One of New Zealand’s most forward-thinking businesses is leading the way with a ‘first’ in adventure tourism.
Following years of research, established 4WD tour operator Outback New Zealand has invested in a fully electric Yutong 25-seater bus, a first for Queenstown and New Zealand in the adventure tourism off-road sector.
Trading as Nomad Safaris and with more than 30 years’ expertise in operating small personalised tours in Queenstown and the wider region, it takes passengers from around the world into some of the country’s most stunning backcountry in comfort, safety and style.
For Nomad Safaris co-director David Gatward-Ferguson the commitment to the e-bus has been many years in the making, albeit frustrated with the slow rollout of technology that would enable this day to come.
“For years we’ve wanted to take people into a UNESCO World Heritage area without creating any emissions whatsoever,” he says.
“It’s been our life’s work to reduce our carbon emissions and now finally we can walk away with this legacy, showing younger people that it is possible.
“We operate a 35-plus strong fleet of machines and two Teslas, which were trailblazers in the adventure tourism industry when we first got them five years ago.
“We’ll be the first private commercial user to have one of these buses in New Zealand. No-one is starting, so how can anybody follow?”
Leading the way in transport innovation comes at a cost, which thankfully is being co-funded by the Low Emission Transport Fund (LETF) managed by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). The Yutong E7 coach, made in China and due to be shipped to New Zealand within the next six months, costs $458,000, compared to its diesel-powered counterpart at $176,000.
The e-bus will replace diesel coaches used for summertime track transfer work to and from the Routeburn Track, including sections on unsealed road within the National Park.
The return trip is 150km and Outback New Zealand has calculated that the new e-bus will reduce carbon emissions by approximately 17,702 kilos of carbon annually, based on a comparative analysis with diesel-powered transport. It will also save over $49,000 annually on diesel costs.
Outback New Zealand’s use of the new e-bus is a ‘first’ with its off-road sections, colder temperatures, and gradients, although some are currently in use in public commuter networks in the North Island.
With no commercial bus charging stations anywhere in the South Island, something David has raised with politicians, the company has also had to invest in a $30,000 charger.
Low Emission Transport Fund Lead, Louise Murphy says the project is a great example of what the Low Emission Transport Fund is for, enabling early adopters and first-movers to get innovative projects off the ground, and eventually to encourage more organisations to follow suit.
“Outback New Zealand’s Yutong electric coach is the first we’ve co-funded. To meet requirements, it has a higher wheelbase to operate on different road conditions, and we’re really looking forward to seeing how it goes, particularly in low temperatures,” she says.
“It’s great to see tourism operators embracing low-emissions transport, particularly as international tourists become more conscious of their footprint as they travel. We hope to see more bus and coach operators taking up these options, and it’s projects like this that will help make the case for them to do so.
“David has been persistent and tenacious in getting the coach on the road. As with many ‘firsts’, it’s not always easy to make happen, but he’s been determined, and we’re pleased to see it reach this stage,” says Murphy.