Booking this particular airbnb house in Otorohanga was a crap shoot, just as the rest of them are, but we accidentally hit this one out of the park. Our actual destination when I was planning was the glow worm caves in Waitomo, but knowing we would only spend about 45 minutes there and not wanting to move locations too often, I booked three nights on a farm five miles away and knew we’d find other things to wander around.
In reality, we’ve spent most of our time wandering around this thousand acre cattle farm. It’s not a farm like any I’ve seen in North America; there are rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. And because the surrounding area is all farms, it is quiet (aside from the birds).
There is a soccer ball – a rare treat on a trip such as this – so Zach can putz around in the yard and occasionally force me into improving my scoring technique at a painful pace. One of many sheds has been converted into a toy room – an even rarer treat – so Cameron is in heaven and getting a break from the eight mini cars/ animals he is expected to be satisfied playing with for two months straight. The owner even brought over a fresh stash of storybooks filled with the silly escapades of cartoon kiwi birds and the giant cricket-like “weta” and loaned the boys some “gumboots” that they think are somehow different from rubber boots.
Our friendly living-the-life host is, of course, actually from Chicago and met her Kiwi husband in the States while he was a caddy for the PGA. They moved back here to take over his parents’ farm nine years ago and then bought the neighboring farm (this property). It strikes you as idyllic.
Just when you sink down into a comfy chair on the back porch with a coffee and zero responsibilities, imagining how you and your I.T. husband could most definitely become sheep farmers in rural New Zealand, Sarah shows up with a fascinating conversation illuminating some of the different, yet similar challenges that exist in real life everywhere and anywhere.
There’s animosity with the next neighbor who really wanted to buy this property that belonged to his brother, who betrayed him by selling outside of the family. All local farmers are pissed at the guy across the road who puts too many cows on the land and furthers erosion by not following best practices for pasture management. Rural schools are a constant concern (they have a five and seven year old in a K-8, 34 student school) and many kids end up living away from home by middle school to receive quality education. They are still on a steep learning curve as they adjust to farm life and learn to care for 1200-1500 cattle each year while planning to switch over in the near future to sheep farming, which will be easier on the land.
As an aside, we are finding the meat here no more expensive and yet almost exclusively better tasting. I don’t know for sure why, but certainly we have passed a lot of farms on our limited travel through the countryside and there are always a smattering of cows, sheep, even (fenced in and farmed) deer. Never a dense herd, never massive animals; they are all wandering around on hillsides eating grass. And while again this may be due to the nature of our trip and the types of experiences that are providing our info, there is much talk throughout the country of conservation, protecting the land, farming responsibly, protecting native species, and “ecofriendly” everything. No place we have stayed has provided paper towel, it is difficult to find a plastic bag (most of the grocery stores provide cardboard boxes to pack your groceries), there are literally NO straws, and many disposable utensils are made of wood.
Our first morning, our farm host loaded us all into a muddy, hay-filled little motorcart and drove us around the property. First rate service! In the afternoon we took a mile hike they had marked around the property, and I took the boys over to explore a mini redwood forest where they have given permission to a group of local hunters to house a pheasant-breeding area. Amongst the vines and growth, Zach spotted the only remnant of a past farmhouse – a stone fireplace and chimney.
We did go over for the tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves the next morning, which was interesting. The last bit includes an 8 or 10 minute dark boat ride to view the glowworms, which seems like it would feel magical and replicate a clear densely-starfilled night if you weren’t constantly whisper-hissing at your three year old to sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Afterwards, we took a FABULOUS hike – the Ruakuri Bush Walk – for about an hour. The land continued with rolling hills and then suddenly we were plunked into a rainforest-type setting with the occasional cave or waterfall. It was a somewhat terrifying hike as a parent. Although very well maintained, with stairs and many railings, there were plenty of holes that fell into giant caverns, or cliffs to seemingly nowhere. Too many pics of this hike:
After heading into Otorohanga for some delicious Thai, we were back at the farm to pick some lemons for fresh lemonade and gather a few walnuts from amongst the cowpies. (Walnuts were a fail). The boys did a little more exploring around an old lime kiln – they seem to be plentiful! And we called it a wrap on the Otorohanga adventure. We will definitely look back on these days as a highlight with not much agenda and plenty of good solid simple fun.
Now, off to Rotorua (with a quick stop at some stupid Lord of the Rings movie set)…