18 January 2013

Toitu te whenua (Leave the land undisturbed)

"You heeve ter pye teen ceents fer a bag", said the cashier down at Pak'nSave, Rotorua, New Zealand in her thick Kiwi accent.  "Or you can help yerseelf to one o'those pyeper boxes at the eexeet".

Of course having visited NZ twice before, Oi Len and I had already known that.  It's just that, for all our good intentions to observe and abide by the commendable environmental initiatives undertaken by the Kiwis, we'd inadvertently left our shopping bag in our rental car parked a block away.  But it was all good; paper boxes do the job equally well - no qualms, no worries. After all, we ourselves are advocates of environmentalism awareness back home; using recycled material where possible and encouraging our customers to use less plastic bags.

I'm fortunate enough to have visited a good few places in my lifetime; and in this context, whenever any greenhorn traveller asks me for travel tips, the first I'd dispense would invariably be "to respect and be unerringly mindful of the laws, customs and cultures of the land" - and in New Zealand, to a large extent that means ensuring her pristine land stays green and sustainable.

I mean, you really have to give it to the Kiwis.  As early as 2000 on our first visit to NZ - never mind our third six years later - it was already evident that the green movement there was big.  Very big.  Recycle bins were everywhere and shoppers were already well-accustomed to bringing their own carrier bags.  And that's speaking on a micro level.  Even back then, Kiwis young and not-so-young were already cognizant (and more importantly, appreciative) of the importance of environmentalism - thanks in no small part to their country's very successful "Environmental Care Code" that's become part of their daily lives.

But it wasn't the mere "awareness" that impressed us; it was how passionately they embraced environmentalism.  Her government, her people - indeed everyone - was doing their part to save the environment.  And for travellers like us, seeing the Kiwis' zeal for the issue places an onus on us to do likewise.  Visitors are constantly reminded through signs, billboards and posters that they have choices and opportunities to be responsible visitors - and in a major way, these actually drive them to adopt a more sensitive and caring attitude to the environment.  Which is good to see.

It's all very understandable.  Tourism in NZ is after all big business; and tourism there relies on locals and visitors alike maintaining the island nation's pristine environment, stunning scenery and indigenous culture that set her apart and make her so appealing to nature lovers.  Having said that, I'm not the least convinced that environmentalism is promoted so vigorously in NZ for the mere reason of attracting tourists' megabucks.  One has to actually see for themselves how very gladly and earnestly the Kiwis practise good environmental habits; you can see it in their eyes and hear it in the things they say.  I mean, through their actions, these people truly demonstrate an UNBELIEVABLY strong commitment to sustainable practices like nowhere else on the planet - well, at least not like anywhere else I've been.  Throw Australia, Singapore and Japan into the equation, and that says an awful lot.

I'm writing this blog post for the benefit of those who've never set foot in NZ as well as those who already have plans to visit for the first time.  If, like me, you're blessed (yes, blessed) enough to visit that lovely haven in the South Pacific, always remember the ten guidelines that make up her Environmental Care Code.  These are:

Protect plants and animals
Treat New Zealand’s forests and birds with care and respect.  They are unique and often rare.

Remove rubbish

Litter is unattractive, harmful to wildlife and can increase vermin and disease.  Plan your visits to reduce rubbish, and carry out what you carry in.

Bury toilet waste

In areas without toilet facilities, bury your toilet waste in a shallow hole well away from waterways, tracks, campsites, and huts.

Keep streams and lakes clean

When cleaning and washing, take the water and wash well away from the water source.  Because soaps and detergents are harmful to water-life, drain used water into the soil to allow it to be filtered.  If you suspect the water may be contaminated, either boil it for at least 3 minutes, or filter it, or chemically treat it.

Take care with fires
Portable fuel stoves are less harmful to the environment and are more efficient than fires.  If you do use a fire, keep it small, use only dead wood and make sure it is out by dousing it with water and checking the ashes before leaving.

Camp carefully
When camping, leave no trace of your visit.

Keep to the track
By keeping to the track, where one exists, you lessen the chance of damaging fragile plants.

Consider others
People visit the back country and rural areas for many reasons.  Be considerate of other visitors who also have a right to enjoy the natural environment.

Respect our cultural heritage
Many places in New Zealand have a spiritual and historical significance.  Treat these places with consideration and respect.

Enjoy your visit
Enjoy your outdoor experience.  Take a last look before leaving an area; will the next visitor know that you have been there?  Protect the environment for your own sake, for the sake of those who come after you, and for the environment itself.

Adhere to the guidelines and you'll have the time of your life in NZ.  I promise.

It's no secret; I love New Zealand.  I consider her my second home.  My spiritual home.  It's the one place on the planet where I truly feel at peace with the world and more significantly, with myself.  And I certainly wouldn't advise against anyone coming by one day so that they too can experience the youngest country of Earth and everything she has to offer.  But remember always to RESPECT New Zealand's ways and cultures in general and her environmental initiatives in particular.  She welcomes visitors with open arms; but can also be unforgiving to those who display lack of respect for her laws and cultures.  Enjoy New Zealand; but as the Maoris say, "toitu te whenua"... leave the land undisturbed.

Have a good day, everyone.

Share this


  1. very well written! i rmb i bring along recycle plastic bags when we travel so we can put the recyclable stuff in it and only to sort it all out at different town recycling station. i actually love doing it!!! ppl r well educated there so hardly even see rubbish lying around.

    1. Well done, Sylvia! We have much to learn from the Kiwis with regards to environmentalism, agree?