New Zealand is a land of nature adventures — we had already glimpsed this during our hike to the waterfall, and Karl’s and my trek through the volcanoes, and on Friday we continued with a ziplining tour of one of the regions virgin forests. Because the little kids were too small for the harnesses, we divided and conquered: Kevin took the older kids in the morning while the rest of us had a leisurely breakfast with the little ones at the house. And then Heather, Taryn, Karl, and I took off in the afternoon for our own canopy tour.
We found the canopy tour office on the other side of town . . .
. . . quickly suited up in flattering red helmets and matching harnesses . . .
. . . discovered our guide’s mischievous sense of humor when she photo-bombed Taryn and Karl’s photo . . .
. . . and headed out to the forest. We were in a group of nine people, with two fun young guides named Alex and Courtney. During the drive we got to know each other (where are you from? what are your hobbies? what did you get for Christmas?) and learned a little bit more about the native fauna of New Zealand. According to our guides, there are no native grasses in New Zealand; originally the islands were covered entirely by ancient ferny forests full of birds, many of which were flightless. Nowadays, most of the native forest has been destroyed, with only a few slivers being preserved. We were about to fly through the canopy of one of these slivers.
Courtney explained the safety rules and demonstrated how to successfully zipline (don’t touch the metal!), and Heather volunteered to be the first one to jump off the ledge . . .
. . . wahoo! . . .
We hopped from platform to platform among the trees. The platforms were anchored to giant, ancient trees that were hundreds of years old, and which rose out of the shorter canopy of forest trees and ferns. Some of the platforms had railings and we were allowed to roam free. Other platforms had no railings and so we had to stay roped to the tree, lest we fall to our untimely demise many feet below.
Not every platform was reached via zipline. One involved a swingy rope bridge that could only support two people at a time. Heather and I were the first to jump on that one.
The ziplining itself was terrific fun. You just sit down and let gravity and the pulleys do their work while you glide swiftly over the trees. The ride always felt like it was over too quickly — it was so easy to get distracted with questions about balance and turning and whether you were adequately enjoying yourself; but when I was able to let go of those preoccupations and really be present with the feeling of flying above a beautiful forest canopy, it was peaceful and free and oh so much fun. The photo below is of the longest and, in my view, prettiest link.
About halfway through the course, the guides sensed that the group was feeling more confident, and so they began to give us more playful tasks on each link. The guides started by talking about the native birds (a discussion that some of the birds obligingly supported by flying by or singing during the presentation), and then suggested that we all do our own best impressions of birdcalls while we swung to the next platform. At another platform, they pushed us out backwards. At another, they encouraged us to flip upside down and hang in a Spiderman pose. When we got to another bridge, they had us pause halfway through and then lean out for a photo precariously dangling over the void. It was a great fun.
We made it back safe and sound, and along the way we learned a lot more about the forest and conservation efforts. I was gutted to learn that more than 90 percent of New Zealand’s native forests had been destroyed for agriculture or logging, and that the native trees took so long to grow that they weren’t easily reforested. We also learned about the disastrous effects of non-native mammals on the fragile forest ecosystem: stoats, rats, and even the cuddly-looking Australian possum all ravaged the forest’s native bird and plant populations, driving many of the species to near extinction. Our guides showed us how the company that maintained this particular sliver of woods was working to drive out the pests and conserve the forest as a sanctuary for plant and animal life.