainable tour operators have chosen this te reo word to explain the values system behind their companies.
Meaning guardianship and protection, kaitiakitanga works hand-in-hand with manaakitanga, or a respect for hosts and kindness to guests.
Across the country, Māori tourism operators, in particular, are redefining sustainable tourism, with a focus not just on the conservation of our land and sea — but on the preservation and sharing of culture. Here are five tour operators that are exemplifying these principles.
Specialising in "meaningful travel," Ahipara is an award-winning luxury tourism company. No two itineraries are alike — yet one thing they have in common is Māori sharing their experiences and worldview.
Case in point? Ahipara's partnership with chef Tom Loughlin and his whānau at Kai Waho. The entirely bespoke culinary experience begins with an exhilarating 35-minute off-road journey to Tamau Pā, a whare situated on the eastern rim of the Taupō basin.
The 2000ha hectare sub-alpine wilderness environment is the perfect natural classroom to learn more about the process of gathering and cooking kai.
On a stay with Loughlin, you'll prepare food for a hāngī, including building a fire and stacking rocks, and get a real understanding of whakapapa. Not only that, but you'll be supporting the training of young Kiwi entrepreneurs and pest eradication in the region; two more of Loughlin's passions. It all comes back to the proverb that guides his work: Manaakitia te whenua, mana koe e manaaki. Look after the land, and it will look after you.
"Make Ōkere great again" is the wonderfully cheeky tagline for Rotorua Rafting's sustainability endeavours. Name a community initiative and the carbon-positive company is likely to be already doing it.
Its staff look after two traplines in the Ōkere Falls Reserve, helping to reduce predators along the Kaituna River. They've removed gorse along the riverbanks and planted more than 5000 native trees, with plans for 10,000 more.
Every Monday, they donate half an hour to cleaning up rubbish. And on the school trips they host, kids are encouraged to plant native seedlings. (Quite frankly, we're a little confused about where owner Sam Sutton, a four-time Extreme Kayaking World Champion, even finds times to train.)
And yes, as the name implies, they also run rafting trips on the highest commercially rafted river in the world. Even though it's a grade-five river with three big waterfalls (one drop is a whopping 7m), the experienced staff make this trip beginner-friendly, guiding you through every rapid of the whitewater and sharing cultural learning along the way.
Rua Awa Lodge
Of Ngāti Tūwharetoa descent, fourth-generation local Sheryl Simpson and her partner, Warren, are the hosts at Rua Awa Lodge. Located in Kakahi — just 20 minutes from Taumarunui, the focus is on conservation of the land and natural environment.
It's hard not to care, with views like this — set in the heart of King Country, the self-contained units have views of Mt Tongariro, Mt Ngāuruhoe and Mt Ruapehu.
On the regenerative farm, you can expect to see elements of the owners' strong environmental values throughout, such as the comprehensive composting and recycling programs.
Tongariro Natural Park is only a short drive away, but don't be surprised if you don't leave Rua Awa's grounds — guests can immerse themselves in local history, explore private bushwalking trails, go fishing or swimming, or take part in raw food workshops and private yoga sessions.
Whanganui River Adventures
Most head to Pīpīriki, lured by a jet boat ride to the famed Bridge to Nowhere, which is hidden in the lush rainforest beside the Whanganui River. But for those who take the time to listen, they'll also learn about a history that extends back well before the bridge was built, and how guardianship of the river has been passed down from generation to generation.
Certified as committed to sustainable tourism, Whanganui River Adventures is a prime example. Owners Ken and Josephine Haworth, from local hapū Ngāti Kurawhatia of the iwi Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi, share a glimpse into the history and traditions their families have carried on in protecting the Whanganui River.
Some of the most popular day tours include a jet ride to the bridge followed by a canoe ride back to Pīpīriki, but you can also spend the night. Recently, Whanganui River Adventures added solar-powered eco cabins to its accommodation options.
Te Wharewaka o Pōneke
Sitting on the Wellington waterfront, Te Wharewaka o Pōneke is part-function venue, part-cafe, and part-tour operator. What they are entirely though, is committed to sustainability.
Whether it is through reducing food waste, contributing to restoration work around the city, or protecting the lagoon its operations are based in, the company embodies and shares the Māori concepts of rangatiratanga, manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and kaitiakitanga.
In fact, its two main tours are both carbon neutral by design. The first, a cultural walking tour, shows the city of Wellington through a uniquely Māori lens, including hearing the tales of two taniwha in the harbour and viewing the archaeological remains of a whareponga (house) at the pā site.
The second takes place on water, where you'll spend two hours paddling a traditionally carved waka, and learning basic commands, chants, haka and salutes. No matter what experience you choose—by land or by sea—you'll be supporting the preservation of culture and the surrounding environment.
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