The Headwaters Eco Lodge a Pioneer in Sustainability

The Headwaters Eco Lodge is New Zealand and the world’s first visitor accommodation to be designed, built and operating based on regenerative design principles to Living Building Challenge (LBC) standards.

Recognised globally as the most stringent design principles for creating a healthy future where our planet and humanity are thriving, the lodge has been certified by the International Living Future Institute for its inspiring and regenerative approach to energy, water, materials and beauty.

The LBC uses a flower metaphor to reflect a healthy living entity where the building is rooted in place while generating its own energy, collecting its own water, supporting its local ecosystem and community (via pollination), and becoming food for the local ecosystem at the end of its life.


And like a flower, it should all look beautiful. The ‘petals’ of the flower are woven throughout the guest experience, with premium eco-chalets, the main lodge building and an outdoor Scheelite Shelter being sustainably constructed to enhance light, mountain views, and year-round comfort using repurposed and non-toxic construction materials, lush native plantings, and a visual bounty of beautiful locally commissioned artwork.

Recycled building materials include three local woolsheds, the auctioneers platform from the old Dunedin Stockyard, and materials from buildings damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Local rock from the Dart and Rees rivers has been used to create the Braided River stone mosaic flooring in the Homestead building.

“The lodge has gone beyond the basics of its carbon footprint, by creating a sense of place by adding cultural and natural history stories and curated local craft and art, so our guests can learn about the region even when inside our buildings,” says Debbi Brainerd who purchased the property with co-founder husband Paul ten years ago.

The Brainerds want guests to experience authenticity and connection to the local people and culture of the region with warm welcoming interior spaces.

“Our environment enables guests to relax, refocus, and nourish their minds and bodies which is what we all need for our creativity to flow. The extra bonus for businesses and all our guests is knowing that all our profits support the local Glenorchy Community Trust,” says Debbi.

Environmental credentials

The Lodge has an annual net positive status and uses 50% less water than similar facilities, setting a commendable example. The installation of 589 solar photovoltaic panels, including some translucent ones makes it one of the South Island’s largest solar gardens. The panels were installed in 2015 and most panels are 340W, with the exception of some translucent panels which are 170W.

Generating an average of 210MWh per year is quite impressive, especially considering the variability the weather can introduce. The Lodge is embracing sustainable practices not only in energy generation but also in infrastructure, such as using non-toxic cables in accordance with the Living Building Challenge. Having 8km of underground cable powering multiple facilities, including The Lodge, Mrs Woolly’s General Store and the Campground, demonstrates a comprehensive approach to sustainable energy management.

All toilets are compostable but no, they don’t smell. There’s a sophisticated system which means a sensor-controlled fan automatically sucks air down when being used.

Thanks to Paul’s highly technical skills, there’s an underground complex circular waste management and water system that turns all used grey and black water into irrigation water through the three gravity fed constructed wetlands. The buildings meet Net Positive Energy certification using SIPs panels, ground source heating, fresh air exchange units, daylighting and LED lighting throughout.

A little more on our Smart Wiring Automation System; all light fixtures use LED bulbs – highly efficient when turned on, and many lights within the Lodge’s buildings automatically turn off when there is no-one in the room. In total the Lodge has in excess of 1800 sensors onsite!

Exterior lighting is also automated, providing safety and illumination for visitors while respecting Glenorchy’s rural landscape (and future Dark Sky accreditation plans!) by avoiding unnecessary light pollution.

Last but not least, an impressive kitchen garden, winterised greenhouse and orchard produces fresh produce served daily to guests at breakfast and dinners at the lodge. Alongside the growing, the Headwaters has recently commissioned a large public community composting station for the local township.

Glenorchy and The Headwaters Eco Lodge is a fantastic place to stay, experience some Winter Magic and see all this innovation for yourself!