Project Q&A

The Vision

What is The Headwaters and Camp Glenorchy project?

The site, which previously operated as a campground with cabins and a general store, will be rebuilt using green design philosophies and sustainable operating practices. Our goal at Camp Glenorchy is to use 50% less energy and water than traditional buildings. The focus of the project is a vision of environmental, community and financial sustainability. The goal for the new buildings is to 'educate, inspire and delight'. The landscape team will restore native plantings which will allow for additional green space and organic gardens to create a beautiful natural experience.

The financial and commercial structure for the project is a special point of difference: the founders, Paul and Debbi Brainerd, have committed to donate all profits annually from commercial operations (retail, campground, activities, catering and overnight accommodations) into a community trust that local community leaders will invest back into Glenorchy community projects. 


Do you have a formal mission and vision statement for The Headwaters?

Our Mission:  providing warm, welcoming experiences that delight and inspire our guests to make healthy, creative and sustainable choices in their lives.

Our Vision:  a thriving, regenerative business that is environmentally and financially sustainable, and that gives back to the local community and larger world.


What are the goals for The Headwaters project?

We believe in 'Slow Tourism', as we know everyone benefits from having tourists who come to GY and stay for at least a while. What we have heard over and over is that most tourists drive to GY and then turn around and go back to Queenstown. They love the scenery but don't realize that there is so much to do in town and in the surrounding area. We want to encourage tourists to visit the wide range of local businesses and enjoy the variety of activities that Glenorchy has to offer. By hosting a Head of the Lakes Activities & Information Desk, our hope is to help tourists learn more about the wide range of fabulous things to do in Glenorchy, encouraging them to stay longer to discover all that's here.

Tourists have told us they want additional options for overnight accommodations and healthy take away food for hiking and picnic lunches. It's our goal to extend the length of tourist season with cosy, well-insulated cabins and facilities that can attract group meetings, educational workshops and mini-conferences in the off-season. The previous Campground was limited in how long it could be open each year. We hope The Headwaters and Campground will provide an opportunity for visitors to purchase whatever they need to stay longer in the area and add customers to existing Glenorchy businesses. Our overall goal is to attract additional visitors and encourage those who are already coming to town to stay longer, supporting the economic health of the community overall.


How many jobs will be created from this project?

We don't know exactly how many jobs will be created, but at this time we estimate the equivalent of about 30+ full-time positions plus an equal number of part-time positions. These positions will include a general manager, retail sales staff that will oversee the store, kitchen staff, registration office staff for the campground and cabins, house-keepers, maintenance staff, gardeners, an accountant, massage therapists and buyers for goods in the general store. Some of these positions will be part-time and some seasonal. 


What are the values behind the project you're envisioning and how do they fit with the Glenorchy community?

At the heart of this project are the values we have experienced during our last 17 years exploring NZ and especially in Glenorchy. We want to create a warm, welcoming, friendly environment, and a relaxed, low-key, gathering place for locals and tourists. Infused through the project at all levels is our commitment to the environment and to the creation of a financially sustainable business. We aim to encourage visitors to stay longer, to engage in local activities and to enjoy all that Glenorchy and the head of the lake has to offer. We love this special place and our personal goals are to contribute in a sensitive and appropriate way to helping Glenorchy remain a healthy community that benefits residents, local businesses and visitors alike. 


The Buildings and Construction

What is the Living Building Challenge and why is its process guiding the project?

The Living Building Challenge™ is the most rigorous performance standard for built environments. It calls for the creation of building projects at all scales that operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature's architecture. The Living Building Challenge asks a simple question, "What if every single act of design and construction could make the world a better place?" It is our goal as the project unfolds, that the project team members continually ask the question, "Is this design, or material selection or construction method in the best interest of our larger world, the community and the visitor who will use the facility?" .

It is our personal objective that the new buildings will have a smaller, more sustainable environmental footprint and be a model of energy conservation by integrating technologies that support this effort. Green buildings can help save money by efficiently using energy and water, providing healthier indoor air quality, reducing waste and pollution… all while reducing our carbon footprint. We hope this project will help others discover that they too can take small actions toward sustainable living and have a positive impact on the environment. 


I have heard you are getting feedback about what to build. Who have you talked with and which groups are you working with locally?

We believe taking time to talk with the range of constituencies in and around the Glenorchy community will help us understand the needs of both locals and visitors. These conversations are helping us develop a design and business model that will have a greater chance of being successful. Since March 2014, we have met with over 400 individuals including tourists and visitors to Glenorchy, local community business owners, members of the GCA, members of Ngai Tahu, Glenorchy Community Association, QLDC, DOC representatives, students and teachers at the Glenorchy School, members of the Glenorchy Business Group, Queenstown campsite owners, GY branch of Rural Women, and local landscape and garden professionals, architects and planners. We know this process takes time and we will continue to hold discussions and ask for input from a variety of sources as we further develop the details of the project.


What does the "Master Plan" for the project include?

A master plan takes the site or total property, which in our case is three hectares, and looks at the entire physical environment in relationship to the buildings and green spaces. It also incorporates the necessary building setbacks, parking, paths, zoning regulations and other QLDC regulatory requirements. It is the preliminary step prior to proceeding with schematic design and specific construction drawings of the buildings and landscape. Our master plan has been shared with the community and is featured on our website.


What buildings will be included in the master plan?

We are still in the research phase gathering information from the local community and tourists about their specific needs for a general store and accommodations. Although we are going slow to gather input about the project overall, based on our research to date and what will be necessary to create a financially sustainable project, we have made decisions on what will replace the camping ground and shared lodging accommodations.

Camp Glenorchy is being built as the first of two phases of the master plan and will include:

  • Campground for 25 tent sites and eight camper vans
  • Seven cabins, each with their own shared bathing and toilets, sleeping between four and eight people each
  • Four bunk rooms for affordable shared accommodations
  • Community kitchen
  • Dining room
  • Meeting room for gatherings, events and workshops
  • Communal campfire shelter and outdoor BBQ cooking
  • Showers and toilets for campground guests
  • Laundry and drying room
  • Lockers and bike storage
  • Solar garden (for photo-voltaic electricity generation)

The second phase of the project will include:

  • A rebuilt general store 
  • Eight to ten garden cottages
  • Community classroom (to double as a supplemental movie theatre for up to 100 people)
  • Stone cottage for small weddings, meetings or events for up to 25 people
  • Two outdoor hot tubs and a massage cabin (the "Baa Spa")
  • Commercial kitchen for event catering.


What is the timeline for the project phases and why are you doing them in that order?

Phase One - slated for public opening in mid-March 2018...

...will complete the campground providing 16 tenting sites as well as affordable shared cabins and bunk huts, replacing the 48 beds in the original bunkhouse, for individuals, couples, trampers, groups, and families. There will also be eight caravan/RV locations, as well as a community kitchen, dining room, public showers and a covered campfire shelter in the campground. Since the community told us they were concerned about the loss of business without a campground and were concerned where freedom campers would be able to camp during the high season, we wanted to complete this phase of the project first. The organic garden and native nursery will also be started, allowing for native seedlings and plants to be grown for the larger site.

Phase Two - slated for completion 2020-2022

...will complete the standalone overnight accommodations, which will replace the 20 original cabins with 10-14 one to three bedroom cottages, providing room configuration flexibility we’ve heard requested by visitors to Glenorchy. It will also include: the General Store, and a multipurpose community classroom which will double as a movie theatre. It will take additional time to plan, design and build these buildings because of the multiple functions they will serve.


Why was the original campground closed and the old cabins removed if you aren't opening Camp Glenorchy until mid-March 2018?

The basic infrastructure in the old campground was no longer safe or legal to operate. The issues included water systems, electrical wiring and wastewater disposal systems. The campground septic systems were either failing or no longer met ORC requirements and even simple replacement would have been too expensive for short-term use.

As much as possible, materials have been saved from the old site and will be reused to retain character and anchor a sense of place with the new buildings. We understand that closing the campground was not ideal, as several businesses partially relied on these guests. To mitigate impact, we have worked with the GCA to find an alternative location for caravans while we rebuild the campground over the coming year.


Who is the local lead or manager for the project?

There is a locally based project team of business and design professionals, led by Project General Manager Steve Hewland.  Peak Projects in Queenstown is providing construction management services for the build-out of Camp Glenorchy. Architects Mason and Wales In Dunedin designed the buildings at Camp Glenorchy and the landscape architects at The Baxter Group are overseeing the landscape design and  restoration of native plants.


What will the project cost?

The project is still evolving, so we don't yet know what the total costs will be. Once the buildings are largely complete, it will become easier to get a more accurate picture of what the total overall project will cost.


The Property and Landscape

Why have you purchased additional land and is there likely more to be purchased?

The additional land we bought will allow us to add extra green space and create native garden buffers to surround the cabins while maintaining the same total lodging capacity of the previous site. The additional land will also allow us to satisfy QLDC requirements for building setbacks from the street, increased parking requirements and specifications for coach parking and turnarounds. In total, 25% of the property will be devoted to meeting QLDC zoning obligations. Our larger goal is to create a landscape that has ample space for native plantings, garden, paths and open space to further enhance visitors’ experience of Glenorchy overall.

We have also purchased additional land on which to build staff housing. With very nearly zero vacancy in Glenorchy now and for the foreseeable future, offering affordable housing to our employees is critical to our business. We will be building up to two staff structures on this site. 


Why did you take down many of the old trees?

The trees we have taken down were introduced species rather than natives. To return the site to native plantings, some of the trees have been site-milled and will be reused in the construction of the new buildings. We took the trees down now so that the resulting timber has time to dry before construction begins next year. We will use every part of the trees for construction, furniture or compost. By not removing the cut trees from the site we can avoid the environmental impact of using fuel for transport and disposal. We will be replanting the entire site with a variety of native plants and trees to help bring back native birds. 


Why can't you just rebuild the Holiday Park and Campground like it was?

One of the many financial challenges of the old holiday park was that it couldn't be used in the chillier shoulder seasons and winter. For the financial sustainability of the project, we need to be able to provide accommodations and a destination that can attract more of a year-round market, allowing more day visitors to spend the night in GY throughout the whole year. Current QLDC regulations do not permit the simple replacement of the current site as it was. 


What will happen to the two houses on the land you have purchased?

The houses have been kept for staff accommodations.


Will The Headwaters be like IslandWood?

No, not directly. When we presented the IslandWood School in the Woods at our Cosy Talk in Glenorchy in early 2015, the purpose was to share the type of community projects we have done in the past. IslandWood is an educational facility and environmental learning center in the Seattle area that serves children and adults with both day and residential education programs. While the Campground and Headwaters will build accommodations and occasionally host school groups on outings with their teachers, it is not designed to employ full time educators or develop a complete environmental curriculum like IslandWood.

The educational programs that will be offered to visiting schools at The Headwaters site will draw upon knowledgeable local naturalists and educators in the area to provide unique programming to our visitors. What will be similar between the two projects is environmentally sensitive architectural design that will create "buildings that teach" and use 50% less energy and water than traditional buildings. And like we've done at IslandWood, we hope to host educational workshops, mini conferences and creative arts classes to enhance learning opportunities for visitors and locals alike in Glenorchy.


The Business and the Community

How will The Headwaters affect other businesses in Glenorchy?

We've learned that over 100,000 visitors are drawn to Glenorchy every year. Yet the majority of these visitors are here only for the day. Our goal is to get these visitors to stay longer and have them spend more time and money with local businesses, enjoying all that Glenorchy has to offer. We'll be promoting local businesses and activities beyond the busy summer season, so that we can collectively help attract visitors in the off-season. We hope to benefit all businesses by matching visitor interests with things they’ll love seeing and doing through The Headwater's Head of the Lake Activities & Booking Centre.


How will The Headwaters affect Glenorchy's centre of town?

The centre of town will still be on Mull Street, and we want to make it easy for visitors to park, stay the night, and set out to explore Glenorchy as a whole. We think that tourists will always travel down through town to the lake, especially because they are drawn to the views of the water. They want to find and photograph the iconic historic goods shed as well as visit the Glenorchy Walkway. We will highlight local businesses and activities at our Head of the Lake Activities & Information Desk and support walking throughout the township by providing printed maps of the area and all it has to offer.


How many people will the site serve when it's fully operational?

When completed, The Headwaters will serve roughly the same number of people as the previous campground and holiday park: approximately 100 people. During peak season it could potentially serve 15-20 additional campers, depending on the number of trampers sharing rooms in the bunkhouses. Maximum capacity with every bed and campsite full will be approximately 120 people. The notable difference of the new master plan is that there will be additional green space and native vegetation throughout the site.


How much will it cost to stay at Camp Glenorchy?

Prices haven't been set yet, but we will offer a full-range of price points from low-cost tent sites and shared bunkroom cabin lodging to also offering 1-3 bedroom cabins for families and groups traveling together. We are in the process of comparing rates of other campgrounds with similar amenities and modeling our costs against equivalent pricing. Pricing will be set based on this research and analysis prior to our opening.


Will you be selling alcohol and tobacco at The Headwaters?

We have applied for an Off-Premises License to to sell a small, well-chosen selection of Central Otago's specialty beers and wines for takeaway in the grocery section of the General Store, to complement Mrs Woolly's General Store's main offering of groceries, picnic foods and takeaway meals. We do not plan to sell tobacco, nor will smoking be allowed on premises, in keeping with our focus on supporting healthy, sustainable lifestyles.


Are you using NZ employees and local resources?

Yes, as much as we possibly can. We have already employed a number of Glenorchy residents to staff the General Store, and we have hired Dunedin architects, Mason and Wales, and the Baxter Group from Queenstown, to help us design Camp Glenorchy. A number of local contractors and laborers have been brought on either by The Headwaters or by the contractors working onsite to build various aspects of Camp Glenorchy. Glenorchy resident Steve Hewland has been hired as our Project General Manager and Queenstown's  Peak Projects is managing the construction process. Our goal is to employ people from Glenorchy and around New Zealand with the specific skills required to help ensure the project's success. All job openings are posted on our website and we warmly encourage local residents to apply.


What about parking and having your location across the street from the school? Will it be safe for our kids with extra traffic stopping in that area?

We are working with a traffic engineer to comply with all requirements and to provide for increased safety around The Headwater's buildings. The majority of our parking will be located off Coll Street; a very limited amount of parking will be across from the primary school. We are planning to develop another crosswalk to create safe connection both for adults and children between the school and The Headwater's buildings.


The Community Trust 

Is it true that you are going to donate the profits of The Headwaters Project and Campground to a Community Trust?

One of our favorite quotes is an inspiring one from Winston Churchill, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." We are fortunate to have earned enough money to live on and can now devote our time and resources to projects that support the vibrancy of the communities in which we live. We believe in finding creative and innovative ways of developing businesses that ultimately benefit the entire surrounding community. All profits from the business of The Headwaters, Mrs Woolly's General Store and the Campground will be directed into the Glenorchy Community Trust, a NZ-registered charitable entity which is directed by a group of local citizens.


How will the trust operate?

The Glenorchy Community Trust will receive all net profits from The Headwaters, Camp Glenorchy and Mrs Woolly's General Store as well as donations from other public or private donors who wish to support community projects in and around Glenorchy. The board of the charity is made up of Glenorchy residents and operate independently of The Headwaters, Camp Glenorchy and Mrs Woolly's General Store.


How will the community trust receive the profit from The Headwaters and what will it be earmarked for?

The Headwaters and its operating entities will calculate its annual operating profit at the end of each tax year in early March. The Headwaters will then make a donation to the community trust for the amount of the expected profit, less some amount set aside as reserves for long-term maintenance of the property. The board members of the community trust will determine its own areas of focus and publish its own grant guidelines. The trust has developed its mission and vision:

The mission of the Glenorchy Community Trust is to support initiatives which promote a vibrant and regenerative community at the head of the lake. The vision is that head of the lake community is a vibrant and resilient community that cares for its people and its place.


If I am interested in serving on the Glenorchy Community Trust board of directors, how do I apply for a position?

An application process will be developed in the coming year and notice will be given on the Glenorchy Community website, once the Trust has been established. We will be talking to several organizations that are currently active in local community fundraising and are familiar with allocating funds to support special projects in the Glenorchy area. We will be drawing upon input from local organizations to help us develop a thoughtful trustee selection process.


What if The Headwaters its operating entities don't ever produce any profit?

While the cost of acquiring the land and construction of the buildings will be fully paid for by us, like any business in its first few years of operation, it will be difficult to accurately forecast how profitable it will be. We are working with seasoned experts in business, tourism, retail, lodging, restaurant and conference fields to help ensure that the operation can fulfill its goal of generating funds in excess of operating expenses so that funds will be donated to the community trust for the benefit of the people of Glenorchy.

If there are no profits (and we sure hope there are!) the community will at the very least, benefit from the longer-term advantages of an updated General Store, a thoughtfully built commercial kitchen, and Community Classroom, cabins, artwork and a beautiful campground at the gateway to Glenorchy. 


Why are you spending so much of your money and time on this project?

We have heard rumors that we have an 'endless pot of money." Well, unfortunately it's not true, although we sometimes wish it were, especially for projects that take on a life of their own such as this. This is a major financial commitment for us. The first third of our earnings from the sale of Aldus Corporation went into creating the Brainerd Foundation, which funds conservation projects in the U.S. The second third went into creating IslandWood, an environmental learning centre on Bainbridge Island in Seattle. Our remaining assets support a variety of philanthropic community projects, and we hope to invest the last of our funds to rebuild the Glenorchy general store, Cabins, and Campground. We both come from business backgrounds and are excited about applying what we know to this project and what we hope it will create for the people of Glenorchy for generations to come.

On a personal note, we believe we were put on this planet for more than ourselves and enjoy being involved in projects that fully engage our hearts, minds, and creative selves alongside those of the communities in which we live. This project is especially exciting because it connects all three in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We hope in a few years the campground, buildings and what we are calling The Headwaters, will be a place in which the whole community can be proud to call its own.


For More Information...

Whom do we contact if we are interested in work opportunities at The Headwaters now or in the future?

We will post job notices on this website and the community website. 


Will you provide updates on your website or on the construction? How can I be sure I get all these updates?

You can sign-up for e-mail updates on the web site and we will continue to post updates to this website 


How can I add another question to your Q&A?

Please send any additional questions you might have to Steve Hewland at

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