There was a time when Waiheke Island was a bolt-hole from the hustle and bustle of everyday life – a counter-culture paradise set in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf, cut off from harsh reality by a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.
But these days the popularity of its vineyards, its beaches and its festivals draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year – meaning that, even on Waiheke and especially during the long, hot summer days, it’s tough to find a quiet corner.
But Mike Delamore has done just that.
He built his Fossil Bay Lodge on land he and his family has lived on for the past 50 years among trees he planted to help landscape a once windswept and bare valley a five-minute drive north of the Matiatia ferry terminal and a short walk from the island’s main village of Oneroa.
The accommodation has grown organically from a building where he and his family first lived to include a handful of quirky chalets and – more recently – four Lotus Belle tents.
Mike says he was looking for a simple, natural and stylish way to add more accommodation to Fossil Bay Lodge while not having to introduce buildings which might spoil the peaceful feeling to the site which echoes with birdsong – and came upon the Lotus Belle website while trawling the internet.
“The Lotus Belle tents are hugely suitable for glamping,” he says. “Their design and shape are quite unique and that gives us a great selling point. They’re attractive for what we wanted to do which made them an ideal solution.”
The natural canvas, not having to battle local building regulations and the way the tents are constructed by a small family business in China also drew Mike to choosing Lotus Belle – and his first two tents (a 4m diameter and a 5m diameter) arrived on the island in April 2013 as part of the first batch brought into the country.
Mike soon discovered that the round shape not only perfectly complemented the natural surroundings of his island hideaway, but also provided the type of unique accommodation which appealed to his guests.
“The roundness with the pole give the tent a really appealing shape – plus it creates that lovely sense of space you get from a conventional bell tent,” he says.
“As a cross between a yurt and a bell tent you get the best of both worlds but with the convenience of being able to put them up and take them down compared to a yurt – and, of course, they’re a lot less expensive than a yurt.”
After a successful first season, Fossil Bay Lodge added two more Lotus Belle tents to their glamping experience (one more 4m diameter and another larger 5m diameter) and Mike says there’s tentative plans to add maybe a couple more. He’s certainly looking to upgrade the first two tents he bought this year to make the most of new design features such as the insect screen on the door flap and the Velcro attachment for the groundsheet, which he says goes some way (if not all the way) to keeping the local wildlife out of the beautifully decorated tents.
And, as for the reception to the Fossil Bay Lodge Lotus Belle tents? Well, Mike says the guests couldn’t be more enthusiastic.
“It’s pretty much ecstatic,” he says. “People just love it. With the carpets and the beds and the whole experience, they fit perfectly into the peaceful environment we have here at Fossil Bay. It’s become something of an accidental landscape.”
Although Mike is perfectly at home building his own home and creating Fossil Bay’s unique environment (when we visit, he’s on his knees in the family home laying a new concrete floor), he really knows something about the luxury market as well – for half the year he skippers super yachts around the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
Having that occasional proximity to the top end of the market means he’s well aware of what it takes to meet all expectations for even the choosiest of clients – so he’s also been keen to customise his Lotus Belle tents so they fit his purpose perfectly.
After building raised platforms for the four tents which nestle beside duck and pukeko-filled ponds at Fossil Bay, he also constructed beautiful bathroom blocks for each tent - “people really appreciate the details and having your own private bathroom really complements the tents”.
And now he’s part of the Lotus Belle “family”, he’s also not afraid to let us know how he thinks the design can be improved to suit the New Zealand weather.
“Although it’s been very dry this summer, we had some really heavy rains at the end of last year and the tents stood up to that very well. They stay bone dry even in New Zealand weather,” he says.
“But we pitch the tents a little differently using long stakes instead of pegs which opens up the ventilation and insect screen around the top. That also means the pole is a little short so we boost that up a bit on blocks.”
Mike’s creative eye has also spotted the chance to improve the main entrance and windows by adding an “eyebrow” canopy to the front door and some way to raise the window flaps and attach them to guy ropes to create small canopies which would guard against those occasional summer downpours for which New Zealand is famous.
Although Fossil Bay is a labour of love for Mike and his family, he’s also keen to point out that it has to be a successful business – and the Lotus Belle tents have helped him build on that success by attracting new guests keen to try a different side of Waiheke’s island life.
His occupancy rates for the smaller tents is around 80-90% and the larger ones around 70% - and when we visit he has a range of guests including overseas visitors keen on walking, and some workers from one of the island’s seemingly never-ending building projects.
But while all that building is sure to make Waiheke ever-more bustling, Mike’s peaceful haven will continue to attract those who want to take life at a more leisurely pace – and thanks to his Lotus Belle tents, he has a wonderfully unique accommodation opportunity in the heart of the Hauraki Gulf.