Many of us can imagine a responsible tourism industry that benefits local communities, protects the natural environment and inspires visitors to return home a little more enlightened about how to live sustainably. Unfortunately, many destinations and travel-oriented businesses still fall well-short of these worthy goals. For those of us who want responsible tourism to be more than a fantasy, there is no better place to witness the emergence of the industry than New Zealand. On our recent travels to New Zealand, The Good Holiday was inspired by the multitude of thoughtful tourism strategies being utilized by our friends in Middle-earth.
It goes without saying that New Zealand is a relatively isolated island nation blessed with good agriculture and a modest population of only 4.5 million people. It is no lie that both the North and South Island has more sheep than people! Local goods and services are easily found throughout the country. The Kiwi people are very proud of their locally produced food, wine and beer, and natural woolen products produced in the small towns that dot the bucolic landscape.
A popular method for holiday travels in New Zealand is the campervan. Essentially a mobile hotel room on wheels, campervan designs range from the spartan to the truly extravagant. While most campervans are currently dependent on traditional fossil fuels for propulsion, we are hopeful that more environmentally-friendly options will become the norm, but even as they are now, the travelers footprint is considerably less than what it would be when staying at large hotels and eating from fast-food chain stores.
Travel by campervan immerses the visitor in the New Zealand landscape. Staying in the excellent Department of Conservation (DOC) campgrounds, you are never far from a wonderful hike or paddle. These campgrounds reminded us of the beauty of low impact, shared facilities. Some grounds also had solar lighting and showers. These DOC campgrounds proved that well-managed and organized tourism DOES aid conservation. It gives a land value beyond its mineral rights. Purchasing locally produced food from roadside stands and preparing the food at your campsite further enhances the responsible tourism experience. The campervan becomes the vehicle for imagining a simpler existence when you return home.
A great highlight for us was walking on the Fox Glacier. This experience makes you realize the impact of global warming first-hand. In the last decade the glacier has literally ‘melted’ away at an alarming rate. The guides used this opportunity to stress the importance of the issue. It was at once a beautiful, but very eye-opening encounter.
Any visit to New Zealand may include becoming familiar with the native Maori communities. On the North Island, it is possible to independently visit a number of cultural centers where Maori history and customs are explained. For almost 800 years, the Maori have lived in harmony with their natural environment. As a living example of how to be stewards of the planet, the Maori can offer inspiration to the visitor. Meeting this culture in a living cultural village made us realize how we as a human race once knew how reliant on nature, but that today, in an age of science and technology, we have disconnected ourselves from the ‘life source’. We wondered how many people on earth have only used electricity to cook meals and how many could say they use no fossil fuels. Globally we have simply considered ancient practices as just that: ancient. So last season.