The Most Sustainable Hotels in New Zealand: North Island

The Most Sustainable Hotels in New Zealand: North Island

By Julia Reynolds

Conserving our natural resources and our planet's ecology by actively managing our global impact is increasingly being recognized as not only the"right" thing to do but perhaps the only thing to do to give our forthcoming generations (of both humans and wildlife) a fighting chance. People all over the world are beginning to curve to this arc of change and take note of the impact their actions, or our actions as a whole, can have on facilitating a hopeful visible future for our beloved yet neglected planet. The travel industry is just one of myriad industries to stand up and take note, with more accommodations than ever vying for eco-friendly ratings and "green" reputations—often more with their profit margin in mind than actual regard for the environment. At Wayward we strive to dig past the "greenwashing" phenomenon and discover properties that are truly committed to sustainability.

Here are 12 properties in New Zealand (six on each island) redefining the parameters for the "eco-friendly" distinction. The owners (often conservation activists themselves) demonstrate a proven commitment to the preservation of the pristine natural environment with which they are blessed. They also recognize the value of creating an ambient space for a traveler to cherish and convince us that luxury and sustainability are not as incompatible as one might imagine. From treehouses to isolated eco-lodges, these unusual boutique properties wear their green badges with panache and raise the standards of sustainable tourism to the lofty tree tops. As an aid to the traveler (and to retain objectivity) the list is laid out geographically from north to south rather than by favor or accolades.

1. Magic Cottages at Takou River

Kerikeri, Bay of Islands

From the cedar-scented cottages complete with outdoor, claw-footed bathtubs with prime star-gazing positioning to the sub-tropical botanical gardens blanketing the property with fairytale-set-in-a-rainforest ambiance, owners Ian and Anna Sizer at Magic Cottages have managed to be provide a sustainable model without sacrificing a modicum of romance.

Four private fully equipped cottages with names like "River Cottage" and "Shearer's Cottage" are sweetly rustic but still include modern amenities like in-room espresso machines. An atmospheric "glamping" site set into the riverbank is also available, convenient to the riverside hot tub (a couple's retreat with champagne and candles can be arranged).

The property is situated on 150 acres of certified organic pasture land surrounding the Takou River and boasts a minimal carbon footprint, utilizing wind and solar energy, composting, recycling, and implementing conservation efforts like natural pest eradication to restore native birdlife. To date they've planted over 70,000 native trees. Ian and Anna's own home is completely off the grid with all power solar and hydro-generated. A lovely afternoon at Takou River can be spent using one of the complimentary kayaks or canoes to paddle up the river to a secluded sandy cove.

2. Kokohuia Lodge

Hokianga, Northland

With architecture inspired by "a leaf lying gently on the ground, sitting harmoniously in its environment," Kokohuia Lodge manages to meld environmental esteem with exclusivity, accommodating just one very fortunate couple at a time. Just over three hours northwest of Auckland (closest town Omapere), Kokohuia Lodge represents escapism at its best, with its thoughtfully designed wood and glass facade complementing rather than distracting from the 2.5 acres of organic gardens, orchards and native bush in which it is set.

Enjoy a meal featuring produce sourced on property from owners Steve and Suzanne's biodynamic farm while overlooking expansive views that drift from blue to gold over Hokianga Harbor and the striking sand dunes rising over 150 meters. The area is known for its beautiful native Kauri forest and is home to the two largest Kauri trees in the world. The property is 100% off-grid, utilizing the region's plentiful sunshine to provide solar electricity and hot water.

3. Canopy Camping Escapes: "Shepherd's Hut"

Coromandel Peninsula

Canopy Camping Shepherd's Hut

Liz Henderson and Sonia Minnaar, the enterprising team behind rapidly expanding company Canopy Camping Escapes saw a gap in the accommodation market in New Zealand somewhere on the spectrum between flavorless corporate hotels and kitschy holiday parks (basically well-equipped, family-oriented campgrounds). They had an idea that "glamping" just might be a perfect niche for travelers who want to connect with nature but also want to feel like they're on vacation—call it a wilderness experience polished up with a little champagne and romance thrown in.

The company currently oversees 20 properties between the North and South Islands, varying from purpose-built yurt-style accommodation to unique repurposed structures like a hexagonal astrology hut on the South Island's west coast. For our money their "Shepherd's Hut" on Wharakawa Farm just outside Whangamata in the Coromandel Peninsula is about as atmospheric as it gets.

The cozy and diminutive cottage overlooks the pretty Mercury Islands, just offshore, as well as the dramatic Mount Maunganui. It's equipped with a queen bed and a woodstove for chilly evenings, making it a perfect retreat for two. The accommodation is an perfect location for day-trips to the gorgeous 5-km Opoutere Beach or the spectacular limestone formations of Cathedral Cove a little further afield. A private ocean cove is conveniently situated just 300 meters from the hut's door. The Shepherd's Hut is a two-hour drive from Auckland, or 1.5 hours from Tauranga.

4. Solscape

Raglan, Waikato Region

The famous wave at Manu Bay, known as the longest, most consistent left-hand break in the world, is what draws many salty-skinned, sea-gazing visitors to Raglan, located a 45-minute drive from Hamilton on the west coast. But the town is more than just a mecca for surf aficionados. Solscape Eco Retreat offers a soul-soothing base from which to explore Raglan's beckoning black sand beaches, to hike nearby Bridal Veil Falls, to rock climb on gorgeous cliffs, and to kayak or to stand-up paddle board.

The property offers a plethora of accommodation options but we recommend staying in either an atmospheric Earth Dome (perfect for a couple or couple plus one) created from earth bricks straight from the ground on which they stand or the well-appointed Eco Bach (bach is what Kiwis call a holiday house). The Eco Bach utilizes solar energy with its passive solar design—its north-facing walls are constructed almost entirely of glass to maximize sunlight exposure, then wool insulation and double-glazed window panes work further to reduce heating requirements.

The Bach overlooks the Tasman Sea and the lush foliage of the property's own permaculture gardens, which produce much of the organic fruits and vegetables used in the onsite all-veg cafe, Conscious Kitchen.

Start your day with a "Pacific Green" smoothie made with greens from the garden, banana, coconut milk, mint and fresh juice. Surf or hike all day, and then finish with a yoga class or massage, also available onsite. See if you agree with Solscape's description of the property as "harmonious diversion from conventional forms and patterns."

5. Breckenridge Lodge

Napier, Hawke's Bay Region

Chef Malcolm Redmond and his wife Ellie have created a true labor of love at this property, built by Malcolm himself from the ground up, 15 minutes outside Napier near the beautiful Hawke's Bay. The air here is filled with the scent of the lavender, cherry trees and roses that comprise a portion of the sprawling organic orchards within which the lodge is situated, and the numerous flax bushes attract a flutter of tui and bellbird wings.

Malcolm's inspired daily degustation menus make creative use of the organic produce grown on-site, and he is happy to cater to vegetarians or others with dietary specifications. The communal dining is a lovely social experience and the table overlooks a panorama of vineyards and rolling hillsides. Each course is complemented with pairings of local Napier wines.

Breakfast includes surprising treats like fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. After cycling the Hawke's Bay vineyards all day, the lodge terrace is a spectacular place to unwind with a glass of wine and watch the fading sunlight transform the shades of green in the scenery.

6. The Flying Fox Retreat

Whanganui River, Manawatu-Whanganui Region

On a trip designed to take in the most jaw-dropping scenery of New Zealand (and really, isn't that why most of us visit the country?) Whanganui National Park makes a perfect stop after Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most spectacular single day treks in the world, and Whanganui is just a 90 minute drive southeast.

Husband and wife team Kelly and Jane have breathed new life into this unique eco-retreat situated on the west bank of the Whanganui River, 42km northwest of the Whanganui township. From the parking lot on River Road just south of Koriniti one accesses the property via a cable car across the river to its west bank. Just sound the gong and you'll be transported to the Flying Fox's home on the fringe of Whanganui National Park, in the midst of avocado and citrus orchards, walnut trees and botanical gardens.

"I am the river, and the river is me" is the statement behind the property's environmental policy—the health of the river is crucial to the community. The river has spiritual significance to local Maori who regard it as taonga—a special treasure. Jane and Kelly are doing their part to maintain the pristine nature of the river and its surroundings with their environmentally friendly initiatives. The two cottages, "James K" and "Brewer's Cottage” were built from recycled native timber on a terrace overlooking the river encircled by an ancient walnut grove.

The composting toilets and alternative energy sources are just a few of the measures the Flying Fox has taken to ensure a minimal impact. "Brewer's Cottage" was originally designed as a place to brew Manuka beer and was eventually repurposed as accommodation. Its recycled brick floor and outdoor wood-fired bathtub create a romantic escape that doesn't bring a brewery to mind in the slightest. "James K," named for the famous New Zealand poet James K. Baxter (who spent time in nearby Jerusalem), was reconstructed from a barn. Native totara floorboards from the original structure were salvaged and utilized in the cottage's construction. A selection of Baxter's poetry is kept in this lovely space.

Published: 4/5/2016

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.

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