Thrills From Above

Rotorua is a Mecca for this country’s tourism industry. Its mineral hot pools, cultural events, bustling township and natural beauty really makes it a hot-spot for tourists, internationally and nationally. Well-known activities around Rotorua include the likes of white-water rafting, luging, zorbing and tree exploring (with a twist).

Situated minutes from the Rotorua town centre, Rotorua Canopy Tours – a tourist and local favourite – is a unique experience. Thrill-generating and eco-friendly, the Canopy Tour is the epitome of the type of tourism that is native to New Zealand, really celebrating its flora and fauna. Founder James Fitzgerald (along with engineer, Andrew Blackford), transformed the previously unattended reserve, run down by invasive pests, into a double threat. It’s an award-winning zip-lining experience that contributes to native forest restoration.

Invited to try out their new Ultimate Canopy Tour, I was impressed by the circuit which added additional elements to the traditional tour. Both tours hold an exciting, authentic feel as they push canopy walkers to new heights and to remember that there is a diverse eco-system merely minutes away from our cities. The tour provides perspective, as you stand on the edge of a cliff above the forest canopy and feel more in touch with the wonder of Rotorua.

The slice of paradise is becoming positively utopic with the conservation and sustainability effort of the Canopy Tours crew. It’s no secret that the stoats, rats and possums introduced to New Zealand have been destructive to the native birds and plants. Having a company operating in the space actively – setting 650 active humane traps stationed throughout the 180 hectares of land – is an impactful effort. A portion of every tour booking is forwarded to the cause, and so far, more than $300,000 NZD has been placed into restoration, catapulting goals to be much vaster than the initial 50 hectares aim. The conservation element is integrated the tour that educates, entertains and exhilarates all in one.

As we entered the forest, every detail seemed serendipitous. We saw several different types of bird, such as the toutouwai, tui and a miromiro as we ziplined from the trees whose lives have spanned centuries. The impact of walking through the natural environment and seeing nature as it should be has to be credited to the guides, all of whom have a genuine passion for creating the types of experiences that we had, and to the conservation efforts of Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Andrew Blackford, the engineer, and Paul Button, the General Manager of Canopy Tours, explained how they both pushed the bar during the building of the Ultimate Course, spinning the almost $2 million investment into an elaborate, forest-integrated series of ziplines, swing bridges, cliff walks and abseils. The original course was built in 2012 with a spud gun and they upgraded to helicopters and drones to complete the Ultimate Canopy Tour this year. Blackford found that “Although we generated quite a bit of noise at times, much of the bird life remained close by and was quite inquisitive”. They configured the construction style to minimise environmental impact by limiting construction teams to 3-4 people and airlifting partially prefabricated sections to each site, eliminating the need for heavy machinery to ever enter the natural sanctuary. There was also attention paid to the materials used to ensure that the tree growth was ‘unencumbered’.


Paul Button, the General Manager, hinted that the future may hold even more for the once derelict reserve as he explained that the team “love the environment we operate in and we’ll continue to look for new ways to get people through it”. The reserve is close to everything else but feels like an untouched world and you can feel the genuine energy and passion of the team that works to let you see it.

Rotorua really is a fantastic place to visit if you want to be immersed in the beauty of New Zealand’s nature. After I returned from the Canopy Tour, I would be remiss not to acknowledge Rotorua’s hospitality. Be sure to check out our list of several activities to do while visiting this cultural hotspot.

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