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Our story

From humble beginnings

Visitors have travelled to stay in Glenorchy, at the head of Lake Whakatipu, since the early 1800s, in awe of the magnificent and revered glacial mountain scenery. Original properties on our site housed the historic Glenorchy campground, where for many years Kiwis came to stay and explore the great outdoors and trout-rich waters of the Rees, Dart, Routeburn, and Greenstone rivers.

American philanthropists Debbi and Paul Brainerd had an innovative and progressive vision for the property when they first purchased the property in 2014, subsequently designing and creating Camp Glenorchy (now The Headwaters Eco Lodge) based on regenerative design principles. It’s the first-ever accommodation facility designed and certified to Living Building Challenge standards - the world's most rigorous and comprehensive sustainability guidelines. It was created in collaboration with our local community, and a cross-disciplinary team of national and international experts including NZ artists and craftspeople, designers, engineers, builders, water and energy generation and management specialists, and native landscape professionals.

Greenstone Lounge at The Headwaters Eco Lodge


An international showcase of regenerative design

Our state-of-the-art buildings, including the impressive lodge, dining room, living areas and large, artist-crafted meeting and entertainment room - alongside individual chalets - have evolved and grown over the years. They are an exemplary international showcase of regenerative design and beautifully comfortable accommodations that create restorative experiences for guests.

The Headwaters founders set up the Glenorchy Community Trust, administered entirely by local trustees, so the local community to which it belongs would benefit from company profits.

The trust’s mission is to increase the vibrancy and resilience of the town and its people.


“To create a thriving and regenerative business model that is environmentally and financially sustainable, giving back to the local community and the wider world.”

Debbi Brainerd, Founder

Our Philosophy

The Living Building

The Headwaters Eco Lodge is designed, built, and operated in line with the philosophy and principles of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most stringent environmental building design certification in the world. The Lodge is registered under the LBC Petal Certification pathway for the Energy, Water, and Beauty petals.

The LBC uses a flower metaphor to reflect a healthy living entity. Like a flower, a building is rooted in place. A flower must generate its own fuel, collect water, support its local ecosystem and community (via pollination), and becomes food for the local ecosystem at the end of its life. Ultimately, of course, a flower is beautiful.

We’re sharing our journey towards a more sustainable future with you

Our Eco Lodge

Beautifully comfortable
restorative experiences

To achieve LBC’s imperatives, The Headwaters Eco Lodge has been created through a process of collaboration; in contrast to typical building projects which involve architects, designers, engineers and tradespeople working in silos, The Headwaters Eco Lodge’s approach also included local artists, craftspeople, and energy management specialists.

The Headwaters Eco Lodge is the vision and collaborative creation of Paul and Debbi Brainerd, philanthropists who have previously established environmentally-sensitive, community-based education projects in North America. Offering a range of beautifully-appointed and resource-efficient guest accommodations, The Headwaters Eco Lodge seeks to inspire and share learnings about new standards in sustainable tourism.


A restful, restorative guest
experience crafted in
harmony with nature

Grounded in Glenorchy’s stunning natural environment, the award-winning property celebrates nature through the purposeful use of non-toxic construction materials and state-of-the-art technology to reduce water and energy. Nestled amongst an abundance of native plantings these buildings showcase the work of many local and national artists and craftspeople involved in the process from concept to completion.

Ben Fahy (Kia Ora Magazine) on a recent visit quoted “The lodge has become something of a sustainability demonstration project, whether it’s the composting toilet system, the solar garden, warm and energy- efficient cabins or wastewater filtered by an array of nutrient sucking plants.”

Commitment & Journey

We aim to be as transparent as possible

We take sustainability and eco practices seriously. It's at the heart of everything we do, simple as that.

We're constantly sharing updates to effectively communicate what we're doing, how we're doing it and the impacts of our actions and processes.

Since first welcoming guests in March 2018, The Headwaters Eco Lodge is still learning and continues to constantly evolve, setting ever-higher goals for our sustainability practices.
Part of that learning has been to collect and analyse data about how well everything is running, think about what we could do better, and collate some real crunchable numbers about how much water we collect, energy we generate, and the people we welcome.

We know our technologies will continue to enable us to constantly improve, yet we never forget that it's our people — our team, our community, and our wonderfulguests — who are our greatest asset.

By embracing our story, you're helping us to enable greater change towards increased sustainability and eco-awareness across lives, communities, and industries here, and around the world.

Beauty can be expressed in many forms and is a very personal experience.
Celebrating design that uplifts the human spirit
The Headwaters Eco Lodge has been designed to achieve Net Zero Energy Building Certification (NZEB) 
in accordance with the requirements of the Living Building Challenge
Harnessing energy from the sun for operation
The Headwaters Eco Lodge seeks to foster a healthy relationship with the entirety of its surrounding environment.
Supporting a just equitable world
Health & Happiness
Human health, comfort and happiness are deeply affected by many aspects of our environment, including the air we breathe, the surfaces we touch, the noises we hear, and the views we see.
Creating spaces that optimise health and wellbeing
The building industry is a significant user of chemicals and products which are considered “worst in class” for their impact on human and environmental health.
Using products that are safe for all species through time
The site will feature a variety of elements that are designed to reduce effects on our local environment – including the air, waterways and soil.
Restoring a healthy relationship with nature
The Headwaters has been designed, built and operated to allow us to provide for our own water needs as much as possible.
Operating within the local water balance

Awards and recognition

What they say

Since opening in 2018, The Headwaters Eco Lodge has been recognised by a wide range of leading tourism and media organisations for our beautiful, welcoming and ecologically friendly accommodation and bespoke adventure experiences.

Our Reviews
An amazing venue for a wedding, our weekend was absolutely magical. Our guests loved the amazing, comfortable accommodation, friendly staff and stunning location. Thanks so much!
Having the ceremony on the lakefront amongst beautiful scenery, walking distance from our reception, made the day run so smoothly. We danced the night away at the lodge meaning we spent more time with our guests, many of whom stayed onsite. Cannot recommend enough.