What is eco-accommodation?

The definition of what properly constitutes Eco Accommodation varies considerably. They are usually defined as places that promote a sense of appreciation of the natural landscape and fauna that facilitate a learning experience about the natural world and its associated cultural milieu. The classic eco accommodation example usually cited is the Ecolodge. This is usually (but not always) seen as an accommodation lodge, catering for the top end of the market and set in a beautiful and sometimes remote or secluded setting. Ecolodges are usually advertised as having an architectural sensitivity and responsiveness to place, and an ambiance that blurs the spatial distinctions between the natural and built world. They often serve hunters and fishers as well as corporate groups and repeat affluent clients.

Organic explorer eco-accommodation

For the purpose of this Guide on the other hand, we have chosen to be more specific in our definition of Eco Accommodation. While under conventional definitions, an eco accommodation facility may neither serve organic food nor embody principles of environmental sustainability (as long as it is located in a “natural” setting), ours on the other hand do. From this point of view, Organic Explorer Eco Accommodation either:
  • Grows and/or serves organic food from conventional accommodation and/or:
  • Embodies principles of sustainability but may not grow or serve organic food.

Similarly, we have defined sustainable building practices as those that:

  • do not use toxic materials in their construction
  • do not use unsustainable materials like endangered rainforest hardwoods
  • do not use materials and construction that possess a high embodied energy

On the positive side, we have included accommodation that:

  • Use renewable or sustainable building technologies and materials such as:
  • Adobe or mud-brick
  • Rammed earth
  • Pressed earth brick
  • Poured earth
  • Straw bale
  • Use appropriate or sustainable technology such as:
  • Organic home fruit and vegetable gardens
  • Organic animal husbandry
  • Composting
  • On-site water collection and purification systems
  • Timbers with natural antifungal properties
  • solar power
  • wind power
  • mini-hydro power
  • use of biofuels
  • natural ventilation and cooling
  • passive solar construction
  • natural and sustainable insulation
  • composting toilets
  • grey water systems
  • zero waste systems
  • Are sited sensitively with respect to the natural environment, using the topography and natural setting to enhance principles of environmental sustainability.

Some existing sites and listings already embody most of these principles, some incorporate a few. As the number of sustainable buildings and environments increases, so will our listing of sites. We hope and expect that our Organic Explorer Guide will not be about the reporting of existing sites, but an encouragement to conventional tourism operators to move towards greater sustainability. We also would like to encourage, those that have sustainable environments to move into the tourism market to share their ideas and experiences with the eco-traveller community. We see ourselves ultimately as an agent for social and environmental change.

Here are some of our thoughts and definitions of the key concepts we are concerned with in choosing our Organic Explorer listings”

Earth Building Technology

Earth building has a long history in New Zealand and there are some excellent examples to be found throughout the country. Earth building technologies are seriously sustainable. The materials are everywhere. They are non-polluting, they have a low embodied energy, they are very energy efficient with excellent heat storage and insulation capacities, and they are relatively low cost, if labour intensive. There are several technology forms that come under the umbrella term of earth building:


Adobe is made from sun-dried mud bricks laid with thick earth/mortar joints. A stabiliser (cement or lime) is usually used, especially in damp or moist environments.

Rammed Earth

Rammed earth, on the other hand is built within pre-constructed formworks,, and tamped down with pneumatic tools giving an even, smooth surface to the finished wall.

Pressed Bricks

Pressed earth bricks are usually made in steel moulds often with a mechanical arm-press (sometimes called a Cinva-Ram) that can be manually operated and left to dry naturally

What characterises all of these systems in New Zealand, is the need for some kind of additional reinforcement or framework to carry the roof loadings down to the ground. Earth walls are heavy and have little tensile resistance to movement. In a seismic country like New Zealand this could be catastrophic, so bond beams are usually included to support the roof structure while reinforced columns within the walls take the roof loadings. The earth walls in this situation are used as infill panels between the elements of the structural system. These two similar systems are also used in another form of sustainable construction, Straw Bale which is gaining rapidly in popularity.

Straw Bale Construction

As with earth building, straw bale construction can be made load-bearing by the addition of tie beams and in-wall tensile reinforcement which allows the individual bales to act monolithically in the event of movement. The main difficulty with load-bearing construction is that the erection of the walls must happen before the roof can be formed since its load is transferred directly down through the walls. This takes time and the straw bale components must be kept absolutely dry throughout the process, In a temperate climate like New Zealand this can be problematic. Load-bearing straw bale construction is, for this reason, usually confined to professional builders.

Another alternative, which is more common with owner-builders is a post and beam timber construction, again, using the bale walls an non-structural infill elements. The advantage of this system is that the roof can be constructed before the bales are placed.

Although perhaps more common in the United States, a significant number of these different construction systems can be found throughout New Zealand, and there are many home owners who are only too delighted to share their knowledge and experience with others. Kiwis are legendary for their skills at alternative or appropriate technology. It is often said that they can make or do anything with a piece of number 8 fencing wire, and although this may be apocryphal, there is no doubt that inventive examples of sustainable systems are becoming increasingly common.

Solar,Wind and Hydro Power

This is similarly the case with respect to energy use. The use of mini solar, wind and hydro-power generating systems is increasing – often in mutually supportive combinations. The cost of combined systems had drop ped significantly in the last ten years and as New Zealand moves decisively to meet its Kyoto carbon targets, and as the pressure increases on power generating companies to reduce their carbon use, we can expect a surge in interest and implementation of these systems.

Composting Toilets and Grey Water Systems

New Zealand’s aquifiers have seen a noticeable increase in contamination fertiliser and animal waste runoff, which has prompted a high-level response from the Government. Increasingly, domestic septic systems are the object of Local Authority restrictions, prompting an increase in the use of composting toilets and grey water (bath, shower, sink) disposal systems. One advantage of all of this, of course is that it also assists dramatically in water conservation.

All of these elements of sustainable living are receiving increasing support and interest as New Zealanders in general recognise their responsibility to live sustainably and to move towards greater environmental autonomy. Many of them own and run traveller accommodation and are proud of their accomplishments.