OWNER GERRY MCSWEENEY, a biologist who presides over the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (New Zealand's biggest environmental organization), and his wife, Anne, created this lodge as a base while lobbying to conserve the adjacent 6.7 million acres of rainforest in the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area on the South Island. The resulting "Place of Green Jade," or Te Wahi Pounamu Reserve, which includes visitor centers and walking trails, comprises more than 10 percent of the country's total landmass.
"When we established the lodge in 1989, the immediate concern was to create jobs with ecotourism as an alternative to the timber industry, which was logging 1,000-year-old podocarp trees," the 49-year-old McSweeney says. "Now we've moved on to other conservation efforts. But we're not too popular with recreational fishermen: We've stopped them bringing their dogs to the coast because they kill the penguins."
Located in a lakeside clearing surrounded by an ancient podocarp forest, the main lodge was once the Red Dog Saloon, a well-loved watering hole for construction workers building the remote Haast Highway back in the sixties. The McSweeneys reused most of the original wood and run the entire complex on hydroelectric power from the nearby Moeraki Rapids. They also built 22 guest rooms in two separate buildings connected by covered walkways.
Staying at a lodge run by naturalists makes for 24/7 activity. Guests can take a guided 1.5-mile trek to the Tasman Sea coast, where fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins roam. Then they can paddle around two-mile-long Lake Moeraki. Or they can do what Kiwis do best: tramp along the ten-mile Moeraki Valley trail system, where wild orchids grow. When midnight rolls around, it's back outside to gaze at the Southern Cross. Contact: Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, 011-643-750-0881, www.wildernesslodge.co.nz. cost: From $90 to $160 per person; includes breakfast, dinner, and two guided activities per day.
Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.