I gazed up from the comfort of my bed at the night sky, a mottled canvas of stars. A dazzling show of constellations, shooting stars and the occasional satellite whizzed across the heavens. Outside the wind blew through the tussock. Something small – a skink, or maybe a rabbit – dashed past. Somewhere outside, sheep were sleeping, or perhaps watching too.
I was spending the night in a PurePod – a remote, five-star, backcountry hut, constructed mostly of glass. There are eight scattered across the South Island.
Each is in a dramatic landscape, allowing for complete immersion in nature – and the opportunity to pod-hop across the country. Inside, the pods are modern and luxurious, but the true extravagance is blissful isolation and views that run for miles – out to sea or across farms, valleys and vineyards. Immersed in the landscape, the pod is designed to take guests completely off-grid – there are no plugs, electricity or Wi-Fi and an information book includes an apology to anyone able to locate a 3G signal.
This is the Kiwi concept of luxury, something quite different from the global standards of six-star facilities, degustation menus and private butlers. It is space and remoteness that defines the exclusivity of New Zealand’s most high-end accommodation.
There was no one on hand when I arrived at Manakau PurePod, set on farmland 20 minutes by car from Kaikoura. I followed instructions to leave my vehicle at a secure parking area and donned a pair of gumboots that had been left for me at the gate to hike the final 10 minutes to my pod for the night.
At first sight the pods are simple rectangular glass and steel box structures – they are designed to be modern but unobtrusive in the landscape. They are small, but the crisp white bed, small dining table and lounge chairs on the deck outside provided plenty of opportunities to settle in and enjoy the views. Although the PurePods are self-catering, prepared dishes can be arranged that need just a few finishing touches to produce a three-course meal. That evening I enjoyed a tasting board of smoked and soft cheese, then a garden salad and venison steaks cooked on the Weber barbecue outside.
Later, looking up at the night sky, I fancied I was sleeping inside a giant snow globe. The pods, with walls, ceilings, doors and even floors made of glass, are set on foot-high foundations that give the impression of hovering slightly above the earth. Each pod is hidden in a location so remote that no one – not even the landowner – can see you. The bedhead, bedside table and chairs are clear plastic, and even the bathroom walls are glass, leaving guests to shower in a totally private but utterly exposed environment. Other than a timber wall that separates bedroom and bathroom, nothing is allowed to disrupt the view.
Each pod is also an incredible feat of sustainable engineering: the water is spring-fed, solar panels provide heating and power, and wastewater is filtered through a treatment system powered by earthworms before being reused on the land.
Waking up on the first morning, looking out across fields and mountains as far as the eye could see while enjoying the fresh ground coffee, home-made muesli and fruit compote left for me, it felt as though I was staying in a room that had fallen from the sky. Manakau PurePod sits on a working farm, which was completely cut off by the devastating earthquake of 2016, with no roads in or out. Since reopening, this has been one of PurePods’ most in-demand locations.