EARTH HOTELS

UNDERHILL VALLEY

With New Zealand being the location for Amazon Studios new “Lord of the Rings” series slated to be the most expensive TV series in history, a new interest in Hobbiton is surely about to develop. One of the iconic attractions at this popular tourist attraction in the North Island is the round doors of the ‘Hobbit Holes’ in the Shire. It comes as no surprise that someone has thought of a way to commercialize on these mound homes by creating one where you can stay for a night or two.

Called Underhill Valley, this Hobbit style hut built into a hillside is part of Canopy Camping Escapes’ substantial network of New Zealand glamping sites. All the sites are in isolated parts of New Zealand from forests, to valleys. There is even one located on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. The interior of the Underhill Valley grotto has been hand crafted with native timbers, stones, wood, clay and ironwork, to create a sustainable and authentic space similar to the Hobbit homes seen in the Tolkien films. The huge wooden doors open onto a pond backed by farmland. Candles provide light with a candle candelabra in the centre of the living area. A nearby cave houses a bathtub surrounded by candles if you need a night time wash. This all adds to the uniqueness of this fairytale like place.

Underhill Valley was first dreamed up by Graham Moon in the 1970s, after being fascinated by rustic cave dwellings he saw while travelling the Middle East. Graham and his family put years of work into creating Underhill, which was finally finished around 2001. Since then it was used as an escape for family and friends. Today it is available to hire from Canopy Camping Escapes and is just another unique place to stay in surprising New Zealand.

Underhill Valley (Queenstownisite.com)

DONKEY BAY INN

Another quirky New Zealand accommodation built into its natural surroundings is Donkey Bay Inn which overlooks a picturesque little bay in Northland. The bay gets its name from the donkeys that were used during the last world war to shift material around the coastline.

The Inn was created by Italian winemaker, Antonio Pasquale, who owns a large chunk of Donkey Bay Peninsula. This boutique hotel lacks doors and walls to allow clear views out across the bay and over the ocean which kisses the base of the cliff into which the building has been placed. To say the interior is eccentric is putting it mildly.  For starters, you won’t find any curtains to hide behind and floor to ceiling mirrors are placed either side of the four poster bed. The spacious bathroom has no door and the wall doesn’t meet the roof so guests need to be on good terms with each other. Tosca’s Room opens onto a courtyard that faces the ocean. The Emperor’s Room has a large conservatory and also faces the sea.

On the wall in the main reception/lounge area there is a giant print of Princess Margaret on water skis and wearing a pink floral swimming cap. A full-sized stuffed peacock looms nearby. A 1 metre (3 foot) gold Jesus statue stands at an altar. There is a black bass drum turned on its side to make a coffee table. Three plush velvet theatre seats line the hallway next to a rocking horse positioned on a tall stack of old suitcases. Books fill numerous shelves and are also artfully displayed on various tables. The use of timber on the ceilings and walls are offset by some walls being painted in red, yellow and blue to add to the unique appearance of this offbeat hotel. It has been called a mini modern art museum as the contents could be found in such a place.

Donkey Bay Inn (Youtube)

The building runs completely on solar power and is built under 300 tonnes of soil. A dense living roof of native plants allows it to merge into the cliffside where it has been built. There’s a vineyard, olive groves and beehives on the property so those who are attracted by natural environments will be at home at this peaceful little luxury hotel which has been opened for a year and is a worthy addition to New Zealand’s quirky hotels.

Ceidrik Heward