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Staying out on a limb

Tree house hotels are a unique way to create brand identity and capture guest attention.

Monday, January 29, 2007
David Wilkening
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Staying out on a limb

Some hoteliers are finding it’s just fine to go out on a limb. Tree house style hotels have yet to be common but there are more than a dozen of them worldwide, including some in the United States. And most of them are not designed just for children.

“Tree houses are branching out everywhere. They are no longer just childhood playhouses,” writes BootsnAll Travel.

“Living in a tree house is a childhood dream that many hold well into adulthood,” says hotel designer Juergen Bergmann. “Our tree houses are built like kids would have made them if we had let them,” he adds. He owns the Kulturinsel Einsiedel and adjoining tree house hotel located 70 miles east of Dresden near a town called Zwick. The town is about a three-hour drive south from Berlin.

His hotel there opened in 2006 has been labeled by the media as the first-ever tree house hotel in Germany. “It’s proving a hit with an adventurous breed of tourists,” says one Germany newspaper.

Guests sleep 30 feet above the ground in cabins perched on the branches of black locust trees. Guests climb to their cabins via ladders. The tree houses are built without right-angles to create a more organic feel. They’re interlinked with wooden foot bridges. Each house has two or three floors connected by ladders and can hold up to four people. There’s a spectacular view of the deep woods and the Neisse River. The cabin spaces come with small balconies, electric lights, shared toilets and even showers -- but there’s no hot water. The cost is between 160 Euros and 220 Euros or about $190-$265 a night. The rooms are virtually booked solid, according to Bergmann.

“We offer more than lodging. We offer an experience,” he says.

An overnight stay at the tree-top hotel includes admission to the Kulturinsel Einsiedel Park, which features a pirate ship, an ice cream island for children and a hidden beer grotto for adults. Bergmann says up to 73,000 visitors come to the park each year. Bergman, in candidness, admits his overnight offerings are not quite three-star and that extended stays are not likely.

Because the homes involve a cramped lifestyle, he says: “After the third night, you start to only see the downsides.”

The luxurious Hapuku Lodge in New Zealand in the last few years decided to add tree house options. They were designed by California architects and owners Tony and Peter Wilson. These are real luxury tree houses, however, with custom-crafted and very comfortable king beds, large spa baths and Danish log-burning fireplaces.

The location on the south of South Island, with surf-able beaches and a variety of outstanding marine wildlife, leads the Hapuku to be called a sort of maritime Serengeti.

“This is the only tree house accommodation in New Zealand,” says Geraldine McManus, director of McManus Tourism Communications.

Travel writer Anabright Hay in New Zealand’s Waikato Times was captivated by a stay here, which she says was a far cry from her own childhood tree house experiences of “rotting planks and rusty nails.” She described the local tree houses as “luxurious” rooms where she could see the snow-capped seaward Kaikoura mountain range from one window and the Pacific Ocean from the other. “I've lost all interest in television remote controls, telephones, mini- bars and all the other usual trappings of a new hotel room. I'm constantly looking out the windows,” she writes.

Rates start at about $370 (Australian), about $270 American. The tree houses of Hana, Maui in Hawaii also offer four tree houses. Each house can sleep at least four guests. The houses overlook a flower garden in Hana, which is one of the most isolated towns in Maui on the east coast of the island.

“A spectacular ocean view overlooks a flower farm from the jungle treetops,” gushes the Web Site. But it also adds a warning: “These are real tree houses in a real jungle and not for everyone,” says the Web site. “Some people looking for the antiseptic controlled environment of a condo feel they are too rustic. All give the feeling of camping out with a roof.”

“It is being generous to describe the place as rustic, but nevertheless, we had a really fun experience (probably helped by the amount of alcohol we had with us),” wrote one unnamed guest on HotelChatter. Rates are $135 and up.

Another tree house experience can be found about a half-mile from Eureka Springs in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, where guests can stay in one of a half dozen of the Treehouse Cottages. They are set at different heights and situated so guests are not aware of others’ staying in the trees.

Each cottage includes a private deck, a fireplace, a full kitchen and a Jacuzzi. All the cottages are more than 20 feet off the ground, suspended by poles, and accessible by outside stairs. The cottages overlook a 33-acre pine forest and a garden patio. Guests upon arrival receive fresh flowers and homemade bread. The cottages claim to offer the “finest linen” and luxury Egyptian cotton towels. There’s also a free movie library. Rates range from $139 to $159.

Near Anchorage, Alaska, there’s perhaps the most rugged tree house in the world, the Five-Day Treehouse. The price of $880 for a mandatory five-stay includes air travel, meals and a guide.

Getting there is an adventure in itself. In the summer, guests fly into a nearby unnamed lake and then hike nearly two miles to the 40-acre homestead, crossing a stream on the way. To get back out, guests hike to a creek and then raft about four miles downstream to another lake. Guests must use a wooden ladder for access. Needless to say, guests should be in excellent physical condition.

“Many people can say they stayed in a remote cabin or hiked and slept in a tent in the Alaska wilderness,” says Mary Eldred, an Anchorage resident who has stayed there. “But how many people can say they rode a snow machine 100 miles to a week in a tree house?”

Another US tree house offers more creature comforts. Treehouse Cabin on the North Fork River in the Ozarks (Missouri) overlooks a 275-acre forest. The cabin, sleeping six, features native red cedar wood. But it has all modern comforts, including a fully equipped kitchen, microwave oven and air conditioning. No wooden ladders here; guests use an outside stairway. Rates start at $175. PS: Adults aren’t the only ones who can stay at tree houses.

The Treehouse Institute of Takilma in Southern Oregon hangs from the branches of an oak grove, nestled in a small valley. It’s a high school that hangs from the branches of an oak grove. In addition to being a popular resort and the only place in the world with courses on how to build tree houses designed for high school students and others, the institute offers ten tree house rooms, some of which sleep up to five. The price is $160 and up.

“It is not the Ramada or Hilton in the trees,” admits the Institute’s Web site. “But it is a genuine four-star Treesort.”

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