6 Sustainable Hotels in New Zealand: South Island

By Julia Reynolds

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series. Here is our list of sustainable hotels on the North Island.

1. Little Greenie Eco House, Golden Bay Hideaway

Nelson-Tasman Region

When designer, builder, entrepreneur and former chicken farmer Lawrence McIntyre built Little Greenie in the breathtaking environs of Golden Bay, on the outskirts of Abel Tasman National Park, he did so with the German passive solar building philosophy in mind. The property, which McIntyre runs with his sons Amani and Finn, embodies architectural simplicity with elegance.

Little Greenie utilizes warmth from the sun (the front walls are made almost entirely of glass), and conserves heat using insulation from polystyrene under the floor and layers of wool in the walls. Little Greenie was rated the most energy-efficient house in the country by New Zealand Home Energy, which also described the building as "sustainable housing in action."

This is a property that will convince you that sustainability and romance can be uttered in the same sentence. A solar panel feeds heat into a 500-liter German hot water cylinder to warm the water for your outdoor bath under the twinkling constellations. From its glass frontage and outdoor living space, Little Greenie also boasts unobstructed views stretching across Wainui Bay to Abel Tasman Point, enhancing the property's appeal—which, despite its clean lines and simple design, edges more toward magical than utilitarian. Read more about Golden Bay Hideaway here.

2. Ngaio Bay Eco-Stay Bed and Breakfast

Marlborough Sounds, Nelson-Tasman Region

While it is perhaps known best for its crisp sauvignon blanc from world-class vineyards, the Marlborough region is also home to a supremely beautiful tangle of coastline and hidden golden sand beaches nested in its folds. Roger and Jude Sonneland, owners of Ngaio Bay Eco-Stay,  share a passion for sustainability that shines through in this unique property in the remote wilderness of the outer Pelorus sounds, a 2.5 hour drive from Nelson.

Roger (originally from Washington State) and Jude (a fifth-generation Kiwi) raised their five children in the Marlborough Sounds, and the lodge still has a cozy, family-style feel to it, even keeping to a Sunday tradition of homemade sourdough pancakes. The two cottages that comprise the accommodation ("Rose and Dolphin" or our pick, "Seabreeze") use solar power for electricity and hot water, conserve resources with a spring-fed water supply, and employ eco-composting toilets, all of which helped them earn a Kiwi Green Certification.

The property is just opposite D'Urville Island and its abundant marine wildlife. Complimentary snorkeling gear is provided and sea creatures abound—dolphins are commonly spotted in the deep, clear waters surrounding the meandering shores of the sounds.

3. Hapuku Lodge And Tree Houses

Kaikoura, Banks Peninsula

From one of Hapuku's tree houses set 30-feet above the ground in a Manuka grove overlooking olive trees, mountain peaks, and the shimmering expanse of Mangamanu Bay, the world looks like a pretty good place.

It was an appreciation for the intricately woven delicacies of this lovely landscape that inspired owners Tony Wilson and family to implement practices at their property to ensure sustainability and minimize impact. The five tree houses, four lodge suites, and family-friendly Olive House Suite were custom-built using recycled and sustainable materials including outrageously comfortable custom-made beds. And Hapuku’s electricity and hot water is sourced from the sun.

The Wilsons are active in conservation efforts as well—for every night a guest stays in the lodge, a tree is planted to facilitate the restoration of the native habitat. The native trees planted to-date number in the thousands, and meld harmoniously with the Tuscan varietals of olive trees the Wilsons have planted alongside them. The impossibly atmospheric tree houses are imbued with romantic details like fireplaces, copper shutters and spacious hot tubs. Breakfasts, a generous supply of local wines, and three-course dinners (highlighting vegetables from Hapuku's own organic gardens, vegetarian on-request) are included. Also included are complimentary mountain bikes, an excellent way to explore Kaikoura's staggering beautiful coastline while keeping an eye out for the region's whale, dolphin, albatross and seal populations.

4. PurePod Little River

Outside Little River, Banks Peninsula

From the mysterious foliage-draped approach (exact location revealed upon booking) to the unplugged, invisible oasis-in-the-wilderness vibe the PurePod emits, this property is a unique destination that will enchant and beguile even the most hardened travel connoisseur.

Constructed so unobtrusively into the surrounding 17 acres of natural bush, totara and kahikatea forest that the 360-degree views over Lake Wairewa out to the Pacific and the lush tangle of ferns illuminated under the glass floors at night almost seem an extension of the structure itself.

Slide your weary feet into the provided terry cloth slippers and enjoy the sensation of padding silently through your little glass house. With no Wi-Fi or phone service, the only sounds are the fantails rustling in the surrounding bush, a nearby lamb lowing, and the song of bellbirds and tuis. Under the FAQ section of PurePod’s website the question "What activities are there?" is posed. The answer? "None—that is the point."

Watch hawks circling overhead with binoculars (thoughtfully provided), enjoy the sun setting around the glass abode from all angles, and then observe the Southern Cross and Orion's Belt as they reveal themselves, shedding gentle starlight through the PurePod's transparent ceiling.

The PurePod's construction is designed to be minimally invasive. Its electricity and hot water are completely solar-powered and its freshwater source is filtered rainwater from the roof of a nearby shearing shed. It also utilizes redirected rainwater to water the underfloor ferns. Remote, minimalist, sustainable, and with a surreal dreamlike ambiance Dali would envy—all around a 40-minute drive from Christchurch.

5. Minaret Lodge

Lake Wanaka, Otago Region

Minaret Lodge is justifiably popular during ski season—the area boasts excellent slopes and owners Gary and Fran Tate are powder aficionados themselves. But the property is also enchanting in early-summer when its abundance of pohutakawas (a coastal evergreen with vibrant, poinsettia-like blossoms) are blazing in their full scarlet glory against the sparkling, bright blue backdrop of Lake Wanaka.

With similar scenery to Queenstown but dialed back about ten notches, Wanaka manages to retain a charming small-town vibe that in Queenstown is eclipsed by the never-ending deluge of package tourists. Minaret was designed by German architecture team Jorg Schulze and Fery Poursoltan with principles of energy-efficiency in mind and constructed from non-toxic materials like local timbers and quartz-flecked schist stone.

The guest chalets and Barlimans Cottage are built into a two-acre sanctuary-like garden setting filled with organic fruits, vegetables and endless vibrant flowers. They utilize solar and wind energy for power but also include luxurious touches like heated tile floors. Barlimans is also known as "The Hobbit House," and it plays the part well, from its dramatic raised four-poster bed, staff and broom, even down to the "first and second breakfast" option.

Hike the nearby Outlet Track and Waterfall Creek trail or cycle to Lake Hawea during the day, just be sure to unwind in the evening with a fire-heated outdoor bath overlooking Lake Wanaka and its beach. One is hard-pressed to imagine a better apres-ski or apres-hike scenario.

6. Kaimata Retreat

Otago Peninsula

Picture downtown Manhattan at rush hour on a Monday morning. Then try to imagine its absolute polar opposite and you can perhaps just begin to envision the utter tranquility that permeates every mist-cradled hillside and glassy blue-grey inlet of the Otago Peninsula.

Just a half hour's drive from Dunedin (which won't remind anyone of Manhattan in the slightest either) Otago feels more like a small island than a peninsula—remote-seeming, slow-paced, teeming with wildlife, and indisputably, achingly beautiful. The architecture of Kaimata Retreat aims to be harmonious with the surrounding natural environment. It is built into the Portobello area overlooking a 1,000-acre estuary and velvety green hillsides tufted with tussocks and sheep.

The boutique lodge is constructed of repurposed macrocarpa timber and other reclaimed materials on a biodynamic farm and consists of just three bedrooms—Kahu, Kotare and Korimako—all with enviable panoramic views. Spray-free produce from the farm is featured in optional meals created by their own talented chef. Otago's wildlife is a major draw for most visitors, and the lodge offers a coastal eco-expedition from the property to view fur seals, penguins and sea lions. Kaimata is also proud to support initiatives like the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Oil Free Otago.

Published: 4/18/2016

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.

Read her stories.