16 Sep 2016

Zipping Along

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 16 September 2016
Gary Coker carrying traps

Gary Coker carrying traps Photo: Canopy Tours

When Rotorua man James Fitzgerald set up Canopy Tours four years ago there were a couple of key things he didn't know.  They were things which nearly meant the now thriving business would have had a short life.

Canopy Tours is a ziplining business which whips people through the tree tops in a stand of ancient  native trees near Rotorua.

One of the company's aims is to improve the tree health and bird populations by trapping pests so, after the initial summer, the staff installed traps in a 50 hectare area.

"Because we were doing it for the first time we had no idea of costs...we just  went for it. We had no idea that good tourism businesses hold onto the money that they make in summer, through winter. We weren't quite at that stage, we weren't holding onto any of the money. It was all going out. Then we made this commitment that ended up being 40 or 50 thousand dollars to try to get this 50 hectares under control, and I realised we were going to go broke," laughs James.

Luckily local busineses came on board and sponsored some of the $200 traps. Even more surprisingly tourists opened their wallets.

"Over the four years, 30 to 50 thousand dollars of unsolicited money has come in.  People have been on the tour, felt inspired and offered donations. Americans, a lot of Americans, and young people too."   

James Fitzgerald says in response, they have formed a charitable trust; the Canopy Conservation Trust.

The early days of trapping were highly successful. In a couple of weeks over 800 animals, mainly rats, possums and ferrets, were trapped.  The firm's Conservation Manager Gary Coker says the trees are now flourishing and there's more bird song.

North Island Robin

North Island Robin Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

There's a tame North Island robin who lets people get close as it enjoys little tit bits, and a couple of rarer visitors.

"We found a New Zealand striped skink. Only 120 have ever been found, and the last one was about 35 years ago. .... four weeks later we had a forest gecko drop onto a platform. Again they weren't thought to be here," says Gary.

The under-storey of the forest is lush with ferns, pungas and native shrubs. These species have always carpeted the forest floor because there are no goats, deer or pigs in the area.  The volcanic soils are cobalt deficient which means the animals don't get the nutrients they need from the vegetation. 

Mamaku Bush

Mamaku Bush Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray


Over 70 thousand people have been ziplining in the Mamaku forest now, but James says in the early days he knocked on car windows to entice people to do the adventurous trip, and it was two years before he was confident the business would succeed.  


"One of the things I've felt over the years is chasing money, or financial objectives, is an empty thing, an important thing, but when you're doing this environmental stuff, you're paying your staff well and you're seeing them buy houses because they're confident in their lives, when all those things are working together it's a really positive outcome."

Pest Tally Canopy Tours

Pest Tally Canopy Tours Photo: Canopy Tours