The Most Luxurious Place in the World: Lessons from Kiwis

One can get used to walking on the pristine beaches that are Kiwi neighbors in the South Pacific consider normal.  Kaikoura, New Zealand is one of those places, a beautiful mountain town bordering the Pacific Ocean on the South Island.  Besides being a place where my 10 year old daughter, Devon and I had the unforgettable experience of seeing a 50 foot sperm whale from a Cessna during our multi-month global school travels throughout the country, it is also the second community in the world to get certification status in the Earthcheck Program, "the world's only true tourism globalization standard" which arose from the UN action for climate change.

While other cities in the world have excellent earth friendly programs like community gardens and pedestrian friendly public spaces, Kaikoura takes it to an even higher level with unique programs designed for community members as well as visitors. "Trees for Travelers" invites tourists to buy a native tree to offset carbon emission from their travel, and then track its growth via GPS after returning home.  Reducing landfill additions by 72%, the  Zero Waste policy that Kaikoura has implemented successfully requires no garbage collection at all, but instead offers free recycling and added infrastructure for food waste and diaper disposal.

If a Zero Waste Policy is the gold medal of earth friendliness, then other NZ cities take the silver. Standard waste practice in these places includes a choice of purchasing a garbage bag for regular trash collection that is picked up on a schedule or taking the garbage in a bag of choice to the dump, referred to as a transfer station, and paying a small fee.  Either way kiwis are charged for trash. I experimented with both options there, buying the prepaid bags at the local grocery store for a few cents, and I took my daughter on a mandatory global school field trip a transfer station where we paid about $1 to drop several large bags of our trash.  I asked the attendants there if they got any negative feedback about being charged for taking out the garbage, and the general consensus is that no one seems to mind..  They have just become accustomed to it.

Paying a few cents for our garbage seems like a small price to pay for a cleaner environment, and taking responsibility for the stuff we accumulate just takes a little practice.

In our 81 days in New Zealand, it became the norm for us to take small measures in taking greater care for our planet.  After all, we were enjoying the trash-free oceans and beaches everywhere we went, from the top of the North Island at Matai Bay to the wild Westcoast town of Hokitika.  With ocean inhabitants being a large part of our science curriculum, it was a luxury to search for different types of shells with Devon, not worrying about her coming into contact with used cigarettes, broken beer bottles, or worse in the sand.  I could let my daughter just run on the beach barefoot every night, while I took in the beauty of the sunset. In the dozen homes I rented, eleven used either solar panels for energy, tank water courtesy of rain or had a composting bin for nutrient rich waste with a purpose.

In a relatively short amount of time, my daughter became aware, in a way she never implored given her American existence, to the consequences of consumption and waste.

As for water, we both became very aware of our usage for laundry, dishes, showers and teeth brushing.  Neither of us could justify taking a bath the entire time, opting instead for a game of who could take the quickest shower.  Simple measures, like a sign on the bathroom or kitchen sink, served as welcome reminders that the house had a fixed amount of water in the tank. Respecting the use of resources became second nature, which in turn gave me more respect for myself, and I believe it did the same for Devon too.

As we were leaving the oceanside town, we spotted a super-sleek electric car charging station being installed on the main road.  I remarked about the unique design to the person installing it who told me that it will be lit by solar lights at night. Like a beacon of sensibility, Kaikoura is where even the car charging station is enhanced to be more resource friendly. 

I am so grateful to the globally-minded people of Kaikoura, and the entirety of New Zealand and the lessons we learned there. The legacy you are leaving this earth is not by future artifacts in a landfill, but by leading the charge in making our planet a more livable place for our generations to come.