When New Zealand luxury lodge owner John Sax began developing his wilderness property in the Rotorua region, he was determined to tread lightly on the land.
The result was Treetops Luxury Lodge & Wilderness Experience - a five-star luxury destination dedicated to preserving its natural environment, while allowing travellers to experience the best of New Zealand's natural surroundings.
"When I was growing up on a coastal farm not far away, the wild country was one of the joys of my life, and it still is for myself and many New Zealanders," Sax explains.
"We are very lucky here in that, unlike many other places, people still have relatively free access to wilderness areas. But even when I was young, I was conscious of how much we take from our natural environment and how little, sometimes, we put back."
Turning back the clock
Treetops is John Sax's way - two decades later - of turning back the clock on the land that he bought in 1993.
"I thought here was a way to combine many of the things I love. The aim was to create an 'eco-park' - centred around the establishment of an upland game and water fowl habitat. I wanted to do that without effecting the existing flora and fauna, and to encourage people to think of value beyond pure economics."
So, while Treetops now allows discerning travellers to experience the unique beauty and character of New Zealand's natural surroundings in luxury, it is also a place dedicated to preserving an environment that is good for both man and beast.
Close cooperation with government and private environment agencies ensures that the pristine qualities of Treetops will be preserved forever.
From first approach, the Treetops resort sits easily in its wilderness surrounds.
Set among 1000 hectares (2500 acres) of carefully managed private wilderness in a sheltered valley, the rustic-style stone and timber lodge was designed by Californian architect Michael Hiem to integrate the surrounding forest, streams, stone and timber into a unique and memorable feeling of place.
Ornamental trout ponds and streams are placed at its entrance where guests cross over a timber bridge to reach the foyer.
New Zealand experience
The lodge accommodates up to 40 guests in substantial comfort, including eight luxurious duplex villas tucked away in the bush or overlooking one of the lakes.
Throughout the lodge and villas, local schist stone and native timber finishes - many sourced on site and embellished by local craftspeople and artists - enhance the building's links with its surroundings.
"We want guests at Treetops to enjoy a distinctive New Zealand experience - not something they can get anywhere else," says Sax.
The lush appearance of the property is the result of years of effort, including the planting of more than 70,000 exotic and indigenous trees and shrubs that provide a year-round habitat and food supply for protected species such as the kereru (native wood pigeon) and tui.
Pockets of virgin native bush throughout the estate, including some spectacular stands of tawa, have been preserved.
"Wherever we see areas of bush that are deficient in species favoured by the kereru (native pigeon), we plant miro, their favourite food," says Sax.
Management work extends into the air, and underwater. The forest is periodically dressed with trace elements from a helicopter to replace deficiencies in the soil.
Grit is laid to assist the digestive systems of some birds. Treetops have a healthy managed population of pheasant, quail, duck, pigs, deer, trout and other species.
"There were wild deer and pigs on the property before Treetops, but virtually no pheasant or quail and no wetland habitat for wading birds and ducks. Now there are six wetlands," says Sax.
For guests who want to experience the unique atmosphere of New Zealand bush, well-informed guides are available at the lodge. Guests can also take tapes of native bird calls along with them while exploring the 70km of walking trails.
The lodge also provides indigenous cuisine experiences based on gathering wild foods from the forest and creating unique dishes.
Luxury destinations in unspoiled New Zealand