Paradise reborn

The Bushveldt cottage is surrounded by bush.
The Bushveldt cottage is surrounded by bush.
Miller House stands proudly at the centre of the Paradise Trust property. Schist chimneys that...
Miller House stands proudly at the centre of the Paradise Trust property. Schist chimneys that survived the fire that two years ago claimed the Paradise homestead stand alongside.
Fire destroys the Paradise homestead in May 2014. Photo supplied.
Fire destroys the Paradise homestead in May 2014. Photo supplied.
Turret Head provides a winter welcome on the western side of Mt Earnslaw, Paradise. Photo by Nuno...
Turret Head provides a winter welcome on the western side of Mt Earnslaw, Paradise. Photo by Nuno Vilela.
A sign points along Paradise Rd.
A sign points along Paradise Rd.
The late David Miller, of Paradise. Photo supplied.
The late David Miller, of Paradise. Photo supplied.
The Bushveldt cottage is surrounded by bush. The Garden of Eden cottage welcomes visitors to...
The Bushveldt cottage is surrounded by bush. The Garden of Eden cottage welcomes visitors to Paradise.
Cloud hangs over the Cosmos Peaks in the Dart Valley, Paradise.
Cloud hangs over the Cosmos Peaks in the Dart Valley, Paradise.

New Zealanders continue to reap the benefits of one man's vision to protect Paradise and those who helped the area rise from the ashes when tragedy struck. PAM JONES looks at the journey of a place many describe as heaven on Earth.

When Wakatipu pioneer Alfred Duncan gave his heart to a Maori maiden on the shores of Diamond Lake, she was equally enamoured, wanting also to know the name of the mountain-filled place where they were falling in love.

"Paradise, my little Maori princess, for every place must be that to me when you are by my side,'' Duncan told Ruahine in the 1860s, and Paradise was how the area was known from then on, he wrote in the Wakatip Mail in 1903.

But their love ended when Ruahine's tribe hastily evacuated because of an incoming enemy tribe, the Maori chief's daughter leaving Duncan a farewell letter written on tree bark, and a tress of her hair.

"Although I go at the command of my chief, my heart is with you,'' she said, "and when I die, which soon I shall, my spirit will return to our own Paradise, and hover over it forever.''

Other theories exist about how the area was named (one proffers it was after the large number of paradise ducks in the region), but the romantic version is the one preferred by many.

It's just such a beautiful story, says Paradise Trust manager Mandy Groshinski.

It's by far the lovelier tale.

These days, it's not hard to reach Paradise.

Skirt the edge of Lake Wakatipu as you head north past Queenstown, take a right once in the centre of Glenorchy, travel 19km more along gently winding roads and cross the river Jordan and you're there: standing at a sign that says Paradise, overlooking Arcadia (a Greek word representing Paradise) House and a crystal-clear Diamond Lake on your left, and being pulled towards the heart of Paradise further ahead.

That heart comprises various buildings and a philosophy that has endured for more than a century, even though one piece of that is no longer. It's just gone two years since the historic Paradise homestead burnt down after a fire caused by a lightning strike, and the journey since then is embedded in all who love the area.

But rather than being a case of Paradise Lost, it's more one of Paradise Regained, the themes of Milton's complex masterpieces not directly relevant to the story of Paradise, Otago, but providing titles that fit well with what is happening there now.

Paradise Trust trustees, volunteers and supporters have worked through the grief, labour and love that hit them after the May 2014 fire, moving firmly and positively on in the spirit of the free-thinking David Miller who protected the area for all.

Mr Miller, whose family bought the Paradise property in 1949, hit international headlines in the 1990s when he was battling ill health and announced his desire to gift Paradise to a good-cause organisation to protect it in perpetuity by offering to sell it for a dollar to the right buyer.

He finally decided to put the property into trust ownership and the trust was formed just before he died, in 1998.

Now those at Paradise wish for the area to continue being enjoyed by members of the public, and for it not to be defined by the 2014 fire.

"Paradise is and always will be more than a house,'' says Mrs Groshinski.

"It's a wonderful, famous little part of the world, and more a philosophy and an entire area than any one building. People staying here leave such heartfelt comments, and they always want to stay longer. They feel they have only scratched the surface with what they have been able to see, and generations of people keep coming back.''

Those generations have included members of Tom Pryde's family, the Queenstown lawyer and his father both being the family lawyer for the Millers and holidaying in the district, Tom since he was a child.

When David Miller decided to put his property into trust, Tom Pryde was the person he chose to be chairman.

He says the journey since then has been full of hard work, responsibility and privilege. He was, and remains, passionate about Paradise being preserved and available for the general public to use.

• What is it like to be so intertwined with Paradise's story, and how do people who have gone there describe the place to him?

"It's a pleasure and it's a passion. Everyone who goes to Paradise becomes immediately in love with it and passionate about the place. That's my observation. It affects you.''

Since the demise of the Paradise homestead, the reconfigured Miller House (the work paid for by the insurance settlement) and the renovated Annexe and relocated Glenorchy School (funded by grants from the Central Lakes Trust and Otago Community Trust and some of the trust's funds. Both projects were proposed before the fire but assumed greater importance after it) have taken centre stage in the Paradise property.

They provide fancy farmhouse-luxury homestead style, crisp linen and wood fires (Paradise is a winter hideaway as well as a summer haunt) welcoming guests who look out at the imposing Turret Head on the western side of Mt Earnslaw.

But a different kind of experience is found in the huts scattered elsewhere in Paradise.

Some were used by scheelite miners and have been largely unchanged since then.

Others, like the mountains in the surrounding Dart Valley (collectively known as Cosmos Peaks, each named after a Greek gods), have heavenly themes: one is called the Garden of Eden.

Most have old coal ranges, one has a wood-fuelled pizza oven.

Another has twin outside baths for guests to fill with water and heat with wood burning below.

All represent the Paradise philosophy of allowing visitors a real, rustic, unencumbered experience of the great outdoors of Paradise, and maybe some introspection as well.

"Paradise is a place of healing,'' says Marijke Miller, one of David Miller's daughters, who is a trustee of the Paradise Trust and says her father's formation of the trust to preserve Paradise for everyday New Zealanders was the right move to protect the property.

"It's literally in the valley of gods. Many of the mountains here are named after gods and there's an amazing energy and feeling to this place. Many people who come here have been affected by it. They feel lifted and they feel relaxed.''

Trustees are still uncertain about whether to rebuild another homestead at Paradise, concentrating on other projects at Paradise for now: an extensive trapping programme is under way to try to bring back more birdsong to the Paradise bush, and moves are also under way to encourage more white-tail deer into the district (the deer, found only in the Paradise-Glenorchy region and on Stewart Island, come close to the Paradise buildings at night, fascinating visitors. Hunting is strictly prohibited on the property).

So from the ashes of the 2014 fire has come a new homestead-less era for Paradise, the space where the homestead used to be now possessing almost a memorial garden feel in front of Miller House, several giant schist chimneys that survived the fire standing as sentries over guests.

The trustees and all who love Paradise remember well the devastation of the fire, but are resolutely positive about the future, determined to keep making the area accessible to all by providing reasonably priced accommodation, with Tolkienesque views (major sequences of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed here).

Tom Pryde hopes visitors will understand, embrace and continue the tradition of Paradise.

"We want people to enjoy this area and everything it provides. It's not just about which building you choose to stay in here, it's about the birds, and the wildlife, and the tranquillity of the place. It's a bigger picture; yes, it's a philosophy.''

- Paradise Trust is offering a winter special at Miller House of two nights for the price of one during June, July and August.





Early Maori had already passed through the Paradise region before it came to European attention and attracted some of New Zealand's first "eco-tourists'', who initially travelled by steamer across Lake Wakatipu and on to Diamond Lake and Paradise by horse and buggy. Over the years, logging, sawmilling and scheelite mining operations have all also come and gone from the area.

The Paradise homestead was designed and built in 1883 by William Mason, New Zealand's first government architect and later the first mayor of Dunedin.

He had intended to retire to the 129ha property but ill health prompted him to sell it several years later and it was bought by the Aitken family, who added a bedroom wing on to the property and operated Paradise House as a guest house.

The Aitken family sold the Paradise property in 1943 to the Veint family, who continued to operate it as a guest house until it was sold to the Miller family in 1949.

Mr Miller - farmer, champion dog breeder and environmentalist - put the property into trust in the late 1990s when he was battling a congenital kidney disease, fearing what would happen to the property if it was carved up by developers. Mr Miller died in 1998, the same year the trust was established.

The Paradise Trust restored the homestead and adjoining bedroom wing in 2005, installing a firewall between the two which was what saved the bedroom wing when the homestead burnt down in 2014.

After the fire the bedroom wing was reconfigured into Miller House, the neighbouring Annexe restored, and the old Glenorchy School and several extra huts brought on to the site.

The property still occupies the same 129ha developed by William Mason.


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