Travel Destinations for the Eco-Minded Individual: New Zealand

When I was in college, I didn’t give as much thought to my study abroad destination opportunities as most did. My thought process was along of the lines of:

Hmm. A semester in New Zealand and Australia…
I haven’t been there yet…
I heard they have some great surfing…
I guess I’m gonna go there.

Luckily, I did more than just surf during my time down unda. I spent a good amount of time doing school stuff, too. Which is good because it was, after all, a study abroad trip.

This ended up being the perfect trip for me in so many ways. The program was centered around Sustainability and started in Dunedin, a uni town on the southeast edge of the South Island, to gain an introduction to New Zealand’s history, culture, and environment. I then traveled out on a clockwise route around the South Island, stopping to experience a diversity of ecosystems along the way. In Kaikoura I participated in interpretive nature hikes where I learned about Maori culture and how it intertwines with the environment. spent some time in Queenstown, “the adventure capital of the world,” where I learned about glaciology and recreational ecotourism.

Among many other experiences and activities, I got to learn so much about the environmental culture of New Zealand. This is a country that values their earth and natural resources, and has truly committed to preserving them.

So, for those of you eco-conscious travelers who want to be more intentional with your adventures, New Zealand is a great destination. Here are some of my favorite ways you can have a first-hand experience with the local environment.

Hike the Routeburn Track

This 32 km (19.9 mile) hiking trail has been ranked as one of the top eleven trails in the world by the National Geographic Adventure Magazine. You don’t have to hike the entire track, there are shorter options if 32 km doesn’t suit your fancy. I only hiked about 13 km of Routeburn, but if/when I make my way back to New Zealand I plan on doing the entire multiple day, 32 km hike.

This Great Walk overlaps the Fiordland National Parks to Mount Aspiring National Park, so it’s a great way to experience the amazing beauty of the region. The hike winds through a beautiful, ancient Red Beech forest, lush ferns, and along the most stunning turquoise river. It allows you to experience the natural beauty and wildlife of New Zealand

Take a Winery Tour


New Zealand is a leader in winegrowing sustainability. Wineries and grape growers in this country are committed to producing crops and wine in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and have been doing so for a long time. In fact, over 94% of vineyard producing area in New Zealand is certified by an audited sustainability program.

So if you’re a wino and a green-thinker, check out a winery while you’re in the Land of the Long White Cloud!

Wildlife Watching

dsc_0490It can be whales, albatross, penguins, seals, kiwis, or dolphins. Whatever you choose, New Zealand has a wonderful abundance of wildlife and lots of non-intrusive ways to view them. During my trip I had a dolphin experience scheduled, I went to Kiwi Birdlife Park in Queenstown, and went seal watching in Kaikoura.

Many places like the Kiwi park are involved in coordinated conservation projects throughout New Zealand. They’re great places to get educated about endemic species, the threats to their populations, and what we can do to protect them.

Have a Māori Cultural Experience


One of the most memorable activities I had in New Zealand was my Māori tour. I learned about the history of the Māori people, I hiked a local forest and learned the way they live off the land, I learned a few words of their language, and I learned about their relationship with the environment.

The environment is integral to Māori’s culture and identity. They view the environment as an interconnected whole and assess its health in the same way. Māori express this relationship by identifying with their environment, often with a river, lake, or a landform such as mountain.

I loved learning about the Māori culture because I felt like I was learning a little about my own Polynesian culture.

Sea Kayaking

I didn’t have a chance to do this in New Zealand, but there are so many opportunities for great sea kayaking adventures. I wish my schedule would have allowed, but hey, it leaves something for me to do on my next trip to Aotearoa. Sea kayaking is a great (and non-intrusive) way to explore and experience the coastlines of this amazing country.

Visit Some National Parks

dsc_0182Like in the States, New Zealand’s National Parks contain some of their most treasured wilderness areas. There are 14 parks that cover over 30,000 sq. km (approximately the size of Maryland and Delaware put together).

Tongariro National Park is considered to be the best place to view the extremes of New Zealand. You get desert plateaus, active volcanoes, lush forests, and snowy mountain peaks all in one park.

In Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, you can explore New Zealand’s largest glacier and 19 peaks that reach over 3,000 m in altitude.

At Rakiura National Park you can visit an open sanctuary managed by the Department of Conservation and experience its beautiful restored forests and rare bird and plant species in its protection.

I’m a huge National Parks advocate, and I truly believe they are one of the best ways to appreciate the natural environment of any destination. Especially so in New Zealand.

Take a Hike, Plant a Tree

kauri_trees_in_trounson_parkHere’s a way for you to give back and leave something great behind in New Zealand.

Kauri trees once covered the Coromandel Peninsula, but are now under threat due to the soil pathogen known as kauri dieback disease. In efforts to foster environmental consciousness in tourists, guided walks company Walking Legends offers the chance to plant your own 5-year old kauri seedling in the Coromandel. Even after you leave New Zealand, you can keep a digital eye on your little seedling. Each tree has its GPS coordinates logged so you can check up on your tree online!

Planting these trees and restoring the kauri forest is a positive step towards exercising and fostering environmental responsibility. It’s a chance for visitors to contribute more than just their tourism dollars. It’s a way to make a lasting difference, the effects of which will be seen for generations to come.

Hope this inspires y’all, my fellow eco-minded adventurers! As always, let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions for this list!

Happy Wanderlusting, friends!


  • Ashley

    One of my biggest regrets in college is not studying abroad, so I’m super jealous of your experiences, but love the fact that you were able to learn and appreciate more eco-friendly ways to travel while you were studying abroad. I would definitely sign up for the winery tours! I love learning about the wine process and different ways that wineries are becoming more eco-friendly!

    October 3, 2016 at 5:13 pm Reply
  • Jeremy

    I was in New Zealand a few years ago now. Great memories of hiking the Abel Tasman National Park and the mountains of the south island. Hiking up to and onto the Franz Joseph glacier was like nothing else I had done at that point. An amazing destination for sure!

    Thanks for posting.

    December 5, 2019 at 10:32 pm Reply
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