The website for New Zealand’s Awaroa Lodge boasts, “Discerning travelers from all over the world appreciate the distinctive architecture and relaxed ambience of Awaroa Lodge. Discover a perfect balance of natural comfort and contemporary style, welcoming hospitality and creative & organic cuisine…The Awaroa Experience is an intrinsic New Zealand Experience.”
Which is true. Awaroa Lodge, located in Abel Tasman National Park more or less on the northernmost tip of the country’s South Island, is a beautiful, award-winningly eco-friendly collection of cabins situated around a serene wetlands preservation a mere two minute walk from the stunning Awaroa Bay. The main lodge offers delicious (albeit expensive) gourmet meals at the in-house restaurant as well as a lovely space for meetings or special-event receptions, and as the lodge is accessible only by air or by sea and pretty much devoid of cell phone service, your time spent at Awaroa is guaranteed to be a genuine New Zealand bush experience.
Living there, however…well, that’s a totally different ball game.
From January to March of 2006, I was a full-time housekeeper (ergo resident) of Awaroa Lodge’s hustling staff quarters. A good five-minute walk from the main lodge down a dirt trail, the staff quarters were pretty much like summer camp for 20-somethings; the living room had a TV, poker table, computer, and weed smoke; the kitchen was filled with loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter pilfered from the lodge by the 21-year-old sous-chef and usually contained about 20 half-empty bottles of Jameson’s, the shower stalls opened directly on to the outdoors and were perpetually either letting in giant cicadas or letting out boyfriend/girlfriend sexytime noises. It was madness.
But living among this madness afforded me the opportunity to learn all the secrets about Awaroa that make it one of the most amazing places on earth. For one, there are two different versions of Awaroa Bay; the high tide version, and the low tide version. At low tide, the crystal-clear, gold-speckled sea recedes to reveal an alien landscape of hidden, bolder-strewn beaches; sprawling plains of wave-patterned sand pockmarked with tiny crab hidey-holes; banks of rocks covered in New Zealand’s coveted green lip mussels. As Awaroa locals, us staff members would take advantage of low tide by walking across the exposed beaches to the cliff site that was once a Maori (New Zealand’s native people) war bunker, or by gathering up the mussels and having a group cookout, or just by strolling though the drained estuary and marveling at the Dali-esque landscape.
Living at the lodge I also learned that the best running trail in the world begins at the Awaroa staff quarters, climbs up the cliffs to a break in the trees revealing breathtaking panoramic views of Awaroa Bay and all its neighboring beaches, then slowly winds back down through the lush jungle-like woods, ending more or less back at the staff quarters. Let me tell you, after a long day of cleaning up strangers’ messes, jogging along the cliff just as the sun was beginning to set was a religious experience.
Really, while I could go on for ages about the amazing nuances of living in Abel Tasman (the nighttime swims through clouds of phosphorescent algae, sleeping in the airstrip under the stars, being accompanied by dolphins on my final boat ride from the lodge), it’s an experience you can’t understand unless you do it yourself. And while I one hundred percent recommend following my lead and taking up residence, being a guest at Awaroa Lodge is a worthy substitution, especially armed with my insider knowledge:) Happy trails!
By: Lyndsey Aho