A short drive out of Dunedin is the hilly Otago Peninsula, home to stunning ocean views and a range of rare native animals found only on this remote coastline. It's one of the world’s most unique environments where visitors can experience a guided close encounter with some of the world’s rarest wildlife: the Royal Albatross, Hooker’s Sea-lions, Blue Penguins, New Zealand Fur-seals, Yellow-eyed Penguins and some 15-20 species of marine and wading birds can be seen around a tidal lagoon.
In the early 1990’s Brian Templeton, armed with a passion to help visitors experience the wonder of the naturally occurring sights in his own back yard, began providing tours to backpackers with a desire to get off the bus and encounter wildlife they couldn’t experience anywhere else. His belief that there was a market for wildlife tours that could work in harmony with preserving the natural habitat and provide for the conservation of these animals as on offset was central to the creation of Elm Wildlife Tours.
The energy behind the business today remains the same, with Brian now ‘mostly’ retired and son Shaun a driving force behind the ‘wildlife dynasty’. “We are proud New Zealanders who love showcasing our country and unique wildlife to visitors. I obviously have many of my fathers’ genes as I have always loved the outdoors, as well as sharing a love for being slightly eccentric” says Shaun.
“One thing remains the same, we are still a small family owned and operated business with a collective vision to share our connection to the land with visitors. We want to protect what we share, and we do this by guiding visitors in their attitudes and behaviours towards how to best experience this place. We show them how we contribute to protect what makes our home so special - just talking about it increases awareness and discussing it in a positive way means it can continue to be enjoyed long into the future” he adds.
Qualmark Tourism Business Advisor Ian Elliott has been working alongside the Templeton’s and shares his growing enthusiasm for a relatively small business operating at such a high level: “This is an environmentally focussed operation that performs really strongly in the sustainability and conservation fields, it’s encouraging to be witness to a family of ‘gregarious enthusiasts’ who are dedicating their conservation efforts to looking after this incredible part of the world”.
The tours are about educating visitors who explore the Templeton’s place, to be curious, respectful and to experience first-hand tourism and conservation working together. The business has retained at its heart, a living, breathing commitment to Tiaki by inspiring its guides to protect their land, and for visitors to become guardians of the place they visit. It really is magic” says Ian.
The businesses commitment to act as guardians of the now private reserve is an example of best practice in action, having achieved the Qualmark Sustainable Tourism Business Award of Gold, with Elm Wildlife Tours registered as carbon neutral. Their 11-hectare forest is sequestrating four times more carbon than they create, and has all been planted by hand.
The business was also lead in the creation of the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust who are extremely active in their advocacy for native pinnipeds, and proud of their work alongside conservation aware land owners towards the preservation of Yellow Eyed Penguins. Now with just over 5,000 remaining in the world, they are considered to be the world's rarest penguin species.
“We have carried out extensive habitat planting, construction of nest sites and predator control, all of which are crucial to the survival of these penguins. Plants propagated by our guides or donated by local farmers are used for the revegetation of new areas to be used by the penguins for breeding, so the wildlife now have a far greater chance with the land-based legacy we have created. This means everything to us, as our philosophy and reason for business is encapsulated in conservation” says Shaun.
It’s initiatives like these that have seen Elm Wildlife Tours the recipient of several industry honours, including the Distinction Award at the Tourism Industry Awards, highlighting the vision of the business in providing a deeper understanding of what Tiaki looks like in action. Shaun adds “We invite visitors to get off the bus and experience an environment that existed before humans. Part of accepting that invitation is accepting a challenge to act as a guardian to protect the environmental and cultural significance that this place holds. We just love sharing what makes us tick, and we like to think that those who come and experience it do too”.