Travel More Responsibly in New Zealand with These 5 Sustainable Experiences

Guided by the Māori principle of Kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, the Kiwis have protected the natural splendor of their homeland for the world to experience.

Gibbston Valley, Queenstown. Photo by Miles Holden

Jun 28, 2022

From cascading waterfalls to misty mountains covered in dense forests, New Zealand is one of the most naturally stunning havens of biodiversity on the planet. There’s a good reason that film directors have sought inspiration from the otherworldly beauty of this nation. Part of the reason why New Zealand remains so lush and lovely is the Māori belief in Kaitiakitanga, which translates to “guardianship” or “protection.” It’s reflected in a deeply rooted commitment to stewardship of the land and sea, as well as the culture of those who inhabit it.  

Throughout the global pandemic, New Zealand proved itself a true leader in safety and social distancing measures. Now, the nation is proud to welcome international travelers back to its shores to experience all of the rich natural and cultural beauty it has to offer. Māori tour operators have been leading the way in terms of sustainability measures. Here are just a few of the ways you can fall in love with New Zealand all over again with them. 

1. Experience the thrill of adventure through rivers, mountains, and canyons.

Adrenaline junkies won’t want to miss the rush of the Shotover Jet, a custom jet boat ride that races through jaw-dropping canyons and vertiginous ravines. Pop on your life vests, strap in, and prepare for a phenomenal ride along the Kimiākau, or Shotover River. The Shotover Jet experience is owned and operated by members of the Ngāi Tahu, the Māori who have called this their ancestral homeland for generations. 

Meanwhile, Kaitiaki Adventures, another Māori-owned tour operator, offers pulse-pounding white water rafting trips, along with 4WD tours to the summit of Mount Tarawera. No matter where you go on your journey here, expect to learn more about the local mana whenua, or history and traditions. 

2. Explore an incredible wildlife sanctuary.

A visit to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, winner of the Community Engagement Award in the 2021 New Zealand Tourism Awards, is truly a life-changing experience. This space is truly leading the charge in terms of ethical, equitable, and environmentally responsible tourism. There’s so much to see here, but one particularly illuminating experience is Rongoā Rākau, a new tour that introduces travelers to Māori herbal medicine.

3. Heal yourself with natural hot springs.

We can think of few better ways to end a day of adventuring than with a soak in a private hot tub filled with pure mountain water under a blanket of stars at Hot Tubs Omarama on the South Island. Like all of New Zealand’s nature, the country’s hot springs do not disappoint.

If you’re up north, consider visiting Hell’s Gate for a dip and a mud spa. Sure, the name might sound rather ominous, but this region, also known as Tikitere, derives its unusual moniker from its steaming pools of minerally rich water. Indulge in the Twilight Spa experience and watch the sun goes down while unwinding to the sounds of falling water and native birds.

4. Embark on a storytelling journey through the forest.

Tane Mahuta at Waipoua Forest in Northland

Venture into the forest and into another world with Footprints Waipoua, a sustainable tour operator that combines botany and biology with Māori storytelling. Feel a deep connection with nature walking through Waipoua forest learning about the interconnected lifeforms and visiting Tāne Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest kauri tree who is 2,000 years old and still growing. At more than 2,000 yearrs of age (and still growing!), the tree humbles its visitors with it’s towering branches and thick trunk.

5. Sip fine, locally made wines. 

New Zealand boasts some of the finest vineyards in the world—along with plenty of fantastic food to accompany the fine wines they produce. The pristine soil and growing conditions here make for remarkable terroir. For a true taste of New Zealand, visit Gibbston Valley Winery, an immersive wine experience just 20 minutes from Queenstown. T+L Tip: Explore the beautiful winery by bike. 

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