Words by Jo-Marie Baker
THE BAY'S NEWEST ECO RETREAT
One of New Zealand’s most internationally successful ballerinas has returned home with her civil engineer husband to create a spot of luxury and solace in the Bay of Plenty where people can “take a breath” from everyday life.
Watercliff is a stunning 18ha bush-clad property set beside the winding Ōmanawa River where Delia (née Mathews) and Josh Harris have built a series of architecturally-designed eco cabins powered by solar energy and rainwater.
At Watercliff, ‘eco’ doesn’t mean sparse, remote or having to compromise on everyday comforts. There are beautifully tiled bathrooms and showers with underfloor heating, flushing toilets and bespoke vanities. There are heatpumps and fully-equipped kitchens. There’s automatic blinds to reveal the sun rising against sheer cliffs that you can activate from the comfort of your bed. And it’s all just 10 minutes’ drive from Tauriko.
“In the UK we stayed at a lot of different off-grid eco places to see what sort of thing we wanted,” Delia says. “Watercliff isn’t about escaping the hustle and bustle of life, it offers something complimentary. It’s a place to switch off but still connect with nature, your loved ones and the outside world. It’s a bit of luxury and somewhere to feel calm and just breathe in the fresh air.”
Watercliff was inspired by their own wedding venue on a Cornwall farm where people could stay in cabins for a weekend escape or to attend an on-site event. Josh (who is a keen foodie) hopes to soon offer catering options at Watercliff while Delia (who is a qualified yoga instructor) can run individual classes for guests on the grass outside their cabins.
The new venture, which is run in conjunction with Delia’s parents, is a world away from the couples’ previous lives in the UK.
Aged just 15, Delia left Tauranga to train at the Royal Ballet School in London – an incredibly rare opportunity for any international dancer, let alone a young teenager from Aotearoa. Three years later she was named their ‘Most Outstanding Graduate’ and joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet where she became a principal dancer in 2017. She eventually met and married civil engineer Josh, who oversaw £500m infrastructure projects for the UK’s Environment Agency. The pair were living in a high-rise apartment in the middle of Birmingham city and pregnant with their first child when Covid hit.
“We never wanted to raise a family in a city flat,” Delia explains. “We always wanted a big open space. After our wedding in 2017 we asked mum and dad to keep an eye out for somewhere cool in the Bay of Plenty. They had just sold their avocado orchard and were excited at the prospect of us coming home so became very focused on finding the right bit of land!”
Since arriving back in New Zealand in September 2020, the quartet have put in countless hours to plan and build Watercliff’s luxurious cabins. Over 10,000 native seedlings have been cultivated and planted out on site, and access roads have been put in at grueling physical and financial expense. The road which leads 1km from reception to the cabins took 712 wheelbarrows of concrete just to complete the first downhill slope!
Josh’s exceptional project management skills were put to the test as he co-ordinated a team of 25 builders and dozens of design and engineering experts to set up Watercliff’s own power and water supply. “We have built huge stand-alone solar arrays and created a little power station of our own,” he says. “We use all the roofs to harvest water which flows through our own filtration system. It’s been a daunting project but I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Of the four cabins currently available, three have a queen-size bed, while one has an additional set of king bunk beds and is large enough to sleep four. Each cabin has its own self-contained bathroom, kitchen, dining table, large timber deck, BBQ and one (aptly called “The View”) boasts an outdoor bath. The high-end plywood interior walls and sustainable cork flooring create a warm and inviting space. In time, up to six additional cabins will be built at Watercliff making it an ideal destination for small groups as well as individuals or couples.
Delia says it was her grandmother, who has now passed away, who first came up with the name ‘Watercliff’. “We just loved it. The cliffs shelter the whole valley from the wind and creates its own micro-climate. It gets very hot here in summer and the river is a brilliant swimming spot.
“The views are incredible and there are no cars, no noise except for the birds. There are lots of tūī, pūkeko, pīwakawaka, kingfishers, hawks, falcons and herons, and if you wander along the road after dark there are thousands of glow worms lining the banks. It’s magical.”
For more information, images or to reserve your stay at Watercliff, visit watercliffstay.com.