New Zealand’s first Net Zero Energy campground

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to get out and see more of our beautiful country. Despite the fact that every hour of my day is pretty much booked twice over from now until the end of time (and possibly several weeks after), it actually ranks as more ‘do-able’ than my other resolutions of losing weight (I’ve gained a kilo this year already), getting fit (working on it), and spending less (I’ve realised the kids need to move out first).

As an Aucklander, the daily grind of sitting in traffic and getting nowhere fast can get a bit much at times. So when the opportunity arose for hubby and me to head down to Glenorchy for a few days and check out a unique campsite development, I was quick to get our tickets booked.

Glenorchy lies about 40 minutes north of Queenstown, at the end of the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road to be exact. Despite bemoaning the time I spend sitting in my car each day, I felt like the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy was too short to fully appreciate the surrounding scenery—the view of Lake Wakatipu backdropped by the majestic Humboldts mountain ranges make for a pretty decent road trip, short as it may be.

Our ultimate destination, Mrs Woolly’s Campground, is part of The Headwaters—a collective of environmentally sustainable accommodations and services. We were lucky enough to secure one of the three popular ‘glamping’ tents within the campground (just like camping, but so much more comfortable—and with breakfast served to you in the morning).

Alongside Mrs Woolly’s Campground is Mrs Woolly’s General Store. I loved this store. It reminded me very much of the type of store we had in the beachside town I grew up in. There’s a bit of everything—tools and hardware, children’s games and toys, fleecy PJs and socks, artisan and gourmet foods (as well as the staples), and plenty of tasty treats and little gifts to take home. The store is also renowned for their divine gelato. In particular, their Full Monty sundae served in a waffle cup with loads of goodies and sinfully good sauce on top.

Shopping and eating aside, what really has me excited about The Headwaters is the exciting project under construction next door to Mrs Woolly’s Campground, Camp Glenorchy. Due to open in late 2017, Camp Glenorchy is set to be New Zealand’s first Net Zero Energy campground and will offer bunk huts, cabins, tents, and motorhome sites.

Each of the campsite’s cabins will be super-insulated (with insulation made from recycled bottles, no less) and feature a range of cool innovations to maximise energy efficiency and keep the rooms comfortable and snug. Guests can even monitor their energy use on interactive smart tablets installed in each cabin.

The Headwaters general manager, Steve Hewland, was kind enough to give us a quick tour around the Camp Glenorchy site and explained it has been designed and is being built according to the Living Building Challenge—the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings.

Think water efficiency—including on-site water treatment—a solar garden, ground-source heat pumps, smart lighting, and composting toilets (I know what you’re thinking, but these are far more technical, odourless and much less gross than you might think).

What caught my attention was the impressive 26-metre long by 5.5-metre high scheelite shelter, which is taking shape at the centre of the site. Designed by local artist Dan Kelly, this enormous hand-constructed shelter is being built from ancient stone and recycled timber and will feature a large fireplace at its heart. I can already picture groups of tourists and visitors gathering around the warmth of the fire to enjoy each other’s company and share the experiences of tramping and exploring the surrounding mountains and national parks.

Net -zero -3

Along with a commitment to sustainability, the buildings have been cleverly designed to reflect the natural and cultural history of the area. Reclaimed timber, iron, and local materials have been incorporated into the build where possible, which will offer visitors a real sense of place.

As far as places go, Glenorchy ranks pretty highly. Having enjoyed a comfortable night in our glamping tent, the next morning the friendly camp manager delivered a tray full of tasty muffins and freshly brewed coffee to our tent to help start the day (and it was very good coffee by the way). Fuelled up and ready to see the sights, our first stop was Paradise (it’s an actual place, with a signpost and everything), just 20 minutes’ drive from the camp.

The Paradise Trust homestead is well worth a visit. For a donation, you can enjoy a number of walks and hikes that surround the property. We chose the 2.2km loop, which weaves through mature beech forest and opens out to beautiful mountain views, some of which are so stunning, they were used as filming locations for The Lord of the Rings, Wolverine, The Lovely Bones, and Narnia movies.

About two minutes into our walk, we were joined by a small white and tan dog belonging to one of the homestead caretakers. Cleary an experienced tour guide, little Skippy (as I dubbed him) guided us along the walk and showed us some of his favourite spots along the way. One such spot was a wedding location complete with an archway and pews backdropped by a magnificent view of mountains and rivers. Another was a little pet cemetery. Skippy made a quick detour to pay his respects and we carried on our way.

Next on the itinerary was the Lake Sylvan trail. On the doorstep of the Routeburn Track, Lake Sylvan is an easy 40-minute walk through beautiful beech forest. The lake itself is a pristine alpine lake that makes for a pretty impressive photo. And if you’re lucky, as we were, you may be visited by the curious South Island robins that came so close you could almost touch them. If you’re up for something a bit more demanding (we weren’t), there are plenty of longer walks in the area such as the Routeburn Track Nature Walk (3–6 hours), the Earnslaw Burn Track (8–12 hours), and the Invincible Gold Mine walk (2–4 hours). Each of them offers something unique with beautiful scenery and gorgeous photo opportunities.

Before heading home, we called into the Glenorchy township to enjoy a little local hospitality. It may be a small township but its handful of cafes and eateries cater perfectly for hungry travellers with some tasty offerings and a friendly chat on the side.

Glenorchy is certainly a special place, and thanks to The Headwaters and the generous nature of its owners, it will remain that way, both for locals and the 100,000 plus travellers who visit the town each year. Because—as if being sustainably built with a commitment to natural and historical significance weren’t enough—all profits from the project will flow into the independently run Glenorchy Community Trust, which supports local community projects and initiatives.

I can honestly say I’ve never been so excited or inspired by a campsite. Those involved, from the owners themselves to the designers, tradespeople, and the wider community have brought together a multitude of inspiring innovations that together culminate in a unique, world-class destination that will serve as a model for environmental sustainability.

With Camp Glenorchy due to open in December this year, I’ve already pencilled in time to head back down and check out those comfy cabins and soak up the ambience around the roaring fire (with a Full Monty, of course).  

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