Sign outside Camp Glenorchy.

Tucked away north of Lake Wakatipu, 40 minutes from Queenstown in the small South Island township of Glenorchy, lies New Zealand’s most sustainable guest accommodation provider, Camp Glenorchy.

With a population of approximately 200, Glenorchy may be unfamiliar to some. However millions of people have seen the town on the big screen. Peter Jackson notably used the local scenery in the acclaimed first Lord of the Rings film, The Fellowship of the Ring. The area also appeared in other blockbuster films such as The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Water Horse and Vertical Limit.

Glenorchy’s appeal to tourists comes mostly from its stunning views and popular hiking and tramping tracks on the nearby Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park.

Camp Glenorchy is a welcoming place that keeps visitors warm from the cold and snowy mountains surrounding them.


It is the first guest accommodation and meeting venue designed to meet the criteria of the ‘Living Building Challenge’. The challenge is an international sustainable building certification which sets rigorous standards measuring the building’s impact on the environment. It challenges operators to perfect seven sustainability disciplines including energy, water, materials, health, equity, site and beauty.

At its core, the challenge asks operators “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?”

And that’s what Camp Glenorchy strives for. The camp has seven multi-bedroom en-suite cabins, two bunkhouses, as well as seven powered campervan sites.  It features a scheelite campfire shelter and homestead building designed and hand-built by artist Dan Kelly, with an outdoor stone barbeque and gathering space that offers guests views of the Humboldt Mountains as well as the iconic Mount Alfred and the Earnslaw Glacier.

Even with its natural surroundings and environmental efforts, the hotel is still set up with all the modern technology guests need at their accommodation – a state-of-the-art AV system and free wi-fi are just the beginning

Acoustic insulation assures guests a blissfully peaceful quiet night’s sleep, as the insulation blocks sound travelling between rooms and from the outdoors.

The cabin walls, floors and roofs use up to 60 percent more insulation than required by New Zealand building laws, keeping guests warm and cosy in winter and cool and fresh in summer.

Throughout the site, more than 1,600 unnoticeable meters and sensors keep track of energy and water use. The camp only uses energy up to the amount it produces over the year.

The heating system uses ground-source heat pumps, deep heat bores and solar thermal collectors, meaning Camp Glenorchy gets almost $4 worth of energy for every $1 spent running it.

Over 580 solar photovoltaic panels are placed throughout the sit, generating the energy needed to achieve a Net Zero energy status. Enough energy is produced to power 25 standard New Zealand households.

Rooms are connected to the camp’s booking system, so rooms are only heated when required, and hot water is distributed depending on the number of people in each room.

Rainwater is the camp’s main source of water, with 60,000 litres of underground water storage available. Composting toilets save about 300,000 litres of water per year on the site, and to eliminate the need for chemicals three constructed wetlands naturally treat water from bathrooms and shower using plants and microorganisms.

Camp Glenorchy has strong links to its community. All profits from the camp go back to the Glenorchy Community Trust, which supports initiatives that benefit the people and environment of Glenorchy.

The camp is the brainchild of American philanthropists Paul and Debbi Brainerd. Paul’s background is in technology, particularly developing desktop publishing software in the 1980s. His technological background reflects the ground-breaking, sustainable technological systems built throughout Camp Glenorchy.

“Camp Glenorchy aims to educate, inspire and delight guests by showcasing some of the most innovative and energy-efficient products in the world,” said Paul Brainerd. “One example is our commitment to achieving Net Zero energy use. Our large solar garden, smart lighting, energy-efficient building designs and highly-efficient heat systems reduce energy demand while creating a comfortable and enjoyable experience for our guests.”

Debbi is the site’s resident expert of beauty and visual design and is dedicated to making Camp Glenorchy a warm, welcoming place. Before launching Camp Glenorchy, Debbi and Paul co-founded Island Wood in Seattle, a 255 wooded acre environmental learning centre for school-aged children.

Peter Kerr, the site’s general manager, joined the team in May 2017. He joined the team after being inspired by the project’s sustainability goals. Coming to Glenorchy was a return home for Peter, who has longstanding links to the region.

Camp Glenorchy opened earlier this year, setting an impressive environmental. Family gatherings, corporate retreats, and old-fashioned New Zealand campsite retreats are all popular at New Zealand’s most eco-friendly holiday destination.