Ensconced in the comfort of a cozy bed that guides the room's focus out toward the all-glass frontage overlooking a jaw-dropping expanse of blue and green coloring Abel Tasman Point across Wainui Bay, a chicken coop is not the first thing to come to mind.
Yet often great things arise from humble beginnings, and chicken coops were part of the inspiration builder (and former chicken farmer) Lawrence McIntyre tapped into when he was designing Little Greenie Eco-house at his beautifully situated property in the Nelson region of New Zealand's South Island.
Golden Bay Hideaway (at the northern end of the Abel Tasman National Park) is now comprised of four eco-houses: Little Greenie, Kiwi Greenie, Hippie House and House Truck. Little Greenie was named the most energy-efficient house in New Zealand in 2009 when it received a nine out of ten on the Home Energy Report from New Zealand’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.
McIntyre's main philosophy in designing Little Greenie was based on a couple of simple concepts gleaned not just from the greater productivity and quality of life of chickens in warm, well-insulated houses but also from time spent living in Germany where the Bauhaus (simple house) was the prevalent design concept. McIntyre's (quintessentially Kiwi) respect for the environment is reflected both in his approach to hospitality and in the elegant simplicity of his eco-accommodation—sunlight, ocean and earth meet wool-insulated adobe and glass in an unorthodox melding of nature and efficiency.
Of the project to build Little Greenie, completed in 2009, McIntyre says "the idea was to make a romantic couple's retreat that would also educate people about what could be achieved with sustainable measures." As far as sustainability, the design and build of Little Greenie employs the German passive solar building school of thought, taking advantage of the sunlight filtering through the double-paned glass and essentially retaining the warmth from that sunlight to maintain a comfortable temperature even on a chilly winter evening. Three layers of wool insulation in the walls, a polystyrene layer between the floor and the earth, and the materials themselves (adobe and mud brick) all illustrate the high insulation level resulting in low energy requirements.
Little Greenie stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter—all for approximately $50 a year. A solar panel feeds heat into a 500-liter, German-designed hot water cylinder, allowing long, warm baths in a bathtub built for two overlooking the bay.
...Which leads us to the romance aspect. All the German energy efficiency and innovative insulation techniques in the world won't make you want to open a bottle of wine, grab your partner, and have a hot make-out session under the southern hemisphere constellations, but this bathtub absolutely could. Custom-built into a lovely outdoor living space that maximizes the property's modest square footage, this spacious bathtub with a never-ending view is the absolute pinnacle of romance, with or without the addition of candles, starlight, and a glass of Nelson pinot noir.
Golden Bay Hideaway has a prime location for a sense of romantic isolation as well. As the only accommodation at the northern end of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, it’s surrounded by nothing but rugged mountains and rippling azure seas as far as the gaze can reach. Kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, the empty golden sand beaches of Totaranui, and of course trekking the Abel Tasman Coastal Trail (a 3-to-4 day Great Walk) are some of the outdoor pursuits beckoning in the area. For adrenaline junkies, the property is also the site of the best downhill mountain bike park in the region. Gorgeously off-the-beaten-path Taupo Point and the calming cascades of Wainui Falls are both easily accessible via short day hikes, while the dramatic cliffs of Cape Farewell (the South Island's northernmost point) and the 25 km sand spit and bird sanctuary of Farewell Spit beckon a bit further afield.
Also in Golden Bay, close to Pohara Beach, are the wonderful paintings of New Zealand landscapes by Peter Geen at EarthSea Gallery. Nelson native Peter, along with his wife Kerry, designed and built the gallery in 2003 so he could focus full-time on painting, switching from an oil medium to acrylics for more accurately executed detail in the early 2000s. His pieces embody the fluid light that fills Golden Bay with a focus on detail that brings the sea and mountain vistas into three dimensional glory. Along with McIntyre, Geen is both respectful of and inspired by the beauty of Golden Bay, explaining his inspiration eloquently—"I love more than anything to paint the mountains and the sea, and our natural environment free from man-made modifications."
Alternative lifestyle-centered Takaka is the closest town to Golden Bay. For lunch The Dangerous Kitchen on Commercial Street is a cool, Frank Zappa-themed eatery with plenty of vegetarian offerings on the menu and a pretty outdoor seating area to watch the hippie conglomerate mingle (or not) with the farmers and accountants. Te Waikoropupu Springs (said to hold the clearest water in the world) is a perfect gentle cycling day trip from here at about 15 km round-trip; The Quiet Revolution Cycle Shop provides rentals in town.
For dinner pick up the staples at Fresh Choice supermarket on Willow Street and some fresh organic produce at one of the roadside farm stands and head back to Golden Bay Hideaway to cook in the well-equipped kitchen—or better yet, barbecue and dine al fresco to take best advantage of the gorgeous surrounding land and seascapes.
It's a pretty special place on the planet—one that achieves exceptional efficiency and sustainability not only without sacrificing ambiance and romance, but having the latter appear to be the clear focal point over the former. Little Greenie may be "green" environmentally, but there are plenty of shades of blue and gold to complement the greenery. It's a damn magical combination.
Editor’s Note: For more information on what to do in this region, read Julia’s coverage of New Zealand’s Great Taste Trail.
Julia Reynolds is a travel writer, adventure enthusiast, and serial nomad living (mostly) in the Hawaiian islands. She is currently on a one-year trip around the world, avoiding air travel when possible and traveling slowly over land and sea. Some of her best travel experiences to date have been kayaking the Napali Coast of Kaua'i, diving the isolated atolls of Belize, and rock climbing in the Krabi region of Thailand. Her worst travel experiences have been getting robbed in Guatemala, breaking her back in Thailand, and breaking multiple bones in a mountain bike accident in Alaska. She still loves the places where the worst experiences occurred.