A Carbon Neutral Campervan Holiday

I really like travelling by campervan. I’m always telling people it’s the best way to see New Zealand. There is, however, one drawback. Driving a heavy motorhome over hundreds of miles produces a lot of carbon. Not exactly the most environmentally friendly holiday, is it? You can’t help but feel a little guilty.

Happily, there is a New Zealand campervan hire company that’s doing something about it.

Wendekreisen Travel is a family-owned company that actually seems to care about doing what’s right. My family’s used their campervans in the past, and we’re always more than satisfied for the price. Now they’ve got a carbon project up and running that fully offsets the fuel imprint of their rental vehicles.

A carbon neutral campervan holiday – how is such a thing possible? I emailed Wendekreisen to ask about it, and their Managing Director agreed to do an interview – yay! So here’s that interview:

Can you explain how the Wendekreisen Carbon Project works?

Our carbon project is based on the carbon trading scheme. The project allows us to offset the fuel emissions of our customers by purchasing carbon credits to balance out the carbon debits.

Our reservation system automatically calculates our total carbon debit in metric tonnes, which we then offset by purchasing PFSI carbon credits from the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust. For the underlying theory and a simple explanation of how we calculate the carbon debits, you can have a look at http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/about/carbon_offset.aspx.

Twice a year, we purchase carbon credits to offset the carbon debits in the calculation. To offset the debits, we cancel the credits we buy. This means that the carbon credits we purchase lose all of their monetary trading value and thus retire. Once they have been cancelled, the New Zealand Emission Unit Register issues official notification which we can then use to verify our claims. The money we paid for the credits goes directly to the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust. They use these funds to acquire more land in order to plant more trees, create more habitats and control pests better. This in turn will generate more carbon credits for them, which they can then on-sell to anyone interested.

The idea is to grow the project to make a significant difference in the future. The land acquisitions by the trust have a covenant placed on them for 100 years. This means that all trees on the land are protected for at least 100 years. After this time, New Zealand Legislation such as the Resource Management Act 1991 will continue to protect these native trees. You might like to know that the trust currently owns and manages 7,000 hectares in this way.

For us it was crucial that the project fulfils 2 criteria. These are ‘permanence’ and ‘additionality’. This meant that we were seeking a project which would remain indefinitely and would not have happened otherwise. We are satisfied that the trust fulfils both of these criteria. PFSI carbon credits are the ‘gold standard’ in the New Zealand carbon credit market.

Why did you feel you had to introduce it?

Our family business has always believed in a balanced approach. It is important to all of us that any profits are generated in a balanced and responsible way, without harm to other beings. We have a range of initiatives in place, and although some of these are significant in a social context (i.e. all Wendekreisen staff enjoy fully funded health insurance), we were not convinced that any of them made a significant difference to the future wellbeing of the environment. It was an area that could be improved. As a family, we made the decision to be more pro-active in this regard.

Why introduce it now and it not before?

All initiatives are expensive and funds are always limited. As mentioned before, at Wendekreisen there are many other initiatives in place and we are working on new initiatives parallel to me answering your questions. For example, we have had a tertiary accident prevention program in place for a year and are currently waiting to have these efforts formally recognised by ACC. All being well, ACC may issue us with tertiary recognition in accident prevention. However, you cannot do everything at once and your efforts have to be in line with what you can afford. There is also the matter of researching the right initiative, which we found to be a task and a half. It took us over a year to source the options, then filter through the spam (or projects which incur tremendous administration costs) and then decide to commit to a project that will actually work. We had so many ideas (i.e. start your own project with friends who are landowners, get out there and plant trees, etc), but none seemed as good as the option we have committed to now.

How do you calculate how much carbon each vehicle emits?

As mentioned earlier, we have explained this on our website: http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/about/carbon_offset.aspx.

In order to simplify labour intensive processes, Wendekreisen has decided to apply the following calculation:

  • Each rental day will accumulate a carbon offset of 200 kilometres distance
  • Wendekreisen will offset 0.27Kg CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled = 54Kg per 200km/Day (i.e. a 10 day hire will offset 540Kg in CO2 emissions)
  • The same calculation applies to all Wendekreisen vehicles regardless of size

If any of your readers have better ideas, we would like to hear from them. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

Will Wendekreisen vehicles become more expensive to hire as a result of this project?

No, the project is entirely funded by Wendekreisen. The carbon debits are listed with all quotations but incur no extra charges. You can try this yourself at http://www.wendekreisen.co.nz/calculator/booking.aspx.

Are other New Zealand campervan hire companies doing the same thing?

There have been voluntary tree planting initiatives that were funded and part organised by other campervan hire companies. However, none of these were successful and we are not aware of any other operator doing the same thing. However, you might like to know that New Zealand’s largest emitters of CO2 emissions, ‘Z’ and ‘Air New Zealand’, are bound by legislation to offset their carbon emissions. They do not participate voluntarily like we do, and guess where they are buying their carbon credits… Yes, in part, overseas in the Ukraine for 0.30 cents a metric tonne. This has never made sense to us. We believe that if you emit CO2 here, then it should also be offset in our beloved New Zealand. I guess that is where the carbon trading scheme has its limitations and, I agree, any effort is better than no effort.

Do you expect other companies will follow suit?

Although we are not overly confident, we hope that others will follow. We invite anyone interested to contact us and we will help as much as we can to forward the info. Our motivation of this project is not to gain a competitive edge. Our motivation is to make a difference to the better good of planet earth and to balance shocking CO2 emissions of humanity. We have actually contacted the Ministry for the Environment and expressed our concerns relating to the difficulty to offset emissions in New Zealand. They were extremely helpful in this regard.

Do you have an environmental vision for New Zealand? If so what would that be?

I have always been very keen on this subject and, in part, studied tourism planning and development for this reason. I was at Auckland University of Technology when the Tourism Strategy 2010 and the ‘100% Pure’ campaign were released. I could see the potential criticism and immature nature of such a campaign. I tried my utmost best to communicate my thoughts to lecturers, fellow students and the Ministry for Tourism, without success. Only recently did this subject emerge in the media, and it seems there are many others today thinking the same way.

I think ‘100% Exclusive’ would suit New Zealand much better. We face the same problem as we did as a company. Funds are limited and we cannot do everything at once. A start would be a good thing. At this stage I am not satisfied that there is any interest by the Ministry for the Environment nor the Ministry of Tourism to make any serious changes towards a truly sustainable future in an environmental context. I understand why, but if you ask me, I would say that cutting down administration and increasing the actual efforts on the ground are absolutely crucial.

I have suggested a plan to the honourable Minister for Climate Change Issues, Tim Groser. I suggested to him that in today’s day and age, we can use websites to effectively target individuals and companies who are willing to offset their carbon footprint. Many people are not aware that the average carbon footprint of private individuals is less than 6.3 metric tonnes per year. Using PFSI (gold standard) New Zealand carbon credits, which fund projects such ours, the actual cost of breaking even on this footprint is less than NZ$100 (pending market prices). Right now, the cost is at an all time low, and if the government was to purchase credits in large quantities, annual costs for offset could amount to less than NZ$40 per individual.

My vision would be to make a website available to commerce and private individuals allowing them to offset their emissions voluntarily. Although I would not expect much participation from private individuals, I most definitely believe that the commercial sector would participate. The website could feature industries and marginalise an approximate carbon imprint depending on the number of staff employed. Wendekreisen was  quoted that it would take 32 metric tonnes annually to offset our 2 X depots in Auckland and Christchurch. Now we are offsetting 2,300 metric tonnes as we have extended our program to the total fuel emissions of all customers. Assuming an annual 32 metric tonnes offset with PFSI credits, the total annual cost would amount to about NZ$200.

If a company was then able to print an official ‘Seal of Approval’, thus verifying their contribution, I think many would be interested for marketing purposes alone. Currently, there is only the carbon zero program, and they charge NZ$200 for the carbon credits, ask you to record 3 hours worth of data every week, and charge you annual administration fees of NZ$11,500. This most certainly does not work and will not encourage participation. The system needs to be simple, cost effective and fund semi-voluntary organisations by buying their efforts – the carbon credits. The marketing of such a government run initiative will be in line with 100% Pure (or Exclusive), create great tourism resources and potentially make great contributions towards a sustainable future of Aotearoa.

So where in New Zealand are the ‘Wendekreisen’ trees being planted?

There is a website featuring a Google map that shows every project the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust is currently taking care of. The map is available at http://www.nznfrt.org.nz/reserves.

Interesting stuff. Thanks for that, Wendekreisen. Isn’t it great when individuals try to make a real difference? I’m just glad to know I’ll be able to enjoy future New Zealand campervan holidays without having to feel guilty about my carbon footprint.

Haute Cuisine – Literally

Twice, I’ve had the pleasure of dining at New Zealand’s only revolving restaurant. Appropriately named Orbit, it’s situated near the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower – the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere – and it’s the poshest restaurant I’ve ever been to.

Sky TowerNew Zealand is blessed when it comes to great places to eat, but Orbit is something else. It’s not the food that makes it so special – although the food is amazing; quite literally haute cuisine – it’s the view: awe-inspiring, unique and constantly changing.

That view, of course, is of the whole of Auckland City and the sea beyond. It’s wonderful to see the concrete jungle from above, with its patches of green parks and volcanoes, and the hundreds of yachts arranged like ballet dancers upon the glistening harbour. That’s how I saw it when I went at lunchtime. When I went in the evening, however, I saw 360 degrees of sunset followed by the vast, iridescent cobweb of city lights upon the darkness. The food was just a bonus, really.

When you go Orbit, you’re warned that a high standard of dress is required – that’s how posh it is. Also, the parking at the Sky Tower is super sophisticated. If you can’t remember where you parked, which is embarrassingly easy in that place, there are touchscreen computers next to the lifts that you can put your licence plate number into, and they’ll use the security cameras to find your car for you. Cool, eh? Remember to ask the restaurant staff for a parking discount.

Of course, the food is expensive, but not heart attack-inducingly so (for what it is, at least.) For dinner, there is a minimum spend of $40 per person, (and $30 for lunch,) but that includes admission to the observation decks. They have quite a good dinner deal where you can get a starter, main and desert for $69. (At lunchtime, you can get a starter, main and drink for $49.) So not too bad. Besides, the food is excellent. Just look at the current menu!

RangitotoBoth times I’ve been to Orbit, the starters have been better than the mains. I mean the mains were certainly better than I could have done at home, but the starters were out of this world. Let me put it this way: The standard of restaurants is so high in New Zealand that for me to consider a meal above average, it must give me a food-gasm with every bite. Those starters did just that. I haven’t stopped going on about my venison carpaccio!

I don’t really care about how the food in restaurants is presented, but, of course, the food at Orbit is presented very nicely. The service is friendly and, if anything, too quick – this is a restaurant where you actually want the food to take ages so you can admire the view for longer. Orbit takes one hour to do one full revolution, and the view may include the odd person plummeting past the window.

When I went at lunchtime, I felt like I was in that Monty Python sketch. You know… this one…

The people plummeting down the side of the Sky Tower were attached to cables, though. The SkyJump is a popular (if expensive) activity for thrill-seeking tourists. I want to do it one day.

So… is New Zealand’s only revolving restaurant worth going to? Yes. The food is amongst the best you’ll get in the country and the view is second-to-none. Just one last piece of advice:

Don’t leave your handbag on the floor on the window-side of the table. You’ll look down to find it’s vanished and, after a moment of confusion, realise why and feel really stupid. Also, good luck finding your table again after going to the bathroom!

Don’t want to spend so much money in Auckland? Check out What to Do in Auckland for Free.

Bringing Joffrey Down!

joffrey2Yesterday, I was witness to the downfall of the most hated king in fictional history: Joffrey Baratheon. Yes, the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and incurable you-know-what was toppled before my very eyes. And in New Zealand, no less.

I was making my way down Auckland’s Queen Street when I noticed a crowd gathered in Aotea Square. At the centre of it all was a magnificent, golden statue of Joffrey. The sight sickened me, but, being a massive fan of Game of Thrones, I approached with interest.

I’d heard about this happening, but forgotten. (It was a happy coincidence that I was wearing my Daenerys top.) It was a publicity stunt promoting the new series. The statue had a rope around it, and the rope was attached to a large, wooden wheel. How fast the wheel turned was dependent on how many ‘tweets’ on Twitter the event got. I haven’t got a Twitter account and have no desire to get one, but I was tempted to create one just to help bring the bitch king down faster.

When I got there, at about two in the afternoon, the statue was tilting slightly. I didn’t have anything to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I settled in for the long haul. It was quite a boring wait, but I had my Robin Hobb with me, so I read while the statue inched imperceptibly to a lean.

The sun was beating down on the square. The golden crown on the boy king’s smug head was gleaming. Still, the crowd waited. And grew.

I was sitting on the ground right next to the safety barrier. All around me, I heard snatches of conversation: people daring each other to grab a chunk of the statue when it finally fell; people asking exactly when it was going to come down; people who didn’t watch the show asking, “So is he, like, the evil one?”

joffrey3I was just impressed that this was happening in New Zealand, the place where nothing usually happens except the filming of fantasy movies. In fact, I heard someone comment, “Aren’t we supposed to be Lord of the Rings, not Game of Thrones?” I wasn’t complaining. I wished we’d got a ‘washed up’ dragon skull on one of our beaches, like England got, though.

As the sun dropped below the line of buildings that surrounded the square, the swollen crowd was getting a bit restless. Then – who’d have thought? – a seagull landed on Joffrey’s head and stayed there. The crowd went wild. Seriously, we were like peasants starved of entertainment. When the seagull flew off, there was a great “AAAWWWWWW” of disappointment.

At some point, they started giving out posters of different house sigils. Of course, being a Northerner, I wanted a Stark one. Typically, they ran out before I got there. I ended up with a Targaryen one, which, you know, isn’t bad. I also got a Tully one and an Arryn one, but who cares about those, right?

Then, from the loudspeakers set up around the square, came those first ominous notes of The Rains of Castamere. The atmosphere improved instantly. This was what I’d been sitting around the last few hours for. The deeply sung words sent shivers up my spine:

And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must bow so low?
Only a cat of a different coat,
that’s all the truth I know.
In a coat of gold or a coat of red
a lion still has claws.
And mine are long and sharp, my lord,
as long and sharp as yours.
And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
that lord of Castamere,
but now the rains weep o’er his hall
with no one there to hear.
Yes, now the rains weep o’er his hall
with not a soul to hear.

But the statue didn’t fall. They started playing the titles music, which built to crescendo that had never seemed more dramatic. Everyone stood poised to cheer.

But still the statue didn’t fall.

They played Rains of Castamere again. And the main theme. It got to the point where everyone groaned every time it began again. I mean couldn’t they have played The Bear and the Maiden Fair to pass the time?

Then, finally, Joffrey looked about to fall. They played the main theme AGAIN, hopefully for the last time. It finished. The statue hadn’t fallen. Then, miraculously, it fell.

Well, flopped.

It was a bit of a letdown, really. It didn’t crash to the ground like in the films, shattering dramatically save for an outstretched hand. It just swung down to land headfirst and stayed there, facing the plinth, upside-down but upright.

The top of the head shattered a bit. The crown broke in two, which was nice.

joffrey4People started moving away. I was among them, but then I heard a great cheer go up. Some guy had jumped the barrier and nicked the crown, and was now running away as fast as he could, chased by a fat security person. I’m glad to say the guy made it to freedom, darting into the mass of people walking up Queen Street and disappearing from sight. I wonder what he did with the crown.

The spectacle of Joffrey Baratheon being brought down in Aotea Square marked, I think, an important day for New Zealand. Until now, New Zealand has been notorious for being months behind America and Britain as far as TV shows are concerned. (Don’t even get me started on Coronation Street.) But yesterday, we were firmly in sync with the rest of the world, and it felt good.

As a side note, I found it startling how such a large crowd could be united in hatred against a mere statue, even if it was just in fun. I feel like I fully understand now why statues are pulled down. It was satisfying and disturbingly emotive. I felt as though, had we really been starving peasants outside King’s Landing, we’d have taken up our pitchforks and stormed the Red Keep. You’d think you’d be intelligent enough to resist mob mentality, but it was fun just being involved. Exhilarating.

Down with King Joffrey!