We had just finished at Agroventures and had got to the Canopy Tours site with minutes to spare before the briefing. Drew, Chrissy, Georgia and myself were meeting Athena and Elle from Auckland (please don’t judge them, they can’t help it) and Cindy who lives in Rotorua (for now anyway). The tour can take ten people at a time so we had 3 people we didn’t know join us too. We all filled out our forms and listened to the pre briefing while we harnessed up. I spent a good 15 minutes trying to attach my action cam to my helmet and even when i did it threw my helmet on a jaunty angle, on top of that it had recorded loads of stuff by accident and used up the memory card so it was useless to me anyway! Can’t wait to actually get a proper GoPro rather than this cheap version.
We met our guides Ariel (not the mermaid) and Cam. These two would take us through Okoheriki, or in English the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, for three hours entertaining along the way although mostly making sure we didn’t do anything stupid. Well, not too stupid anyway. Okoheriki is a virgin native forest, meaning that it has never been logged or touched other than to walk (zipline) through. We packed into a van and made the journey to the starting point. On the way we got to know each other with introductions and the ice breaker question of: “If you could have an army of animals what would the animals be?”. I answered with Giraffe, have you ever seen them fight? Brutal!
It was only a 10 minute drive and we had to put helmets on and started our walk. Immediately the cool embrace of the trees swallowed us. It was a beautiful sunny day and the shade was welcome. I’ve grown up in New Zealand and been in and out of native forests all my life yet I never get sick of it. We were even welcomed by a piwakawaka or fantail flitting around our heads. All in single file Cam led us to the first platform while Ariel took the rear. The first platform is time for a new briefing. What to touch, what not to touch, where to be what not to do. Nothing too strenuous but it just makes sure that if followed you have the best experience you can. It was time to do the first zip line of 6. This one was a 70 meter warm up line to get us started and a volunteer to go first was called for. I had organised this trip for my birthday so I stepped up. All attached to the cable and the gate was opened for me to step off the platform. Ariel had already gone ahead to prepare the other side. I walked down to the lower step and my harness bunched up which meant it was time to go. I wasn’t scared or worried. I was excited. I had full trust in the harness, cable and guides. I lifted my legs and away I went. I whooped out loud and let my arms go wide, the harness had me so I didn’t feel the need to hold on. I was flying through the sunshine, between trees with a zip sound and laughing. It was amazing. I landed on the far platform awkwardly but grinning from ear to ear. Somehow along the way Ariel had nicknamed me “Danimal”.
One by one everyone followed. Even Elle who was not good with heights at all. She did really well. Her feelings were that the zipline itself was great (although she didn’t want to let go while flying) but the platforms without rails were the part she didn’t like and henceforth entered close relations with the trees by hugging them to death.
There are 6 ziplines on the tour in all, add to this 2 swing bridges and you spend most of your time attached to something by your harness. The tour takes approximately 3 hours, but that is not 3 hours of walking. Most of the time is spent getting everyone across one at a time while everyone talks on the platforms, or in Elle’s case hugs trees. The guides are well trained in the tour and carry extra equipment for emergencies. The lead guide carries a spare radio battery, spare warm clothing for customers i.e. jersey, beanie, gloves. They also carry the “rescue kit” which is a dry bag containing the technical equipment necessary to evacuate to course or deal with any incidents occurring on the course. The tail guide carry’s spare customer warm clothing, a comprehensive first aid kit and a spare set of ziplining equipment.
On top of that their knowledge and passion of the forest and it’s wildlife is fantastic. Whether these guys are trained specifically for this job or they knew it before they started they come across professional and sincere about what they do. They love the activity of ziplining and taking tours, but as the tour goes on you start to realize they care about the environment they are in too. They educate you on the local bird life, showing photo’s and naming the birds. They have interesting facts and stories about them.
On one platform we were shown roughly 8-10 photos and were challenged to try and name all the birds. It was here we were told the tale of the ‘Miromiro’ or Tomtit. Legend says that you could visit the ‘Tohunga’ or Village Wise-man who could summon the Miromiro. You could then tell the Miromiro your message of love and it would fly away to find your lover and pass the message on. Sadly in the case of some the Miromiro may have got lost along the way (either that or there wasn’t a lover to find) as apparently Ariel was still waiting for the numerous messages he had sent to have a result! Poor Ariel, so unloved.
Only a few of the platforms have railings and because as a safety measure you must always be connected to something with your harness when not on a railed platform the order you zipline in stays the same until you find another railed platform. I have 2 ziplines that stood out to me. First was the 220 meter line. Arms wide, I flew through the trees, I couldn’t even see the platform I was heading towards. I was free and happy, the ride seemed to go on forever. The second wasn’t as long but it was a lot higher. 45 feet off the ground and an amazing view. Each zipline was its own experience and all I wanted at the end was to do it all again.
We had two ziplines left when Ariel and Cam stopped us and talked about the conservation efforts for Okoheriki. Like all of New Zealand’s national parks and reserves there are pests. First introduced by the Maori with the Polynesian rat and later by European settlers with the likes of possum, stoat and weasels etc. All of these are a huge issue in New Zealand. The possums which are cute and fluffy are protected in their home country, Australia . There the weather is drier and there are natural predators to keep the population down. In New Zealand we don’t have those predators or conditions. We have lush green forests that possums absolutely love and thrive in. But the damage they cause to the trees is irreparable. The rat and stoats etc are worse. rats are notorious for stowing away and the Polynesian rat was considered a food source by Maori. Stoats, Ferrets and weasels etc were introduced as a way of controlling the introduced rabbit population. Sadly animals will always take the easy food source and rabbit may be tasty but so are eggs. New Zealand evolved without ground predators and therefore the bird life did not always evolve to flying. They stayed on the ground. The kiwi is our most famous ground bird but here are many others. They are all threatened by the Stoats, Weasels and ferrets. Their eggs make an easy meal. Ariel and Cam told us about the damage they caused and the steps that were taken to keep their numbers down. It was a fascinating discussion as they were not cruel, just realistic. The pests were trapped humanely for as was pointed out to us it isn’t the fault of the pests that they are here, at the same time they need to be reduced. The whole Canopy Tour was on such way of conserving Okoheriki as the cost of the tour helps fund the conservation trust. Just by taking the tour we were doing something to help.
With the trapping techniques and efforts explained we finished the tour. Our last zipline we were encouraged to let go and hang upside down. We all, with the exception of Elle who bravely removed her hands to fly free, di this and were received on the far side safely. I was last to take this line and Cam suggested it would be funny to not right myself at the end, forcing Ariel to catch me. Of course I was completely on board as you can see!
All in all the Canopy Tour ziplines were my favorite part of my trip to Rotorua. This really is a must do experience. I will go back and do it again sometime.
If you are interested in the conservation efforts here please go to the Canopy Conservation Trust and there is more information along with how you can help or donate.