Staying eco-style in New Zealand

New Zealand’s reputation for sustainable practice and environmental awareness has prompted growth in eco-tourism as more travellers seek eco-friendly activities and accommodation.

World-acclaimed five-star lodges in dramatic natural settings through to self-catering eco-lodges and basic ‘trampers’ huts in the wilderness are just some of the options throughout New Zealand for environmentally-conscious travellers.

First choice for eco-conscious travellers in New Zealand is the growing network of activities and accommodation options that have achieved Qualmark Enviro-Green status. Qualmark is New Zealand’s official tourism rating for quality and environmental performance and top businesses vie to gain the Qualmark Enviro-gold award as the premium mark of their environmental commitment.

Visitors looking to travel in the most natural way can also sign up to the Organic Explorer network which has carved out a name for itself as a comprehensive resource for travellers seeking eco-friendly experiences in New Zealand. Through its website and travel guides, Organic Explorer provides travellers with an abundance of information about everything from organic cafes and eco-lodges to nature tourism and Maori cultural experiences.

Kokohuia Lodge, Hokianga

In northern New Zealand, Kokohuia Lodge is a luxury eco bed and breakfast lodge offering spectacular, panoramic views of the Hokianga Harbour in the sub-tropical Northland region. 

Sitting high above the native New Zealand bush of kanuka, manuka and cabbage trees, the lodge caters for just one couple at a time and offers guests their own piece of private paradise. At Kokohuia guests can enjoy waking to the sounds of native birdsong and drifting off to sleep under an uninterrupted night sky and the accompanying soundtrack of the sea.  

Inspired by a delicate leaf lying on the ground, the lodge offers luxury in a sustainable and ecologically responsible manner and, as such, has achieved New Zealand’s highest industry recognition with Qualmark Enviro-gold status.

All timber used to build the lodge has been sourced from sustainably managed forests, the lodge is completely off-grid with solar generated electricity and hot water warmed by the sun. Breakfasts and dinners at the lodge are sourced as much as possible from maturing orchards and organically managed gardens on the property.

Takou River, Bay of Islands

On the opposite coast, at Takou Bay in the Bay of Islands, three self-catering cottages in five acres of sub-tropical gardens and surrounded by 150-acres of organic pasture and native bush are another eco-friendly accommodation experience.

Takou River’s Magic Cottage is perched on the banks of the river nestled among pohutukawa trees. The two-bedroom timber cabin, and larger River and Garden cottages nearby - each completely out of sight and earshot - are made of recycled timber and rely on solar power. The cottages feature alfresco claw-foot baths on secluded decks with panoramic views of gardens and river.

More than 10,000 native trees have been planted around the property with the aim of increasing the biodiversity of the area and create a 'kiwi corridor' joining surrounding zones for the native birds.

Owners Ian and Anna Sizer have put their environmental and community beliefs into practice while developing the holiday cottages and organic beef farm. Their own six-bedroom, three-bathroom cedar weatherboard home operates completely off-grid - it is not connected to an electricity supply or water mains and there’s no local waste collection service.

Like the holiday cottages, the lodge uses solar power, is constructed of recycled timber, and rainwater is distributed from concealed tanks via a pump system pioneered in African villages. Double glazing, wool insulation, an onsite septic system for reusing black and grey water in irrigation all add to the eco-friendly nature of the home.

Spray Point station, Marlborough

Sustainable practice and eco-awareness is also spreading through New Zealand’s farm lands, and one of the largest farm properties to concentrate on eco-tourism is Spray Point station in Waihopai valley, in the South Island region of Marlborough.

While the 2000ha farm was carrying 3000 stock when Roland and Jenny Mapp took over in 2004, the Mapps realised that diversification was essential for long-term viability. The land was overgrazed and eroding, invasive weeds were gaining a foothold, fencing was inadequate and an iconic musterer’s cob cottage was on the verge of collapse.

The scenic location with 15km of river frontage, native bush and the unusual bonus of freehold ownership of the mountains added to the property’s natural attributes, so the Mapps decided to concentrate less on merino sheep and more on the native flora.

"The aesthetics of the property are the drawcard," says Jenny Mapp. "The biodiversity is quite large" with a range of native species, including pink broom, fierce lancewoods and broad-leaved coprosma on the station.

The change of focus has resulted in a 50% reduction in sheep numbers, and 1000ha is now in conversion to regenerating natives. The farm's fencing, which had been neglected for the past 100 years, is also being improved to better control grazing pressure.

About 20km of walking tracks have been established, using existing stock and wild game routes as routes. Native New Zealand falcons fly over Spray Point, and nests on the property have recently been under video surveillance as part of a research project in partnership with the University of Canterbury.

The Mapps have restored a cob cottage that was built in 1910 for shearers and drovers travelling the main stock route through the valley. Character features have been retained, and details such as the old lanterns swinging from original timber ceilings, wooden sink, open fire and furniture handcrafted from recycled timbers add to the historic ambiance.

A gas califont camouflaged in an old-fashioned meat safe provides endless hot water, and supplies an outdoor rock-face shower. Guests can also relax in two companionable outdoor claw-foot baths, perched on a cliff-top with views of snow-capped mountains.

‘Little Greenie’ Nelson - energy saver

A remote holiday cottage on the northern end of the Abel Tasman track, in the South Island, is New Zealand’s most energy-efficient house.

The ‘Little Greenie’ cottage was awarded a 9/10-star rating by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) - the highest-ever rating - for its design, materials, water and energy efficiency.

The design of the house was kept simple with no fancy features so every extra dollar could go into materials. A solar system provides most of the heating and hot water, and a composting toilet sucks fresh air in each time the toilet is used.

Double-glazing, wool insulation and a polystyrene break between the concrete floor and the ground keeps heat in. Sun-warmed air is directed into the walls for storage and to release heat.

Kaimata, Otago Peninsula – natural luxury

Further south, Kaimata Retreat – in a pristine coastal environment on the Otago Peninsula - provides a get-away that’s minutes from Dunedin but a world away.

The peninsula’s coastal hills, tidal estuaries and rugged sea coast harbour some of New Zealand’s great wildlife experiences including albatross, penguin and seal colonies, rich native birdlife and several eco-expedition opportunities. 

For a true immersion, guests can stay at Kaimata eco-retreat where hosts Rachel and Kyle have created an intimate contemporary sanctuary echoing their passion for the environment. Luxury on a small scale, the three-bedroom retreat overlooking a private estuary is available either self-catered or with in-house chef.