Nestled in the valley between the Humboldt and Richardson mountains is Camp Glenorchy, New Zealand’s first net-positive eco-lodge. The Headwaters Eco-lodge at Camp Glenorchy was selected as one of Time Magazine’s World’s 100 Greatest Places in 2019. Its design encourages sustainable living while minimizing the impact on the lush surroundings.

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View of two colorful chalets in front of the mountains, surrounded by rich vegetation and connected by a grey stone pathway

The Headwaters opened its doors in early 2018 with a commitment to blending rustic, authentic experiences with comfortable, sustainable lodging. The hotel has been meticulously designed to operate in line with the Living Building Challenge (LBC), one of the most rigid environmental design certifications globally. The LBC uses the concept of a flower with seven “petals” or categories that support local communities and environments. These categories include place, materials, beauty, water, energy, health and happiness, and equity.

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Red guest chalet surrounded by lush vegetation with a small porch at the front

Beauty, materials and place

The eco-lodge’s spatial design emulates regional architecture in the rural community and encourages guest interaction. The materials were locally-sourced and carefully selected to repurpose raw material wherever possible. This includes recycled corrugated iron and reclaimed timber to evoke a cozy, homey atmosphere. These spaces are further augmented by works of local craftspeople and artists that celebrate the region’s culture.

The landscaping mimics local topography and incorporates native flora to support insects, birds and other critters. Additionally, certain plant species have been planted specifically for consumption. These include various vegetables, fruits and herbs that supply the campsite’s kitchen.

Large cabin with a lush decorative garden in the foreground and New Zealand mountain ranges in the background


Camp Glenorchy actively monitors and manages the site’s water consumption. The lodge strives to use significantly less water than other similar facilities. While traditional hotels use up to 400 liters of water per day per guest, at Camp Glenorchy, the average guest only uses 82 liters of water a day.

Groundwater reserves are carefully preserved through conscious water storage, reuse and disposal efforts. Rainwater is captured from the roofs and stored in 60,000-liter underground cisterns. The water undergoes treatment using natural processes for drinking and use in sinks and showers. These appliances use low-flow fittings for water efficiency.

In fact, the site has showers with the lowest flow faucets in the country, averaging at 5 liters a minute. Further, wastewater is reduced by treating grey and black water for irrigation. Odor-free composting toilets are also installed to prevent waste from entering municipal sewers. Instead, the waste helps generate compost for the landscaping across the site.

Interior view of a communal lounge space with a large floor mosaic and wood-based sofas


Similar to the measures taken to conserve water, Camp Glenorchy strives to use 50% less energy than similar lodging facilities. The site works toward this by integrating high-efficiency passive systems. The spaces have been carefully designed to achieve Net Zero Energy Building certification. This means that the site only consumes as much energy as generated by renewable resources. Additionally, the lodge uses a solar garden comprised of 589 photovoltaic panels to generate 215 megawatts annually. This powers all 14 chalets and the eco-lodge. Excess energy is stored in batteries and used at nighttime.

Design strategies also support energy conservation, even when maintaining comfortable temperatures in winter. The glazing, building envelope, and building orientation all maximize solar exposure in the cold months and warm spaces alongside efficient ground-source heat pumps. In summer, the same systems passively cool the spaces.

View of the photovoltaic panels in the solar garden surrounded by vegetation and mountains at the back

Health, happiness and equity

One of Camp Glenorchy’s key goals is creating a safe and healthy environment through environmentally-friendly strategies. The site’s well-designed spaces incorporate salvaged materials and energy-efficient systems that minimize environmental impact and maximize human comfort.

Furthermore, the camp benefits the community at large. Profits from the camp’s operations go to the Glenorchy community trust. This way, residents can decide where to invest their funds to benefit the community. The space has also been selected as a civil defense location, which can shelter community members in the event of a natural disaster.

Through a multi-faceted approach to sustainability, the Headwaters Lodge at Camp Glenorchy integrates well-designed spaces with energy-efficient systems without sacrificing human comfort. Embodying a holistic approach to conscious living, the lodge inspires guests to continue making environmentally-friendly choices upon their return back home.

+ Camp Glenorchy

Images courtesy of Camp Glenorchy