Herald on Sunday


Isobel Ewing enjoys high-country hospitalit­y in the slow lane at Lake Hawea


Jet boating, heli-skiing, skydiving, bungee — much of the tourism in the Southern Lakes region revolves around speed and adrenaline, but a family-owned business on the shores of Lake Hawea is all about allowing visitors to slow down.

“People who come here live such busy lives, and it’s about getting them to unwind and just relax,” says Richard Burdon, owner of The Camp and Cross Hill Lodge & Domes.

“A lot of the American clients have pot plants on top of their ovens, and they don’t find that family time to slow down.”

Burdon and wife Sarah have owned the lakeside campground for 10 years, and they’re also third-generation owners of Glen Dene and Mt Isthmus Station, a working farm set in the jagged country framed by lakes Hawea and Wānaka.

The Burdons hope to attract visitors who take the time to appreciate the natural landscape, gain an understand­ing of its unique ecology and history, and feel more connected with the local community.

This descriptio­n matches that of the “highvalue tourist” Tourism Minister Stuart Nash outlined earlier this year in his vision for the future of the industry — not necessaril­y a wealthy person, but someone willing to spend their money in local communitie­s and seek out a more genuine New Zealand experience.

One such visitor is Adelaide native David Tonellato, who booked pre-Covid and has made use of the Aussie bubble to get here at last with daughter Chloe.

They spent their time exploring the back country with one of the Burdons’ guides, seeing fish and birds, and hunting tahr in what David says is the kind of authentic experience many tourists fail to uncover.

“You don’t get to see countrysid­e like this, you’re never going to do this if you go to Queenstown,” he says.

“As a tourist you’re going to stay in a hotel, you’ll do the luge and the bits and pieces, the only countrysid­e you’ll see will be on the way to the ski fields.”

If guests are interested, the Burdons enthusiast­ically immerse them in all aspects of the station — introducin­g them to its history which dates back to Richard’s grandfathe­r buying the farm in 1929, to telling the family stories and detailing their challenges over the years that set them on the journey to integratin­g conservati­on and farming.

And now visitors can feel close to the surroundin­g landscape even while lying in bed. The Camp’s latest additions are six domes fitted out with locally sourced furnishing­s like sheepskins and wool rugs where guests can gaze up at the night sky from a cosy cocoon.

Our visit begins with lunch in the lodge which was formerly the camp office, renovated to feel like a homey farmhouse with comfortabl­e sofas and a roaring woodfire, exclusivel­y for guests staying in the domes.

We’re greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread, which feels like a welcoming embrace: it's just the environmen­t the Burdons want to create for visitors — one of family-like ease and familiarit­y.

We sit together at the table with the other guests, autumn light seeping in as the sun

illuminate­s the ridgeline visible beyond the lake and gold-tinged treetops.

Over homemade quiche and relish, Richard tells us they like to share their land with others through hunting, fishing and hiking, and at the end of each day sit down to a home-cooked meal and share stories.

He says people often baulk at the idea of sharing a meal with strangers, but once they’re at the table they love it.

The best evenings, he says, are those when the table is a mishmash of guests from vastly different background­s and cultures, which sets the scene for strange but delightful interactio­ns.

After lunch we climb into Richard’s truck for a tour of the station, meandering up a steep 4WD track through regenerati­ng mānuka, startling sheep that scatter from the scrub. We stop in a valley where Richard takes us to the edge of a stream and points at the rapids — a trout spawning spot, he says — our eyes adjust and the fish appear one by one.

Richard shows us the mining tailings — the only sign that there were once 3000 people living in this valley, trying to eke out a living in the search for gold.

It’s one of those crisp days where the sky’s stillness is almost matched by that of Lake Hawea, the sharp line from Breast Hill to Corner Peak reflected in the unmoving water.

The landscape is magnificen­t, but the reality of running a farm in this harsh country is and always has been a battle.

“These farms are economical­ly dreadful, they’re really tough farms to run,” Sarah says. “About the only option is to diversify.”

Part of the Burdons’ diversific­ation is a hunting business, taking clients on hunting trips on both their private land and into the back country.

As we clatter up a track that follows the ridgeline, a pair of antlers appears, backlit against the skyline.

Richard is frank about the realities of running a farming and tourism operation that has a light footprint on the environmen­t. Fencing wetlands and streams is a mammoth job on a 6000ha property, most of which isn’t flat.

“You have to be able to make money to be sustainabl­e, and be able to deliver on what you say you do,” Richard says.

The station is registered in the Emissions Trading

Scheme and large

tracts are set aside for regenerati­ng natives. Last year they were even able to cash in some of the carbon credits to ease the financial strain caused by the border closure.

In the evening we sit around the table to share a bottle of shiraz that David has brought from the Barossa Valley, pass around a plate of West Coast whitebait fritters and sample some tahr meat that was shot in the past few days.

The main course features a tender chunk of fresh venison, and dessert is a homemade lime and mint panna cotta.

The day ends with a soak under the stars in the wood-fired hot tub, before retiring to our domes where the gas fire creates a toasty ambience in which to snuggle up under the stars.

Learning about the land, our hosts’ efforts to preserve it and their joy in sharing it gives our stay a more genuine feel, while being able to slink off to our luxurious domes lets us relax in our own space.

I drift off, wondering why anyone would choose a hotel over high country hospitalit­y.

 ??  ?? Isobel Ewing at the Camp and Cross Hill Lodge & Domes. Photos / Victoria Sheridan
Isobel Ewing at the Camp and Cross Hill Lodge & Domes. Photos / Victoria Sheridan
 ??  ?? The wide-open landscapes of Hawea.
● For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiratio­n, go to newfinder.co.nz and newzealand.com ● crosshill.co.nz
The wide-open landscapes of Hawea. ● For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiratio­n, go to newfinder.co.nz and newzealand.com ● crosshill.co.nz
 ??  ?? Richard and Sarah Burdon and friend.
Richard and Sarah Burdon and friend.

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