A fine balance

For RealNZ, exploration, education and conservation are intertwined.


Ever since Les and Olive Hutchins founded their tourism business in Fiordland in 1954, the goal of the company has been to share the heritage and beauty of the southern region with their guests and inspire them to help preserve it.

Almost 70 years later, that goal is still at the heart of RealNZ and it recognises the power of photography to help reach it. A photo is the next best thing to experiencing nature in real life and as well as sponsoring the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year award in 2023, the company also sponsored the new Environmental Impact award, which is given to the image that best expresses the threats to the structure and function of the natural world.

As well as focusing on sustainability in its day-to-day operations, RealNZ seeks to enhance the biodiversity of every area in which it operates through trapping, native planting and wildlife monitoring. It’s not just about doing less harm, but doing more good and the company works on numerous conservation projects and offers a number of educational experiences for guests.

One of its key projects is the Kākāriki Karaka Translocation Project, which is helping New Zealand’s rarest parakeet. There are just 350 orange-fronted parakeets remaining in the wild in New Zealand and they are vulnerable to predators, so the first step in the process is pest eradication on Pukenui/Anchor Island in Fiordland, where a colony of this critically endangered species will be relocated to.

“We funded the replacement of all the traps on Anchor Island last year and have continued to manage trapping lines throughout the season,” says RealNZ CEO Paul Norris. “The second step will be taken with the Department of Conservation and Ngāi Tahu and involves relocating and establishing a population of the parakeet—from the aviary in Christchurch, down to Dusky Sound.”

Only once before has a successful and self-sustaining population of wild kākāriki karaka been established on a predator-free island around New Zealand. The goal of the project is to increase the number of birds to 500 nationwide and RealNZ recently raised over $170,000 through its annual Conservation Ball to help establish a colony on the island.

In another collaboration with the Department of Conservation, RealNZ is helping to bring back the birdsong on Ao-ata-te-pō/Cooper Island, the third largest in Tamatea/Dusky Sound. Since work began in 2017, tracks have been cut to enable a network of over 360 stoat traps and almost 300 rat traps across the island and along the closest shore of the mainland.

At Walter Peak, a short cruise across Lake Wakatipu, the company has been working on removing invasive wilding pines, reforesting the peninsula with native trees and shrubs and removing mammalian pests. It’s also hired a horticulturist who is growing a restaurant garden full of seasonal produce for the Walter Peak Gourmet Dining experience.

Learning about nature is a crucial step towards creating environmental advocates and the Walter Peak Eco Experience does just that. Guests meet a rural nature guide and learn about New Zealand produce in the restaurant garden, before heading out to the peninsula to learn about native flora and fauna. Here, they can get their hands dirty and leave their own legacy by planting a native tree, before heading back to the homestead for a Ploughman’s Platter.

Operating in some of the most spectacular parts of New Zealand is a privilege and the company takes its responsibility to protect these places seriously. Many Kiwis now travel with a greater sense of their environmental impacts and RealNZ is catering to them—and honouring the legacy of the founders—by creating a balance between exploration, education and environmental protection.

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