Ziplining to save Rotorua’s ancient forest

Listen to the podcast

New Zealand’s cultural hub of Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity and fascinating Māori culture, is also home to a conservation initiative balancing tourism to educate and get results.

Rotorua Canopy Tours takes you on a journey through a prehistoric native forest while engaging in essential conservation work. As you explore the canopy by flying on a network of ziplines, swing bridges, cliff-walks, treetop platforms and more, you will also learn about the need to protect the area and what threatens it.

New Zealand, Aotearoa, is home to unique and ancient species of birds, frogs, lizards and plants, with distinct biodiversity through geological isolation dating back some 85 million years, since splitting from the supercontinent of Gondwana. Many of these species are found nowhere else on Earth. The isolation doesn’t make them safe from introduced predators such as rats, stoats, cats and possums.

The country has an ambitious vision to be predator-free by 2050, focused on the complete removal of rats, stoats, and possums. The Department of Conservation (DOC) provides leadership to the Predator Free 2050 programme, and their Predator Free Rangers provide regional support to predator-free projects.

By working with key players, DOC works to protect native species, improve biodiversity, create greater ecological resilience and restore unique ecosystems. Companies like Rotorua Canopy Tours are helping move towards that goal while offering education through tourism experiences.

Since Rotorua Canopy Tours started, they have been taking guests on an experience so bold that adventure, education, conservation, natural beauty and people would collide to create an experience. The forest provides the magic setting – the ziplines, swing bridges, cliff walkways and other features were simply a way to experience it.

Into the forest

Rotorua Canopy Tours – Credit: Kate Webster

Guided by two knowledgeable and experienced kiwi guides, who not only keep you safe but make you laugh, and bring the forest to life as you become part of the forest restoration story.

As you are guided through the forest floor to start the rise into the canopy, your guides explain the essential conservation work that happens in the area. This includes trapping and removing feral pests to encouraging natural wildlife to return.

Moments into the walk, we were greeted by the native birds, curious to see what the fuss is about. I am told that there use to be no birdlife in the area, so I am relieved to hear the calls of birds around the treetops. Our guides explained the plant species and why it is so important to maintain a healthy biodiversity in the forest. The morning was misty, which only added to the magic as we made our way up to our first platform.

Before long, the harness was clipped onto the wire and I was flying like a bird amongst the trees. We climbed higher and higher into the canopy until we reached a gigantic tree. From here, you could see out across the canopy, the mist clinging to the treetops. After a quick coffee and snacks break, it was back into ziplining our way back down.

Back on solid ground, the final part of the walk through the forest involved checking traps and learning about the types of predators and how they are irradicated. It is confronting but also comforting at the same time to see that the progress is delivering results.

Today, Rotorua Canopy Tours has worked to trap over 250ha of the forest. They have seen amazing results with a decline in feral animals, and the trees have been able to restore and flourish. Native animals are returning, including long-tailed cuckoo -koekoeā, rare striped skink, tom tit and North Island robin. This work is achieved through the tourism product and from the guests that come and experience the canopy tours.

Tourism restoring nature

Rotorua Canopy Tours – Credit: Kate Webster

It all started in 2008 with James Fitzgerald, a young guy with a bold vision and his engineer friend, Andy Blackford. James’ vision was to create a visitor experience that was so removed from the real world that it would become the most premium and sought-after experience in the whole of New Zealand. An experience so bold that adventure, education, conservation, natural beauty and people would collide to create an experience with no peers.

“It was never just about the ziplines, it was about delivering a mind-blowing forest experience!”

After securing a piece of native forest that had stood for centuries just on the outskirts of Rotorua, they worked for months hauling in timber and supplies through the forest and high up into the canopy. With the help of friends and locals, they opened in 2012 and shared it with the world.

At first, the flow of customers was slow, and the first ones had to be bribed with free pizza. As more people came, the numbers grew, and within six years, the team had grown from three to 60. The success continued for the business as they won multiple awards and delighted people, but best of all, they restored a forest and delivered on this far-sighted vision.

Paul Button now leads the team and the business continues to provide outstanding experiences every day for those people that choose to become part of the Rotorua Canopy Tours experience. To date, they have spent over $500,000 of customers money to purchase possum and rat traps. The guides worked every day removing 1000’s of rats and possums and the native birds are returning. This ancient forest is being revived back to life.

Be a part of the success

There are two canopy tours to choose from and bookings can be made directly with the company by emailing or calling +64 (0) 7 343 1001.

The Original Canopy Tour takes you deep into the ancient native forest in small groups, of up to 10 people. Experience New Zealand like it once was from the top of the forest canopy. It is the shorter of the two experiences and includes:

  • 6 ziplines – total 600m of ziplining
  • 2 swingbridges
  • 3-hour adventure zipline Rotorua
  • Free photos!
  • Small group experience
  • Perfect for all ages (6 +)
  • Fun and educational
  • Prices start from NZD$149 per adult / NZD$119 per child

The Ultimate Canopy Tour is the ultimate Rotorua ziplining adventure – higher, longer and more spectacular than the award-winning Original Canopy Tour. Not for the faint of heart, this Rotorua ziplining experience is a step up in adventure level and incorporates some incredible new features that will blow you away. It includes:

  • 3.5-hour Rotorua ziplining adventure
  • Amazing Kiwi guides
  • 400 metre tandem zipline
  • 6 ziplines – Total 1200m of ziplines
  • Free photos!
  • 50-metre-high cliff walkway
  • 3 suspended swing bridges
  • 18-metre-high controlled descent
  • Suitable for 10 years +

Kate Webster is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself but the world around her. This has inspired Kate to translate those moments and share them through her storytelling. A dedicated David Attenborough and Jane Goodall fan, Kate has delved into the world of wildlife and conservation travel to bring awareness.