A richer canvas

Relaxing in Big Ben, my glamping tent accommodation, complete with windows. Photos: Maureen Howard
Relaxing in Big Ben, my glamping tent accommodation, complete with windows. Photos: Maureen Howard
There's canvas and proximity to nature, but a stay at Valley Views in the Waitaki Valley is not camping as you know it, writes Maureen Howard. 

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!"

The Valley Views Lodge is the common area for guests.
The Valley Views Lodge is the common area for guests.
It is rather safari-like. I look towards the tents and the expansive view beyond them that sweeps down into the Waitaki and Hakataramea Valleys. Years of sheep farming have permanently changed the ecology here. Once covered in native tussock, the land's contours are now clothed in introduced grass. An exotic pine plantation reaches skyward behind me. By it, a path leads to four gas-heated outdoor baths and to a creek below them. I'm pleased that the owners have allowed grasses around the property to grow wild. Mixed with wildflowers, they are popular with bright-headed yellowhammers and small flocks of multicoloured goldfinches that chatter just inches from my tent.

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.

Big Ben, a veritable Tardis inside. The windows look out to the right.
Big Ben, a veritable Tardis inside. The windows look out to the right.
I'm a keen camper. I love being in remote places and I masochistically relish the hardship of walking steep terrain to reach them. And nothing can beat plain tucker when you are truly hungry. But glamping is perfect for the reluctant camper who still wants remoteness. If you don't like the biting insects, thin sleeping mats, or the squatting over long-drops that one associates with tramping and camping, then you can still enjoy the perfection of being outside in a remote and beautiful place. Shelley, from Oamaru, one of my fellow glampers, is a reluctant camper who was suspicious of glamping. "In fact, we let our gift go a full year before taking this up," she tells me. Now a glamping convert, she is glad her gift token for a night at Valley Views Glamping had not expired.

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 super-king-sized bed is so warm I don't need a bed.
The super-king-sized bed is so warm I don't need a bed.
Back at the tent I perk up when I see my bed again. This is a different kind of heaven between the sheets! At 9.23pm the tent's solar-powered fairy lights unexpectedly come on and twinkle around my head. I drift off to the sound of a solitary magpie singing in a faraway tree. I must ask in the morning why my tent is called Big Ben, I think to myself. But I forget.

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 outdoor baths come with gas-heated hot water and a view.
The outdoor baths come with gas-heated hot water and a view.
The small amount of electricity used in the lodge comes from three solar panels. In the winter, a potbelly stove heats the space. Water for drinking and showers comes gravity-fed from an untreated (but regularly tested) spring. Once used, the waste water goes through a worm-powered septic tank system and is distributed to growing trees below. Recycling is available and food scraps are collected for a neighbour's free-ranging hens that supply eggs for our breakfast.

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.


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