Canopy Tours Founder, James Fitzgerald thought that ziplining would be a fun and exciting way to experience the native forest that we were so lucky to have on our doorstep, 7 years on, Canopy Tours has been named one of the best experiences New Zealand has to offer!
The ziplining dream
James had a dream, he had seen ziplines emerging all over the world and felt that this would be an amazing way for International and Domestic tourists to explore our beautiful native forest with little impact on the environment. He wanted people to venture into a native forest in a safe environment and learn why these places are so special and unique to New Zealand.
James was on the hunt for a native forest full of ancient trees and birds singing everywhere. Finally, James found the perfect native forest for zipline tours on the outskirts of Rotorua. He also found someone to share his dream, university mate Andrew Blackford, who happened to be an engineer! Andrew had some great ideas and believed he could design and build James’ system for zipline tours.
Building a zipline tour
On the 1st of March 2012 the real work began. Andrew and James left their jobs and walked into the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve ready to start building their zipline tour.
James and Andrew discovered very quickly that there were a few secret ingredients to building a course for zipline tours in this forest, one was a spud gun – that’s how the lines were launched, and the heavy-duty wire pulled into place. The other was lots of help and support from family and friends.
All the materials for the platforms had to be carried in by hand as they did not have the budgets to use helicopters. It was tough work, but once the course was complete the duo knew they had the infrastructure for an incredible forest experience.
Creating a mission: Bringing the forest back to life
The forest James had found was beautiful, but during the build James and Andrew began to see how sick this forest was. There was rubbish dumped throughout the forest, from household rubbish to cars and washing machines. Possums and rat populations were growing and signs of this were visible through the possum graze and lack of insects and foliage in the forest. The birds were silent. This was not the forest James had dreamed of.
James and Andrew decided they would bring the forest back to life, and the birds would then flourish once again.
Canopy Tours team
Now they had a location, a mission and a zipline course; they needed a team. They put out an ad and Alex and Dan were welcomed into the team.
With no customers to begin the work for the team was sporadic, but they were loyal and knew the mission and the experience would be a success once word of mouth spread.
Slowly we gained momentum, customers were talking about us and media began to hear of this amazing experience that is working to save the native forest. We were getting amazing reviews from our customers and our little team began to grow. We went from 4 to 12 to 25 then 60 in 2018.
Even though our team has grown and the day to day operations has changed dramatically in the 7 years since we opened the door, our team have a connection to the company and the cause and most of our staff come back year after year. In fact, Alex and Dan are both still here 7 years on. Alex is our Operations Manager and Dan has now guided over 2000 zipline tours!
Growing Canopy Tours
When our team began to grow and our tours were becoming more and more popular, our little how became too small. We bought some land and developed purpose-built headquarters near the Northern entrance of Rotorua (closer to the forest).
Since the move in 2015, growth has continued. In July 2018 we launched our new tour – the Ultimate Canopy Tour. The build of this tour was a bit trickier than the Original Tour as it is located deeper in the forest and incorporates more features and longer ziplines. The spud gun and put aside and drones and helicopters were brought in for the build.
The Ultimate Tour is higher, longer and even more spectacular than the Original Canopy Tour!
Conservation is still at the forefront of Canopy Tours, 7 years on we have now trapped 250ha of the forest and removed tons of predatory introduced pests. This has allowed the canopy to repair and native birds and other native animals to return and breed in a safe environment.
The forest is becoming louder and is now the place that James had once dreamed of.
We have discovered some rear animals in the forest since our trapping work has begun and bird numbers are growing.
Every customer that has come on tour contributes to the conservation project as a portion of their ticket goes directly back into funding the trapping programme. Awareness from people talking about the conservation work that we do and understanding the issues we have with pests in our country is also a big win in our books.
The future at Canopy Tours
We would love for everyone to be able to share and enjoy the magical forest our canopy tour operates in. Our future plans include building walking trails so people can do just that. They will be accessible to the public and allow everyone to experience a native forest in New Zealand and understand what a healthy forest looks and feels like.
We will continue our conservation work and as always learn and improve on the way that we are trapping and monitoring the health of the forest. So, watch this space…..
Award winning experience
Canopy Tours has been recognised as being one of the best experiences in New Zealand. In 2019 Canopy Tours was a winner of the 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Awards. This award highlighted the 7 experiences in the country that had an exceptional visitor experience, were sustainable and showed care and responsibility for our environments - Showcasing New Zealand to visitors.
In 2019 we were also named on TripAdvisor's Travellers Choice Top 10 Experiences - South Pacific and New Zealand.
2017 Canopy Tours received the Tourism Export Council of New Zealand Operator of the Year Award.
In 2016 Canopy Tours received the Supreme Award, Sustainability Award and Visitor Experience Award at the Air New Zealand Tourism Awards. The judges said at the heart of Rotorua Canopy Tours’ success is an exceptional visitor experience that has raised the bar of personalisation, authenticity and fun.
2016 at the Westpac Rotorua Business Awards we also won the awards for Business of the Year, Attractions Business Award ant the Attractions Business Award.
Getting into the community
We have had so much support at Canopy Tours from the community and we are always wanting to do our part to give back, as we know if we work together, we can achieve great things.
The Canopy Tours team regularly gets out and about to do rubbish collections on the road and through the forest. Some of our team even head out on their days off to help clean up the roads around Rotorua.
We love spreading the message of conservation and helping other pest free initiatives get off the ground. We regularly go into schools and talk to kids about the types of animals were introduced into New Zealand and explain the impact it has on our wildlife. We encourage kids to take these messages home and do what they can in their own back yards.
Have some more questions about Canopy Tours? Check out our F&Q
Is it true all your guides are kiwis?
Yes, all our Rotorua Ziplines guides are Kiwis. They are from all over the country, from the bottom of the South Island (Jen – she rolls her r’s) to the top of the north. Our guides have some amazing stories from growing up in this country and exploring it themselves.
Many of our guides studied outdoor education, although that is not a requirement to become a guide at Canopy Tours. Our guides are just outdoorsy people, who love getting out in the elements and exploring the unique environment New Zealand has to offer. Many of our guides love kayaking white water, hiking, mountain biking, running and nature photography. We do all our training internally to ensure we run the best and safest zipline operation in the country.
Do you run your Canopy Tours in the rain?
Our Zipline tours run in almost any weather. In fact, they are spectacular in the rain. We will provide you with wet weather gear if needed and the canopy tree cover helps to keep the rain off when you are in the forest.
The rain truly does make the forest sparkle and the forest look green and lush – fantastic for photos!
How many zip lines do you have?
We run two guided tours, each with multiple zip lines and swing bridges.
The Original Canopy Tour is a three-hour adventure. Explore the forest via a network of 6 ziplines and 2 swing bridges.
The Ultimate Canopy Tour is three and a half hours long and has 6 ziplines, one is a whopping 400m long and is tandem so you can share in the experience. There are also swing bridges, a cliff walkway and a controlled descent on this tour.
What kind of trees to you have in the forest?
The forest we operate in is a native forest, with a number of species not found anywhere else in the world. There are several different types of trees including Rimu, Tawa, Miro as well as several tree ferns including the Silver Fern.
What birds will I see on tour?
There are lots of birds in the forest, some friendlier than others. We can’t guarantee that you will see birds on every tour, but we would be surprised if you didn’t.
The most common birds to see and interact with are tom tit and north island robin. Both of these are small birds, the tom tit is in fact one of the smallest birds in New Zealand. We have a concession to feed both of these bird species from your hand, this is a highlight for a many of our guests.
Other birds you may see on tour include, wood pigeon, tui, fantail, kaka, whitehead, shining cuckoo, long tailed cuckoo, bell bird.