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Patrick and Amber Tyrrell's two dogs fit the stereotype that dogs behave, if not look, like their owners. They greet me, friendly yet chilled, as I cross the yard to meet their humans.
It has been an unexpectedly fast and easy hitch-hike for me to the foothills of Mt Domett in the Waitaki Valley. I've arrived too early, so Amber allows me to make my own way to the lodge while I wait for my tent to be ready. Amber is in the middle of cooking lamb shanks that will make up part of the evening's generously proportioned traditional main meal for guests. She is particularly busy today because she has old friends arriving, unexpected and imminent. In spite of this, she's calm and friendly and I immediately warm to her genuine personality. Amber is a second-generation Kurow farmer's daughter.
Amber and Patrick (originally from South Africa) met and fell in love while travelling in Israel. Coming back to settle in New Zealand, they set up a glamping accommodation business in 2016. Glamping may be a new word, says Patrick, but it is an old idea going back hundreds of years to colonialists travelling in Africa staying in a "flash tent with all their flash stuff inside. That's the original glampers!"
I stride to the wooden lodge, styled like a back-country hut, that is the common area for guests. I'm wearing the perfect footwear, I think. My latest birthday purchase is a pair of bright red ankle-height gumboots of the trendy label variety. Not that there is any mud here, but one must look the part for glamping.
Glamping amalgamates glamorous with camping to create a remote camping experience with comfortable amenities. Glamping tents are luxurious and can include teepees, tents and caravans. They often come with services such as prepared meals, alcohol on demand, and clean modern toilets.
My glamping tent is a geodesic dome. There is something wonderfully spacious about a dome that is not apparent from the outside. It is a veritable Dr Who's Tardis. Inside, a super-king-sized bed awaits me. I estimate that four inches of padding must cover the supportive mattress. The sturdy tent is made from plasticised canvas tarpaulin pulled over galvanised steel-pipe framing and pinned down on the outside with thin wooden dowelling. Inside there is a layer of padding made of canvas and cotton to keep in warmth, at least until the stars come out. Amber makes up hot-water bottles for guests with cold toes. However, my bed turns out to be so warm that I don't need one.
But before I sleep I need to eat. I'm naturally frugal and I take it too far sometimes. I've already decided not to pay for the $50 three-course meal that the rest of the guests are enjoying together at the long table in the lodge. Sensing my error, Patrick brings me a small cheese board so that I can join in. To accompany the cheese and crackers, beer is available in the lodge's small fridge. My heart sinks as I drool over the local craft beers, but unfortunately I've just embarked on a new health fad, this one being to not drink any alcohol for three months. I've told too many people to renege now, so I resign myself and have an early night.
The beauty of this place is that there is not much to do. There is no internet. Gasp! Instead you can read, play a board game, take an outdoor bath or walk through the forest. If you want, you can jump in the car and visit places that include local wineries and the Vanished World Centre at quaint Duntroon, or go lake fishing and boating at Kurow. A little further away lies Oamaru with its Victorian precinct and Blue Penguin Colony.
This is low-impact holidaying and Patrick and Amber have embraced the self-sufficiency practices that are essential for living in such a remote place. They built the lodge and the platforms that the tents sit on from locally milled macrocarpa. The timber's natural resistance to rot means that it has not needed to be tanalised.
The most obvious exception to Patrick and Amber's self-sufficiency are the tents themselves, which have come from China. There are six in total, each with their own uninterrupted view of the valley below.
In the morning I wake early to muted sunlight entering the large clear (and clean) plastic sheet that covers the front of my tent. I feel deeply peaceful and realise that it's because there is no traffic noise. Nothing. In any direction. I suspect that this would be hard to find anywhere but here in New Zealand.
It feels good to stay somewhere local. With our good Kiwi hospitality, clean air and remote places on our doorstep, it is certainly all right here.
If you go
- Valley Views Glamping is 174km from Duedinm or 66km from Oamaru. Turn off State Highway 1 at Pukeuri.
- For more information go to www.valleyviews.co.nz
Maureen Howard was hosted by Valley Views Glamping.