Toitū he whenua, whatungarongara he tangata.
The land is permanent, man disappears.
By Sarah Murphy, Australian Trail Runner & Adventurer.
I’ve never described myself as a ‘greenie’ or a conservationist, although there are aspects of those things that are at the core of my beliefs. I believe climate change is real, believe in buying local, have a keen interest in sustainability, I recycle, and one of my favourite pastimes is upcycling – turning old stuff into new and interesting things. I’ve spent the past 5 years gradually turning my property from English garden into a bush garden full of indigenous Adelaide Hills natives, many of which I grow myself. By day I’m a Civil and Environmental Engineer, which largely involves engineering infrastructure for ecological outcomes. Quite by coincidence, one of my earliest jobs as a graduate engineer is linked to the sustainable operations of Michell Australia, a wool company owned by the same family that started ioMerino (but more about that later).
For me, holidays in big cities with crowds of people, cars, bright lights and loud noises is the stuff of nightmares. Give me a holiday in the wilderness any day.
I’ve visited New Zealand a couple of times before. Once, almost 20 years ago, I spent a week travelling around the North Island. Since then I’ve visited Rotorua on the North Island twice to run the Tarawera Ultra Marathon, but these have been quick trips and I hadn’t actually ventured beyond Rotorua itself. This year I’d decided to run Tarawera again, and by good fortune had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks touring the South and North Islands with ioCrew member Sputnik.
Our planning could probably be described as ‘ad hoc’ at best. This was partly a deliberate strategy to just make it up as we went along, but mostly we were both busy trying to juggle work and training hard for an ultra marathon so planning the trip itself came a distant 2nd. Or even 3rd.
Despite the apparent lack of planning, we did have a list of things we wanted to do, a rough itinerary, and each of us had a ‘must do’ – the non-negotiable thing we wanted to fit in somewhere along the way. Trouble was, mine was to be at the end of the trip, which made it hard to plan for. The risk was, we’d either run out of time, run out of enthusiasm, or leave it too late to book and miss out.
I wouldn’t really call myself an adrenaline junkie, but you can’t help but get a little sucked in to the adventure culture of New Zealand. I’ve never had a burning desire to bungee jump, but ziplining? Hell yeah! Turns out the decision was pretty easy; Rotorua Canopy Tours is New Zealand’s only native forest zipline canopy tour. And as we were planning to be based in Rotorua the week before the race, it was also super convenient.
After almost missing out, (note to self: always a good idea to book ‘must do’ activities well in advance), we checked into Rotorua Canopy Tours HQ just a couple of days before we were due to run our race. We were fitted with our harnesses, helmets, given a briefing and loaded into a mini bus.
There is so much going on in New Zealand – tramping, jet boating, canyoning, bungee, heli-biking, and the list goes on – you can’t help but wonder if one day the environment might be stuffed. That’s what made this tour so refreshing.
We were driven to the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, part of the Mamuku Forest, a short drive from Rotorua. Despite being an old-growth forest, (unlike surrounding areas it has never been logged), just a few years ago the forest was devoid of just about all life, except for large numbers of pest species, which over time were slowly decimating the native bird populations and eating away the canopy. Possums, rats, stoats and many other introduced animals are reportedly responsible for the annual destruction of over 26 million native forest birds in New Zealand – most attacked while sitting on their nests. Only 5% of native birds make it to adulthood in the wild.
Our tour commenced with a walk through the forest, now bursting with life and the songs of a number of native bird species. Our local Kiwi guides talked us through the restoration work being done, and we were fortunate enough to hand feed a rare North Island Robin, which was game enough to swoop in and take a grub from Sputnik’s hand. All this just three years after tours commenced in the forest.
What sets this operation apart from many others is that a portion of every ticket is invested into the forest’s restoration, and to date over $100,000 has been raised through sponsorship, visitor donations and ticket contributions. This money has been put toward 1,000 traps set in the forest to catch the pest species that had been doing so much damage. The results have been extraordinary, and now over 20% of the reserve is under active pest control with very low numbers of recorded pests and the return of ecological balance with numerous native bird species, colourful fungi and sapling trees.
With all this talk about conservation, you’d be forgiven for asking what about the ziplining? Well, of course we were there to zipline, and zipline we did! Six flights in all, the longest at 220m. In between there were swing bridges and tree top platforms, the highest 22m above the canopy floor. On the final zip line we were encouraged to flip upside down and let go, dangling from our harnesses while we flew high above the Silver Ferns. It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds!
This tour really was a magical experience. Sure the zipling was a blast, but the real highlight was hearing what this company is doing to ensure that this old forest and its inhabitants are around for generations to come.
I always do my best to support companies who ‘do their bit’ for the environment, and it’s one of the many reasons I love ioMerino gear – which of course we were wearing on our adventure through the tree tops. As I mentioned earlier, as a young engineer one of the very first projects I worked on was the Parafield Airport stormwater harvesting scheme in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. Completed in the early 2000’s the scheme uses wetlands to treat stormwater harvested from urban drainage systems (which would otherwise flow out to sea) and rinse water from Michell Australia’s wool processing operations, which can then be reused within the operations or stored underground for use by other industries or for irrigation of local parks and reserves. A partnership between Salisbury Council, Michell Australia, state and Commonwealth government, the scheme pioneered large-scale stormwater reuse in Australia and at the time was the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Processing wool uses water and, like all industry, generates waste. Water reuse, which has dramatically reduced our reliance on the River Murray, (where the majority of South Australia’s water supply comes from), is just one of the sustainable initiatives implemented within Michell’s operations, which has proven that ‘waste’ products can be valuable resources.
ioMerino don’t just make great gear, behind the scenes they’re also doing their bit to help protect our precious environment.