Review: Off-grid escape Te Awa glamping in Taumarunui

Stephanie Holmes stays at Taumarunui’s Te Awa Glamping

Location: On private farmland about 10 minutes drive from Taumaranui. But you could really be in the middle of absolute nowhere. The tent is 4WD accessible year-round and 2WD accessible in summer. Or arrive by canoe, jetboat or helicopter.

Style: African safari tent with mod cons and chic decor touches.

Perfect for: A romantic escape to switch off and immerse yourself in New Zealand’s natural beauty.

Price: From $440 per night. After being closed for winter, bookings are now available from September 1.

First impressions: You’ll arrive at the home of Te Awa’s owners, Louise and Tom Donaldson, and one of them will jump in their car so you can follow them down the road to the glamp site. You’ll wind along a track through paddocks, around bends and down a steep hill before you get your first glimpse of the tent and I challenge you not to exclaim “wow”. The large safari tent is on a small bluff overlooking the Whanganui River, with towering hills either side and huge expanses of farmland. It’s an absolutely beautiful spot, with total privacy.

Rooms: The tent is 44sq m, with wraparound deck, outside fireplace and outdoor clawfoot bath tub, surrounded by 320ha of rolling hillsides. Inside is bedroom/living area/kitchen with dividing wall, creating a separate bathroom.

It’s furnished and decorated like the vintage boho room of your dreams. An emerald green couch is decorated with ruby, grey and green cushions, there’s a carved wooden vintage headboard and wooden bed frame with what must be a very new, high-spec mattress, also with emerald green bedspread. There are blankets galore – handy when the sun goes down and temperatures in the valley drop.

Vintage trunks conceal goodies like yoga mats, games, books and magazines, and the information folder contains the start of a fun treasure hunt that will take you around the property. The treasure is definitely worth finding.

Three sides have triple-layered windows – a plastic outer cover, a meshed screen to let breeze in and keep bugs out, and a canvas layer for darkness.

The tent was purchased from African company Tentickle, and Louise and Tom flew the company owner out to set it up properly for them. They were all ready to go in March of 2020 but … well, we don’t need to tell you what happened next. But, when New Zealand came out of its lockdown, Te Awa opened once more and is a gorgeous off-grid getaway for spring.

There’s no noise other than the constant rush of the river, birdsong, crickets, sheep and the breeze so you can truly unwind from the buzz of everyday life.

Bathroom: No long drops and cold showers here – the spacious bathroom is properly set up with flushing toilet, hot running water, twin vanities – unique carved stone sinks – and a dark-tiled walk-in shower with excellent water pressure.

The outdoor bath is well worth a soak – enjoy watching the river while you wallow.

In an initiative to support local, the hand soap/body wash is by Mia Belle and individual mini body soap is by Marama (they use their off-cut soap to make mini “hotel” size soaps) – both proudly owned/operated Kiwi businesses.

Food and drink: A picnic hamper is provided, full of breakfast supplies – muesli, butter, fruit, jam, peanut butter, eggs and a loaf of freshly baked bread, chocolate salami, cookies and a jar of marshmallows for toasting over the outdoor fire. You’ll need to bring anything else you want with you – a good excuse to support local business and stock up in Taumarunui on your way in.

Facilities: There’s no Wi-Fi – you might get a weak signal on your phone but my advice is put your phone on flight mode and really relax with no outside world distractions. There are a couple of kayaks, but be aware of the river’s changing conditions, wear a life-jacket and only go in if you’re a confident paddler. Tours can be arranged with local companies if you want to properly experience the river.

There’s a kitchenette with double gas burner, fridge, and all the utensils and pots/pans you’ll need. The crockery is fine English bone china in a pretty vintage floral pattern. You can also grill on the outside fire – we cooked a steak dinner there and it was very special to eat outside as the sun went down behind the hills and the valley turned dark.

The stars on a clear night were astounding – an hour after sunset we were looking at the Milky Way and counting satellites and shooting stars cruising across the night sky.

Be aware that it can get pretty cold and damp – after a stunningly clear evening, we woke to a completely fogged in valley and chilly temperatures. There is an abundance of woollen blankets to snuggle into, and it’s a good excuse to cuddle up to your plus one. But do bring warm clothes, hats and socks.

In the neighbourhood: Not a lot. If you’re a city slicker who needs constant distraction, you might struggle … but that’s precisely why you should spend a night here, to slow down and enjoy some time out. If you can’t bear the thought of cooking for yourself, Taumarunui is a short drive away.

Family friendly: Although this is a gorgeous romantic getaway spot for couples, the tent can be set up for up to four people, so you could bring the kids. And, depending on your children, they will either curse you forever for the lack of Wi-Fi, or love you forever for the chance to run wild and free in this rugged, natural landscape. With the river right on the doorstep, you’d of course want to make sure younger kids were supervised at all times.

Accessibility: Due to the remote location, uneven ground, raised deck and steps up to the tent, this is sadly not a property for those with mobility issues.

Sustainability: Te Awa Glamping is completely off-grid – 100 per cent solar-powered, gas heating, and a natural water supply from a spring that flows into the Whanganui River. The Donaldsons carefully considered all aspects of the site to ensure it causes minimal environmental impact. Additionally, 10 per cent of profits go directly toward environmental regeneration and protecting the Whanganui River.


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