Rotorua Canopy Tours – How it all began

It took nearly 5 years from the spark of inspiration until the first customer came along on a Rotorua Canopy Tour and since then over 90,000 have been treated to the magic of this native New Zealand forest.

So if you’re interested – here’s the story about how it all began…

Like all good things they take time – the concept for Rotorua Canopy Tours began way back in 2008. An idea that ziplines could be a fun and exciting way to transport people through a truly awesome New Zealand environment.

James Fitzgerald was stuck in a job – dreaming up his idea of a zipline tour company. It would be in a native forest full of ancient trees, birds singing everywhere and people laughing, learning and having the time of their lives. But there were a few hurdles – firstly where was this forest? How would it get built? How could we pay for this? And how on earth do you run a zipline company?

Andrew and Nick sitting on the new platform at the start of the longest ziplineAbove: Nick and Andrew having a break while building the highest platform on the course, 22 meters off the ground!

As the years went by the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place – James found the perfect native forest on the outskirts of Rotorua. He also found someone to share his dream, university mate Andrew Blackford, who happened to be an engineer! Andrew had some great ideas and believed he could design and build James’s zipline system. With a few research trips overseas James and Andrew learnt that with a bit of trial and error they could also run this company.

The real work began on 1 March 2012, James and Andrew left their jobs and walked into the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve to build what would become Rotorua Canopy Tours.

Launching a potato gunAbove: Testing the spud gun before putting it to work in the forest.

They discovered very quickly that the secret ingredient to building a zipline course in this forest was a spud gun – that’s how the lines were launched and the heavy duty wire pulled into place. Check out the video here

After 6 months, with a bit of luck, a fair bit of weight loss, a few arguments and a bit of help from family and friends it was ready!

Next we needed some staff and luck stayed on our side when we found some champions looking for a new path in life – Gary, Dan and Alex our new zipline guides! Now bring on the customers…

Original Canopy Tour guidesAbove: (left to right) Guides Dan, Alex, James and Gary sitting outside the old headquarters. 

These proved hard to come by in the beginning – Charlotte and John from England were our first. James found them brewing soup in there campervan at the lakefront. In fact that’s how we found our first few days of customers, banging on windows and not letting them get away until they agreed to come ziplining. Filling the Canopy Tours was hard work – while it looked cool, people weren’t prepared to take a risk spending a few hundred dollars on something they hadn’t heard of before!

Slowly we gained momentum, papers started running stories, news channels started playing footage and people started arriving and writing incredible reviews online and we started to grow. In fact our little team went from 4 to 8 to 12 to 20 to 30 to 35 all within 3 years. It was awesome!!!

New Canopy Tours headquartersAbove: Rotorua Canopy Tours brand new, purpose built headquarters at 147 Fairy Springs Road, Rotorua.

We outgrew out premises in the suburbs so we bought some land and developed a purpose built headquarters at the entrance to Rotorua (and closer to the forest). With the amount of customers coming through we could get on with our conservation dream also – that’s a different story in itself click here to hear about the conservation project.

And that brings us to today Rotorua Canopy Tours is 5 years old and is now well and truly entrenched as an exciting and educational adventure for holidaymakers to Rotorua.

And by the way – we have some exciting plans for the future – so keep an ear out!!

special occasions group tourAbove: Guide Gary with a group experiencing the magic of a Canopy Tour!

One comment shared

  1. Sue Schick says:

    I think it was you Andrew I heard on National Radio this morning, I absolutely loved hearing the Canopy Tours story. Congratulations on creating such a wonderful facility and more importantly helping to retain our precious bush and it’s inhabitants, brilliant. What huge pleasure and education you are providing. Keep up the great work.

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