Unretirement – adventure tourism for over 65s

Our review of Canopy Tours in Rotorua

Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you can’t still have thrilling adventures – you know that, and thankfully, lots of tourism operators are starting to realise it too.

We were invited to send one of our team along to try out a Canopy Tour through ancient, virgin bush in Rotorua. Katherine, (who should be retired, but likes her work too much) and her husband John weren’t paid anything to go – or to write a positive review. But safe to say they were blown away, not just for the stunning journey through the treetops, but for the chance to learn more about conservation efforts in the area.

Here’s what she had to say:

Get your thrills and save the forest too

If you’re still fit, active and looking for a thrill that also makes a difference, sign up for a dream-come-true experience in Rotorua – a stunning Canopy Tour through ancient, virgin bush.

Trees older than human habitation

The Dansey Road Scenic Reserve, just outside Rotorua, is a pristine remnant of native virgin forest. It boasts trees – rimu, rata and more – estimated to be over 800 years old, and a handful could be approaching 1000 years. Do the math – that’s before humans arrived!

DoC gave Rotorua Canopy Tours permission to enter this ancient forest and install their adventure platforms and cables through the canopy – if they didn’t harm any of the plants, trees or wildlife. The result is a thrilling, breath-taking experience that you’re never too old for. The Original tour covers 1.2kms and offers bush walks, 600 metres of zipline, and the sights and sounds of native birds.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

Heights made us a bit wobbly at first – especially John – but the tour guides are friendly, funny – and all about safety. They dressed us in strong, complex harnesses that let us sit while zipping through the forest, and helmets that fit comfortably. All the ziplines are of heavy-duty cable, carefully secured to the largest, strongest trees, so we were safe – and the monarchs of the forest were, too. That focus on safety helped us quell the nerves.

‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ – that’s what John told himself, and he came away rejoicing at the experience. Praise from the guides at each stage helped too – especially when one of them said, quite casually, “This is what one of our clients did, and he was 93!”

Conservation at its finest

All the changes are done by the guides – one goes first down the zipline, to be at the next platform ready to greet you as you land, and transfer your carabiners to a safety belt around the tree.

Honestly, we hardly noticed any of that because we were too distracted by the scenery, listening to a trio of tūī warbling, or laughing at a cheeky tomtit cocking his bright eye at us!

Unfortunately, ‘virgin forest’ doesn’t mean it’s pristine. We saw before-and-after photos – the ancient trees stripped bare by possums, and the same trees now regrown and green. The guides listed several native species driven from the reserve by pests, and the few that survived and have increased in number as the pest population was reduced.

This wasn’t an easy job, but a Canopy Tour through dying trees wasn’t an option! At first, trapping was manual, with people going in every day to empty traps and reset them. Huge numbers of rats, possums, weasels and stoats were caught, and slowly the birdsong revived. It was an inspiring story, but hard, slow work and not the most humane way to go. Now trapping is done with species-specific automated traps that kill humanely. They can trap and kill 20+ animals before they need resetting. Freed from the gruelling work of manual trapping, guides can concentrate on your adventure. The green canopy is restored, and there’s a truly dramatic increase in bird populations.

Face to face rare birds

A highlight of our tour: I could feed a rare North Island robin from the palm of my hand! That bird probably has young in a nest somewhere – and her babies now have an 80% chance of surviving. The robin nestlings learn from their parents that food might be had from the big, two-legged mammals (humans), the tiny tomtit visits platforms regularly, and tūī gather in the high trees.

The tour isn’t just a fun thing to do when you need a boost out of your armchair. A portion of every tour ticket sold goes to pay for conservation and restoration – because it’s never finished. You can even donate towards the ongoing work.

An adventure that brings back the birds

You might be a fit, active older person looking for the next adventure, or your passion may be saving native species. Whatever you’re looking for, Canopy Tours is a must-see – thrilling and exciting, but also educational and safe. Even if heights make you nervous, the tour is worth a go – and take your grandkids! Zipline thrills, ancient trees so tall you can’t see the tops and birds never found in suburban gardens. It will be an experience you – and they – will never forget.