Much of the sustainability issues in New Zealand deal with protecting their natural environment. They have a Department of Conservation that is very active. They have very strict controls at the airports to catch the spread of invasive species. I had to declare that I had been hiking in other forests and they examined my hiking boots for dirt on the way through customs. One of my colleagues forgot that he had an orange in his checked luggage and did not declare it. He was fined $400 on the spot when the orange was found.
The Department of Conservation is working to control the introduced stoats (weasels), rabbits, hedgehogs, feral cats, feral pigs, and possum populations. New Zealand was the home to many endemic ground dwelling birds that had no natural predators. Many of those birds were hunted close to extinction and now are heavily threatened. It is amazing to realize, that New Zealand had no large native land animals besides birds so the ground dwelling birds evolved without the threat of predators which has made them easy prey to humans and these introduced animals.
There is an introduced phytopthera fungus that is infecting the Kauri trees and killing many of them after about 50 years. This fungus was apparently accidentally introduced with some forest experiments in the 1950s when local forests brought in some non-native tree species with intact root balls in soil. The fungus seems to have spread from some of these experimental forests and has now spread through much of the remaining Kauri pine forests. We had to go through boot washing stations at the entrance and exit to every Kauri forest that we hiked through. This is to try to control the spread of the phytopthera.
I found very little evidence of wind power or solar power, although most (possibly 80%) of New Zealand’s power apparently comes from hydroelectric dams and is supplemented by the burning of coal. The main place that I saw evidence for wind or solar power was on sailing boats that do not have another source of electricity. Most boats had some type of alternative energy that would be connected to a battery for storage of some electricity.
It is amazing that this land was completely forested with some Mauri landscape effects up to the early 1800s. From the 1840s to the present, Europeans have had an increasing effect on the landscape which results in clearing of the forest for lumber, collection of the Kauri gum (both from living trees and fossil material in bogs), and the introduction of many European tree species. As I have noted in Tasmania and Australia, Pinus radiata is a main timber species in New Zealand and was heavily planted as a reforestation species and a cash crop starting in the early 1900s. Now you see these pine forests all over the island and they have issues with wilding pines (invasive Pinus radiata which is hard to control).
I found New Zealand to be very lush and green. It was a familiar landscape since Europeans had “made it productive” by taking out the native forest and putting in agricultural fields and grazing grasslands throughout much of the North Island. Conservationists have demonstrated that if you can plow up the existing grasslands and plant them with native pioneer trees such as Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) the forests recover. Many of the Pinus radiata stands are being harvested and the land converted back to tropical forest.
I came across a Yarn Bomb site on Devonport Island. Some creative knitters had made yarn cozies for some poles on a structure right next to the ocean. It provided a nice bit of color and brought a smile to my face.
I found evidence for similar environmental efforts to what I have seen in the states. We found a nice riverside restaurant in a small town and they had EcoChoice napkins made of recycled materials. One of our hotels had a four sided Conservation and Recycling guide. Most hotels promote the reuse of towels and sheets (which is the most sustainable and seems to have caught on because it saves the hotel money and helps the environment).
Many houses collect their own water from their roofs. I would say that at least 60% of the homes that we passed in the country had a very large water barrel connected to it gutter system. The water barrels were probably about 500 gallon capacity.
Greenhouses were also fairly popular and I saw many large operations of greenhouses throughout the Northland. It was not clear what they were growing and the climate in the area never got really cold (much warmer than Indiana). They were growing a lot of corn and some sweet potatoes as crops scattered across the landscape. They also had many vineyards that we passed along our travels as you might expect by the availability of Australian and New Zealand wines in the American market place.
We had a planned stop in a small town for a bathroom break (called toilets here – apparently the bathroom – where you take baths – is often a completely separate room). Frederick Hundertwasser retired to Kawakawa near the Bay of Islands and created a public toilet with colorful tile work that has become the main claim to fame for the town. You could see the town had picked up this artistic theme and actually repeated it throughout the town after the artist passed away.
Just behind this public toilet on the main street was a much smaller toilet with an impressive green roof that included a wide range of plant types. Apparently toilets are where it is at in the Northland of New Zealand.