Ask Amber and Patrick Tyrrell why they love what they do, and they are quick to tell you – it is the people, the people, the people.
The Otiake couple are the brains and determination behind Valley Views Glamping, which has been quietly overachieving in the accommodation sector for just over four years.
Valley Views offers completely off-grid, eco-friendly, luxury accommodation in six geodesic domes, and it delivers what it says on the packet, with expansive and impressive views over the Waitaki Valley.
Mr Tyrrell is South African-born, and Mrs Tyrrell (nee Slee) grew up not far from where they are based now.
The couple met in a moshav in Israel, and eventually settled in New Zealand, with their four children, just outside Christchurch.
They bought their 40ha property in Domett Rd in 2008.
“For me, this was moving home,” Mrs Tyrrell said.
“My family are all around here.”
Mr Tyrrell, a qualified civil engineer, worked for Whitestone Contracting for two years, and then Kurow Winery for six.
The idea of glamping came to them with the opening of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail in 2013, and a demand for more accommodation.
“We had been throwing ideas around for a while, and then … Patrick came up with the idea, ‘We could try glamping’,” Mrs Tyrrell said.
At the time, few people even knew what it was.
“We had been glamping in a safari camp in South Africa in 2008, and it was the most amazing place we’d ever stayed.
“So we thought we could chuck up a few tents and see how it goes.”
They began with six Lotus Belle tents, but soon found they were unsafe in high winds.
“One night, during a yoga retreat, the wind came up and was gale-force, and we had to drop all the tents down. The first night was perfect and the next night was a pyjama party in the lodge. It turned out fine, but not ideal,” Mrs Tyrrell said.
“We used to have to pile the furniture in the middle, drop the tents, and tie ropes over the top of them. And I thought, ‘There’s got to be something better than this’.”
Mrs Tyrrell was aware of the geodesic dome, and knew it was the strongest structure for its shape. It could withstand high winds and heavy snow loads. After further research, in May 2018, the couple ordered their first two domes.
“We imported two of them nervously from China.
“We thought, ‘This could work beautifully’ and, hoping for the best, we put them up.”
They worked so well in fact, that Valley Views guests now sleep only in geodesic domes. There were three last winter, and another three were put up in February this year.
The domes are PVC on the outside and mostly insulated, but with a window-like frontage, to maximise the view. Four have built-in fireplaces which keep them operational throughout winter.
“The domes have been so popular. They’re something different and unique.
“We were the first in New Zealand to put them up for accommodation that we know of. We’ve not come across anyone that’s done it before.
“So we’ve created something unique in the tourism industry for the Waitaki Valley, and it’s drawn people – before Covid – from all over the world.”
For the Tyrrells, the Covid-19 lockdown was not the disaster it could have been. In fact, it provided a welcome break, Mrs Tyrrell said.
“Obviously in lockdown, we lost all those bookings … but for us, lockdown was amazing.
“We had our two youngest at home, and we set to work doing maintenance stuff … and I had no emails once all the cancellations had come in, which was really nice.”
Starting to worry about future bookings, Mrs Tyrrell posted about Valley Views Glamping in the New Zealand Made Products Facebook group, which was created during lockdown to help small businesses promote themselves nationally.
The post got more than 7000 likes, 1200 comments and was shared hundreds of times.
“That day we got 10 bookings, and then bookings started flying in. And then we just haven’t looked back.”
Their bookings for the year from June to May were up 33% on the previous year. Last month, they had 96% occupancy.
So far, the couple’s biggest challenge had been dealing with “red tape” and bureaucracy.
Mr Tyrrell said because their business was a first of its kind, they had faced legislative hurdles every step of the way.
They were bracing themselves to begin the process again, with plans in the pipeline for a 10m “events dome”, mainly for retreats, for which there was a big demand.
Securing building industry professionals to help execute the plans was also adding to the headaches.
“There’s such a demand for those services now. It’s hard on the whole group of people who actually build things and create things.”
When Valley Views began, the Tyrrells were doing everything themselves, including providing a three-course meal, six nights a week.
Now, they cook three nights a week, and offer platters two nights a week, Mrs Tyrrell said.
“We didn’t think we would be as busy. We thought we would naturally have days off.
“In the first four months of 2018 we had four days off. We were doing everything ourselves, and we were completely exhausted. We had no idea how popular it would become so quickly.”
Next year, from January to April, their daughter Moriah was coming home to cook, so they could offer dinners six nights a week again during that period.
“And we just employed some temporary staff, all local. It works really well.”
The Tyrrells were both raised to respect their environments and minimise waste.
They have used recycled materials, wherever possible, in creating their communal lodge – where the bathrooms are situated, and guests dine – and also with the four baths tucked away in the forest.
It was a way of life they hoped might rub off a little on their guests.
“We educate people a little bit about waste and stuff. We try and lead by example in that respect, and maybe they’ll change the way they do things at home.”
Mrs Tyrrell said the business had “100% exceeded expectations”.
“We’re just absolutely loving the job. It’s a way of life. Every day we meet amazing people.”
The Tyrrells have hosted more than 6100 people from New Zealand and more than 50 other countries, and many they now considered friends.
They said the business had now “taken on a life of its own” and “sold itself”.
“We work very hard, but we’re very proud of what we’ve created, and it’s an absolute pleasure. All in all, it’s just been amazing.”