9 Ways to Travel Sustainably in New Zealand

Greta Samuel / © Culture Trip
Photo of Thalita Alves
24 December 2020

Many know New Zealand for its clean, green image – especially since the country’s tourism campaigns are centred on this sustainable notion. But in order to keep the country’s landscapes beautiful and pristine, everyone has to do their part. If you’ve got your sights on these shores, here’s how you can make an eco-friendly difference during your travels.

Prioritise public transport

A car might be a necessary evil if you’re trying to get to remote parts of the country, but most of New Zealand is well-serviced when it comes to inter-city transport. Buses are the norm for this kind of travel – some companies like Intercity even offer flexible hop-on, hop-off passes if you want to explore lots of different places.

Be on the lookout for eco-friendly tours

Depending on where you’re going, it won’t be too hard to find tour operators whose funds go straight back into environmental projects and wildlife conservation. Milford Sound, Akaroa, the Bay of Islands and the Otago Peninsula are key destinations for eco-tours – the latter in particular is famous for being home to the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head.

Eco-friendly tours to places like Milford Sound reinvest in conservation and environmental projects | © Grant Rooney / Alamy Stock Photo

Check your accommodation’s sustainability credentials

Qualmark is Tourism New Zealand’s official quality surveying body, assessing all accommodation providers and tour operators according to their environmental friendliness, health and safety protocols, among other benchmarks that prove their credibility. Businesses are given Enviro Gold, Silver and Bronze awards if their sustainable practices and policies are up to a high standard. Sustainable New Zealand is another good resource for those trying to find out if a company is eco-friendly.

From luxury ecolodges to exemplary eco-friendly hotels, New Zealand makes it easy for tourists to travel green.

New Zealand offers a bounty of options for an eco-friendly stay | Courtesy of Split Apple Lodge, Kaiteriteri / Expedia

Do some conservation volunteering

The Department of Conservation organises several volunteering events across the nation, ranging from tree planting days to the laying out of pest traps in areas where there are threatened wildlife species. If you’re spending some extended time in a single town or city, also keep an eye out for community conservation projects – you can usually find these on event listings at a local council’s website, through social media or even through the traditional community notices and newspapers.

Go bush

Make the most of the national parks, multi-day hikes, campsites and nature reserves that have earned New Zealand its green reputation. You’ll need to be quick to secure your spot for the huts on some of the Great Walks due to their popularity, especially during the high summer season. Otherwise, just do your homework about the various walks and natural getaways you’ll have access to (again, the Department of Conservation website is a good resource for this) and plan your off-grid adventures accordingly.

Plan an off-grid holiday at one of New Zealand’s many beautiful national parks or nature areas | © Rafal Cichawa / Alamy Stock Photo

Hop on a bike

Maybe you’re an active soul who prefers to explore New Zealand on two wheels. In that case, there are a number of multi-day cycling routes you can try. Examples include the South Island’s Otago Rail Trail and the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail; for North Island alternatives, try the Timber Trail or the Waikato River Trails for size.

Buy local

Most towns and cities will have their very own farmers’ markets, where local growers and producers come together to sell their goodies. The Otago Farmers’ Market is among the country’s most famous and is one of a few in the South Island to operate year-round. If you’re in the North Island, make sure to check out La Cigale in Auckland, the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market in Hastings and the Harbourside Market in Wellington – all of these have become quite iconic in their respective communities.

Buy fish sold straight off the boat at farmers’ markets in New Zealand | © Nigel Watts / Alamy Stock Photo

Avoid plastic at all costs

Plastic waste has become a hot-button issue around the world – and in New Zealand, it’s no different. It’s hard to give up plastic completely, but every little measure counts. You could invest in a metal drink bottle that you fill up during the day; you could bring your own cup to a café whenever you’re wanting some takeaway coffee; you could buy a reusable bag for your groceries; and if you’re not cooking your own meals, you could prioritise dining in.

Respect your surroundings

Every so often, backpackers and freedom campers get negative press locally for not cleaning up after themselves – and we’re not just talking about food scraps here. Don’t be that person: if you’re going to be camping on public grounds, don’t make a mess, and take any rubbish you can’t readily dispose with you. Common sense reminders aside, try to recycle whenever you can – many public places will have separate bins for general waste and recyclable materials.

Keep the landscape pristine when camping | © Chris Putnam / Alamy Stock Photo