Preserving New Zealand’s Natural Identity

James (co-founder) always intended to restore Okoheriki (Dansey Road Scenic Reserve), to pre-human existence.

That was his commitment when he walked into the local Department of Conservation (DoC) office to announce his idea. However, the immense pest infestation became overwhelmingly evident during the construction of the Orignal Canopy Tour. This is when motivation truly sets in to make a difference. 

The forest was silent during the Original Canopy Tour build, with not a bird in sight. Mamaku Local Willy Ducree set 20 rat traps along the access trails in the forest. Within hours, if not minutes, the crew in the forest could hear snapping.

The forest was silent during the Original Canopy Tour build, with not a bird in sight. Mamaku Local Willy Ducree set 20 rat traps along the access trails in the forest. Within hours, if not minutes, the crew in the forest could hear snapping.

When they returned soon after to check the traps, all 20 had caught rats. They expected to trap a few rats overnight, so this immediate activity was mind-blowing; rats were everywhere! It was clear how sick the forest was and the urgent action needed to try and restore the vulnerable ecosystem. 

Once Canopy Tours opened in August, customer contributions enabled a cash flow that grew monthly. Things were ticking along nicely, so they planned to do an initial trapping blitz in May and June 2013. The idea was to remove as many pests as possible in a short space of time within the 50 hectares around the zipline course. The first phase was to bait various traps (for rats and possums) each night and leave them unset, so pests became reliant on the safe food source. After a few weeks, phase two was setting the traps. The results were again astounding. Every trap would be successful in the first few nights. Over the space of a week, over 800 pests were removed. 





Challenge after challenge

Massively successful trapping results came with their challenges.

The pest management team was also the team running Canopy Tours. After days of setting traps, checking traps and removing dead animals, the team were becoming tired, and the costs were enormous. Hourly wages and a reduction in visitors through May and June saw Canopy Tours quickly running out of money. This approach needed to be more sustainable. James needed to find a better way to save the forest. 

Over the next two years, James found a great partnership with Good Nature. Robbie Van Dam, who started Good Nature, was a passionate conservationist and an inventor. He created a trap that would change it all, a self-resetting trap. The original traps required manually resetting each time they went off. The Good Nature solution was a CO2-powered trap that reset itself several times. The A24 could remove 24 rats, and the A12 could remove 12 possums before needing attention. More financial challenges arose as Good Nature traps came at a high cost that Canopy Tours couldn’t afford – another hurdle to cross. 

DoC manages the land, Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, and Rotorua Canopy Tours pay a large portion of revenue to operate on it. James thought some of that revenue could be re-appropriated back to the conservation work in the local area. What sounded like an easy, win-win solution was a challenging endeavour. Over time, DoC agreed to a three-year commitment. Each year, on top of our fees, Canopy Tours would contribute an additional $35,000 to conservation management, which DoC would then match. This sparked the creation of the Canopy Conservation Trust. Each year for three years, the Trust received its contribution from Canopy Tours and DoC. This Conservation Partnership Agreement was the first of its kind out of over 4000 DoC concessionaires in New Zealand. 

Over the agreement’s three-year term (2015 – 2018), Canopy Tours purchased 650 self-resetting traps from Good Nature and the consumables to run these traps. These and additional manual traps now cover 200 hectares of forest to control pest numbers. Since 2018, Canopy Tours and our customers have contributed solely to the Canopy Conservation Trust. Every guest that comes through Canopy Tours donates back a portion of their entry fee and is forever part of the forest’s journey back to pre-human existence. 

Starting to see results

Through our pest management processes, we collect data to indicate pest saturation.


RAT / Mice


15 - 22%



7 - 10%



5 - 8%

Data results depend on the time of year and the weather cycles. When we first came to the forest, rat and possum numbers were at 100% saturation. Goodnature traps now have Bluetooth, which monitors success rate. This data indicates we removed, on average, 2000 rats a year, and possum trapping data tells us we remove 76 to 100 possums annually. We also monitor stoat kills and other ailments that threaten the biodiversity of our forest and Waiwhero stream (which runs through the forest), including Myrtle Rust. 

From a once silent forest, we now see and hear various birds: Ruru, Kereru, Piwakawaka, Tui, Grey Warblers, Whiteheads, Korimako, and Silvereyes. Seasonally, we’ll spot Koekoea and Kaka as they travel through the forest. We have even built the confidence of a few Toutouwai and Miromiro, which we hand-feed on our experience. 

The bio-diversity success from low pest numbers is evident through the thriving plant life, too. The canopy layers are thick and dense with foliage from our native and endemic species. Ferns cover the forest floor like they once would have hundreds of years ago, and fruits, flowers, and new shoots are seen throughout the year. 

Major biodiversity success

What makes our conservation story even more unique and exciting is some of the massive biodiversity wins we have recently observed.

We have encountered several species that are classed as critically threatened (meaning their populations throughout New Zealand are low and in decline due to pests and loss of habitat), including the rare Striped Skink, the Thambotra Vates Moth, the pittosporum Kiirki Shrub, and the Long-Tailed Bat. 

In addition, we have found fungi and invertebrates that are rare and new to science, species that have never been documented in the world before. We are not restoring the forest. We are enabling the forest to repair itself naturally through protecting it. These species may have lived in the forest for hundreds of years but now, due to our pest management, their numbers have increased, resulting in a healthier ecosystem. 

Working Together

The old-growth forest is a 1000-hectare block.

The Dansey Road Scenic Reserve is 500 hectares, and Manaawhenua, Tura Te Ngakau Ki Ngongataha, owns the remaining 500 hectares.

The iwi are our key partners and share our powerful conservation aspirations to restore this ancient place.

Conservation success is a massive driver for us. The work is led by the Canopy Conservation Trust, which Canopy Tours is the major financial supporter of. The Trust has a Community Conservation Agreement with DoC to restore the 500 hectares of the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve. The Trust has two Trustees, a spokesperson, and the Canopy Tours team facilitates the work on behalf of the Trust.

We have built incredible relationships with educationalists, conservation enthusiasts, and education guides who are inspired by our vision. Scion is conducting ongoing, year-on-year studies, including an Invertebrate study. The study involves collecting invertebrates via 15 insect traps positioned throughout the forest to gather samples. Last year, we collected 5,500 samples; within those, three dung beetle species new to science were discovered. They have plans to deliver a moth and fungi study in 2024.

Future Vision

Having an ancient old-growth forest within 15 minutes of a significant population is an absolute privilege. We want to turn it into a national sanctuary for all to enjoy and help solve New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis. 

Together, Rotorua Canopy Tours, Canopy Conservation Trust, and Tura Te Ngakau Ki Ngongataha want to create a national sanctuary. We will remove pests and predators from our 1000 hectares to create a safe environment for species to thrive and reproduce. When results are sufficient, we will start translocating species back into the forest that would have resided here before pests arrived. We’ll start with plants that will provide food, including tree fuchsia (Kotukutuku), dactylanthus (Pua Te Reinga), and native mistletoe. The next phase will be translocating reptiles, skinks and geckos and finally the top of our food chain, birds. We would love to translocate Weka, Kokako, Pateke, Tieke, and then the goal bird, the Titipounamu. The Titipounamu is an ancient songbird and NZ’s smallest bird that loves big old trees. They reside in the mid-canopy layer and are inquisitive little birds, which means our visitors can see and interact with them. This would be the pinnacle of an inspiring story for all to be a part of.
Kiwi birds would be next on the wish list. We would need to create a strict stoat suppression plan to implement a barrier around the circumference of the forest. This would be the final touch to a fenceless sanctuary. The sanctuary would be an incredible achievement highlighting the partnership between Rotorua Canopy Tours, Canopy Conservation Trust, Tura te Ngakau ki Ngongataha and the wider community. Outside of the obvious biodiversity benefit of allowing these species to spread their genetics, this would be a huge driver for visitation to the Rotorua area and encourage more visitation to enjoy our world-class natural habitats.

Leaders in Tourism

In 2012, Canopy Tours always led with sustainability and a lot of people at the time found it strange, now this has become the norm for every tourism operator and an expectation from our guests.

Because our team is enthusiastic about the work we do, they turn no knowledge into intrigue from our guests, and we have fully immersed the sustainability delivery into our visitor experience.

This project is taking our full energy and efforts as we head into the next three-year cycle. From extending the trapping network to 500 hectares, translocation application program and fundraising through the Canopy Conservation Trust to make it all happen. The survival of our forest relies entirely on pest management. It is a constant role that must be continuously upheld to sustain its success. 

We’re excited for the future, and if you would like to know more, please click through to the Trust website below:

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