4 December 2023

Learning About Forest Conservation in New Zealand | Study With New Zealand

Yamika Gandhi

Ever since I was 11, I have been a huge fan of the Hunger Games. Every time I re-read the books, I visualised myself in the woods, equipped with a backpack full of tools, pushing my way through the thorny bushes and fighting for survival.

That fantasy came to life when I visited the Dansey Road Scenic Reserve for the Canopy Forest Tours in Rotorua along with 3 other international students as part of the ‘Kiwi Ambassador Programme’ by Education New Zealand.

I came to New Zealand in February 2023 for a Masters in Applied Data Science at the University of Canterbury. Out of all the countries I could’ve gone to, I chose New Zealand because of the quality of life it can offer. It is one of the happiest countries in the world thanks to its friendly people, work-life balance, active lifestyle and scenic beauty.

I came here with a big bucket list that included exploring the beaches and the rocky sea caves, trekking through the mountains, bathing in the geothermally heated pools, watching the aurora dance across the night sky, and dipping my feet in the crystal-clear blue waters of the lakes.

However, my course is quite rigorous due to the high quality of education in my university, and my study and my part-time job left me with little time to do anything else. It was sad that being in one of the most stunning countries in the world, I couldn’t get the opportunity to travel and experience what New Zealand is so famous for.

So, when I got invited by Education New Zealand in June 2023 on a fully sponsored trip to Rotorua — one of the top tourist destinations in the country — to experience some of New Zealand’s best attractions, I immediately said yes, packed up my bags, and headed off for the adventure of a lifetime.

The students listen to a guide talk about the surrounding environment

One of my favourite experiences on this trip was the Canopy Tours, where we hiked for almost 4 hours through the forest reserve, ziplined over the canopies, walked on cliff edges and across swinging bridges, and learned about the conservation efforts in the forest from our passionate guides.

The part that stood out to me the most was when our guide led us to a seemingly ordinary looking fern plant and turned over a branch. The underside of the leaves glistened silver as he shone a torch on it.

“This is the silver fern. You must have seen this everywhere on the official New Zealand organisations,” he said. “Long ago when there was a war between Māori tribes and Europeans, they used to raid each other at night. Imagine how hard it is to make your way through this forest when it’s pitch black. You can’t talk because the enemy tribe can hear you, and you can’t take fire with you because they’ll see you.

New Zealand's iconic Silver Fern

So, the Māori tribal leaders would take these leaves and place them silver side up on the ground. See how they’re shaped like an arrow? The leaves would catch the moonlight and glow in the dark, pointing the tribes in the right direction. So, these leaves symbolise moving towards victory or a common goal as one. And that’s how they came to be our sporting emblem.” I could imagine a trail of silver leaves luminescent in the moonlight.

As we walked on, we saw some ingenious traps that were placed strategically to capture possums, stoats and rats. The Dansey Road Reserve is a native forest that used to be filled with birdsong, but gradually became silent as it was overrun by these pests because they were destroying the ecosystem.

So, the people at Canopy Tours started a Conservation Trust to restore the forest to its prehuman state, and it is funded by a portion of the money we pay for the ticket. We learned the mechanism these traps use to capture and kill the pests, and how removing them has led to the forest thriving again with birds. I even got the chance to feed a bird!

The guides put a tiny worm on my hand and when I held it out, a fluffy grey bird – perhaps a robin – fluttered down, scooped up the worm, and darted back to the branch. The best moment on this tour!

New Zealand's iconic Silver Fern

I love how much the people of this country care about their environment. They live in harmony with nature and feel a sense of responsibility to protect it, and that’s something the whole world can learn from New Zealand.

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About the contributors
Yamika Gandhi

Originally from India, Yamika is studying her Master of Applied Data Science at the University of Canterbury. She shares her experiences on her Instagram blog (@yamika.gandhi) and her YouTube channel (@yamika).