Having driven more than 4500 kilometres around New Zealand in the last month, and having flown several thousand more to get here in the first place, it’s hard not to think about the environmental impact that traveling has. New Zealand already gets 2.4 million tourists a year; now imagine the growth of economies like China’s (New Zealands’s fastest-growing tourism market – new direct flights from Beijing have just begun on Air Zealand). Something has to give.
Obviously, the greening of travel has already begun in a number of ways. Carbon offsets are increasingly common options for travelers, and sustainable ecotourism has been around for quite some time (although generally this is geared towards more upmarket travelers.) Still, these feel like nothing more than baby steps. Is sustainable long-distance travel even possible?
On my wanderings around the North Island, I came across a number of hostels that are addressing this issue on an individual-scale basis. A few of the more interesting places you might want to check out:
Tree House Backpackers Lodge, Kohukohu: They don’t make a big show of it, but the owners of this place have been restoring the forestland around their property for nearly 30 years, long before it was fashionable. You’d think you were staying among natural gardens surrounded by wild native bush, but almost all of it was planted and nurtured by these enterprising and friendly people.
Solscape, Raglan: This hostel/lodge is more upfront about its eco-message. Set high on a hill with lodging ranging from old train carriages to tipis, the owners are striving to make the whole operation as self-sustaining as possible. The tipi area is completely off the grid, generating its own power and water, composting waste, etc.
Mel’s Place, Hicks Bay: This small place along the East Cape is also trying to be as environmentally friendly as possible. The owners, a Maori couple who run fishing charters, practice sustainable fishing and are very articulate about describing the Maori relationship to the land and its resources.
Just a few examples of local-level eco-conscious travel—you have to assume we’re going to be seeing a good deal more of this in the coming years.