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Mixed feelings as pair call time on Solscape ‘journey’

A vibrant eco-tourism accommodation business that draws mostly young travellers from all over the world to Raglan is up for tender and its owners have their fingers crossed “the right people will come along and take it to the next level”.

Phil McCabe and Bernadette Gavin — who run Solscape Eco Retreat overlooking Manu Bay — reckon they’re now ready for a change, but admit it’s with mixed feelings they hand over what for them has been a 10-year “journey” into eco-tourism and sustainability.

“We just both feel we want to have a go at something different,” Phil told the Chronicle last week, days after making news down-country off the North Taranaki coast as part of a group protest against a seismic survey vessel operating in a marine mammal sanctuary.

And the opportunity for a “fresh start” — once free of their commitment to Solscape — ranks highly too for Bernadette, who’s not unfamiliar herself with the odd protest overseas aboard the controversial Sea Shepherd.

While the couple have continually “grown” Solscape — taking it from rudimentary wagon cabins already on site a decade ago, to now include a whole range of accommodation from newly built eco-baches and earth domes to Indian reservation-like tipis tucked away in secluded bush at the foot of Mt Karioi — they acknowledge there’s potential for further development.

But they also recognize that “not everyone shares our vision,” as Bernadette puts it, accepting that in selling Solscape its direction may well change depending on the new owners.
But it’s been “a good journey”, adds Phil, even if Solscape as they know it stops now. “We both trust that the right people (buyers) will come along.”

Phil’s confident of a sale sooner rather than later, pointing out that interest from possible investors has been high over the past couple of years.

In a letter to the Chronicle the couple said it was with “equal measures of gratitude, sadness and optimism” they had decided to pass Solscape into new hands by way of tender, and felt confident it would carry on “in a positive way”.

They thanked the Raglan community for its support over the years, from committed staff to locals who’d had input in many other ways — “even those who simply dropped hitch-hikers at our gate”.
“It has been a great pleasure, a profound learning experience and an honour to have been kaitiaki (guardians) of this land,” they said.

While Phil and Bern with their young daughter Sequoia — whose main concern is that her favourite silkwood tree on the property remains — have enjoyed looking after the thousands of travellers and Kiwis who have found their way to Solscape over the past decade, they are excited to be stepping into a new chapter of their lives.

Edith Symes

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