By Sandy Myhre
Anyone who rides a donkey into town to deliver organic jams, fruits and vegetables to a shop called Wood to Water has to be a bit eccentric wouldn’t you think?
Yes indeed, and Antonio Pasquale is such a man. In fact he probably relishes the description but there is much more besides his quirkiness, his Italian flair for the dramatic, his wide-arm gestures and ever-ready smile.
He is a Doctor of Philosophy and hails from a family of Venice merchants. He decided to come to New Zealand in 1996 because he felt somewhat stymied by the cloistered halls of university. He didn’t speak English so he learned the language watching television news and listening to radio broadcasts.
He said he had to reinvent himself when he arrived in New Zealand so he bought a sawmill, then a quarry, then got involved in farming and then wine. It was atypical, even for this most uncommon personality, but he seems to achieve most things he sets his mind to with singular success.
Early into the 21st century he moved to the Bay of Islands and bought some land on a small peninsula overlooking Long Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in a part of the country filled with many.
The property has its own private bay – Donkey Bay – and not because Mr Pasquale breeds American Mammoth Jackstocks, the donkeys first imported into America by George Washington in about 1785 and bred as strong work mules. No, Donkey Bay in Russell was so named because the peninsula was a lookout during World War II and donkeys were used to take munitions up the hill.
Today, Donkey Bay is more looked at than a lookout because Antonio Pasquale – never one to do things by halves – has built what was officially named in November 2019 as the world’s most eco-friendly hotel at the World Boutique Hotel Awards in London. Donkey Bay Inn also captured the title of Australasia’s Most Inspired Design Hotel at the awards and for very good reason. It is utterly spectacular.
Architect Gary Underwood says building the Inn was a designer’s dream while builder, Howard Harnett, said he and Antonio ‘talked the same language’.
“The curved, soaring structure was not designed to a price. Big beams radiate across the building and each purlin, 25 of them in each of the 16 bays, is hand cut to fit its own unique situation.”
The heart hardwood was recovered by Antonio Pasquale after it was excess to the previous America’s Cup international yacht race finals in Auckland. It was a feature highlighted by the awards judges.
With double glazed, massive curved windows, solar underfloor heating and the largest living roof in the Southern Hemisphere, the LED-lit building is well-insulated and cosy, and has one of the largest off-grid energy operations in New Zealand.
It is rendered practically invisible from above, and slots into its covenanted native bush peninsula hillside when seen from the sea.
Interior designer Patrick Crawshaw created the unique eco-hotel from the reclusive Pasquale private family home in response to its “surreal nature”.
With its own vineyard producing natural and conventionally-vinted wines, an olive grove, beehives, chickens, organic veggie gardens, and self-sufficiency in water and power, the luxury Inn is practically a self-contained ecosystem. More than carbon-neutral, it is in carbon credit.
The awards judges summed up Donkey Bay Inn as “soulful, eccentric, vibrant and deeply inspiring”. Mr Crawshaw said he had in mind “Alice meets Salvador Dali” and created “everything you don’t expect”.
Perhaps the most intriguing element of the entry is a curved canary-yellow tunnel that emerges into a round courtyard garden enclosed by a pink wall that reflects light into the back of the building. It opens into a seductive world of spacious design, butler service and personal attention.
The last summary comes from Gary Underwood, the architect, who employs an appropriate double metaphor to characterise one of the most intriguing, interesting and captivating Inns in the world.
“A lot of people think it’s off the wall, but it hits the nail,” he declares.