It’s no coincidence that the introduction of people to New Zealand saw the advent of many native species of flora and fauna falling into sharp decline. European settlers brought with them farming techniques, metal tools and invasive animals and in so doing were responsible for the deforestation of vast areas of South Island as well as upsetting both the natural biodiversity and the traditional lifestyles of the Maori. However, times have changed and responsible tourism in New Zealand is now at the forefront of the country’s cultural identity. Tour operators running whale and dolphin watching tours are required to have a permit issued by the Department of Conservation; environmental accreditation is endorsed by the government on products that are better for the environment (look out for the Environmental Choice label) and Maori culture is something that New Zealanders have grown to understand, respect and hold as a figurehead for national pride.

People & Culture

Keeping Maori traditions alive

Maori culture is embedded in New Zealand and although European influence has played a significant part in contemporary lifestyles, the bond with the past remains strong. Schemes are in place to encourage the teaching and practice of Maori language whilst sacred places (marae) continue to be honoured in traditional ceremonies as well as teaching younger generations about values and lessons from the founding fathers. Visiting sites that are poignant to Maori people, such as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, Hokianga Harbour and Mokoia Island on Lake Rotorua, lets travelers learn as they explore and there are several organisations dedicated to preserving traditional tribal culture and educating visitors on the importance of keeping the past alive.

Most Maori people that you’ll meet in New Zealand will consider English their first language; however, attend a traditional tribal ceremony and the songs, chants and incantations bring alive the words that have been passed down through the generations. The haka is one of the world’s most iconic tribal dances and although it may come across as slightly gimmicky this is still an extremely important part of Maori ceremony and is not to be interrupted mid-flow for fear of grave reprisals for the tribe.
What you can do
Pay attention when attending a traditional Maori ceremony as there are often strict rules associated with continuity and structure, especially where chanting is involved. Research Maori history and travel with a tour operator that is dedicated to preserving cultural traditions. Support Maori communities and ask questions related to traditional and contemporary lifestyles by visiting sacred sites with a knowledgeable guide. Attend a demonstration of traditional weaving and carving skills or witness an authentic cultural performance before sitting down to a traditional hangi on the beach.


Watch whales and dolphins responsibly

In the main, dolphin watching in New Zealand has developed into a sustainable and responsible form of income that allows travelers to get closer to one of the world’s most enigmatic animals without damaging their natural behaviour patterns or the environment. All legitimate dolphin and whale watching tour operators require a commercial marine mammal viewing permit supplied by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation with waters around Kaikoura limited to just one permit per tour operator. Restricting the speed of dolphin watching tour boats and the distance that boats get to a pod is essential for minimising the impact on New Zealand’s cetacean population and not touching or feeding dolphins are also extremely important when it comes to maintaining natural behaviours. Endangered species that are endemic to New Zealand include Hector’s dolphins (a subspecies of South Island) and Maui’s dolphins (a subspecies of North Island) of which there are fewer than 50 remaining. Protection levels are in place but are woefully insufficient with only four nautical miles coming under the jurisdiction of Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary, even though these endangered dolphins are known to roam up to 20 nautical miles offshore.
What you can do
Responsible Travel will only recommend tour operators that adhere to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation commercial guidelines. Doing your research and seeing which tour operators are recommended by established conservation groups and educational advisors is another way that you can ensure that you’re going to be watching dolphins responsibly. Also, find out if tour operators are linked to conservation groups or contribute to research initiatives or take affirmative action when it comes to outing bad practices and irresponsible behaviour.

Don't expect the easter bunny

From cats and dogs to wasps and wallabies, the list of invasive animal species that have been deliberately or accidentally introduced to New Zealand shows no sign of being completed any time soon. Even New Zealand’s most iconic and profitable imported emblem, the sheep, has been responsible for widespread deforestation due to farming, and there are many other species that have been detrimental to the indigenous flora and fauna. Rabbits, possums and hares, in particular, are considered much more than just ‘pesky’ and an annual cull every Easter finds hunters meeting across the Otago region to shoot the heck out of anything that moves, including stoats, weasels and ferrets which were, ironically, introduced in the 1880s to reduce rabbit numbers. Farmers and land owners point to soil erosion, crop destruction and disease spreading as reasons why the event should take place and go on to say that shooting is a far more humane way of keeping population growth under control. While we understand the need to keep farmland free from pests and rodents, the idea that shooting manages population growth seems rather naïve. This event has turned into a competition rather than organised pest control with dead animals displayed as trophies while numerous are left injured or dying before being thrown into a pit rather than – at the very least – being used for dog meat or fertiliser.

What you can do
It’s definitely worthwhile avoiding the Otago region on Good Friday unless you want to wake up to the sound of buck shot and witness a cull that has turned into a gun lovers’ day out rather than anything vaguely resembling responsible farming. Unfortunately, New Zealand animal welfare groups, such as SAFE, appear to be in the minority; however, you can still voice your opinion or find out more about a subject that has become a lot more ego than eco.


Miles Clark, New Zealand expert at our supplier MoaTrek:
“At the moment we have an issue involving ‘freedom camping’, i.e. renting a camper van or pitching a tent away from a designated site. Many of the cheaper camper vans are not self contained with no toilet on board leading to predictable results at car parks and scenic stops – there has been a backlash with some regions banning freedom camping. Hire a van with proper facilities or make sure you dispose of all your waste responsibly in order to keep New Zealand the way you found it."
New Zealand’s beaches and inland waterways are often the place to be during the height of summer. Keeping on established roads and trackswill prevent you disturbing natural wildlife habitats as well as further preventing the erosion of sand dunes and damage being caused to shellfish beds at low tide. If a bin in a remote area is already overflowing then don’t add to the mountain – take your rubbish home with you and dispose of it as responsibly as possible. In Maori culture all water is important and in some cases sacred and of spiritual value to the wider community. Read up on the history of a river or lake before taking the plunge and if you find anything that looks like it might be a Maori artifact then report it to the Department of Conservation or at least your local tour guide. Treat Maori people, ceremonial events and sacred sites with respect and do some research into the traditions and the heritage of New Zealand’s first inhabitants. Only go on a whale or dolphin watching tour with a company that has a commercial marine mammal viewing permit.If your skipper starts to chase any marine life at speed or too close to the boat then make sure they know that you want them to stop as the animal’s welfare may be at risk. Follow local regulations concerning campfires and use permanent outdoor grill facilities where available. Wildfires, particularly in the summer, can be lethal both to human and animal life, and also to the land. Don’t feed any animals and make sure you follow signs if walking or cycling close to farm land. Farming is an essential part of New Zealand’s economy and understanding how to cut through farms without disturbing crops or cattle is the best way to walk responsibly. If you’re interested in photographing natural New Zealand then make sure you don’t get carried away and trample on wildflowers or fragile vegetation. Keeping a good distance from wildlife is also the best way to leave things as you found them so think about updating your zoom lens if you haven’t done so already. Don’t take any coral, shells or animals out of the water. But if you do find any discarded fishing equipment or general debris that’s not meant to be underwater then remove it and dispose of it as responsibly as possible.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Curioso] [Maori : Den C] [Dolphins: Robert Haandrikman]