Danielle Wright introduces her city kids to farm animals and the rural way of life in the Kaipara district.
After a short drive north on a wet Friday night, we're sitting in Hugh Rose's kitchen, drinking homemade brandy and being schooled on steers by the most intellectual farmer we've ever met.
Not only does he run a 120ha farm, but Hugh is also the inventor of - among other things - the PossiPot possum baiting system and a jug that separates cream from milk. Wife Pauline is equally impressive in her communications business. They're very entertaining and great hosts. Hugh even tells us not to bother going into town for dinner: "Come and raid our freezer, we've got homegrown beef steaks, sausages and kumara yummies," he says and hands me a bag full of food.
"Kumara yummies?" our son asks suspiciously - well, we are 10 minutes from the Kumara capital of New Zealand, Dargaville, so we should at least give them a go. Pauline hands us broccoli and mushrooms, and a glass of wine.
The next morning the sun is shining brightly as we take a look around the farm. We walk past fig and avocado trees accompanied by friendly farm dogs, and visit the hens who let us have eggs for breakfast. We have these with freshly baked bread, feijoa and lemon jam and grapefruit marmalade.
Afterwards, we head out in gumboots for more exploring. We find a rope swing that entertains the kids for a long time, then take a walk through rolling paddocks, past a couple of pigs and up a steep hill, as we watch wild ducks flying overhead in clear skies. Out in the open farmland, our 6-year-old son Henry becomes our guide, leading us ever higher and making use of every opportunity to climb up ledges holding on to grass "ropes", while finding shapes in the tree stumps - first, one that looks like a crocodile, and later, one that looks like ... "a dinosaur's bottom", apparently.
We head off the beaten path and into thick bush in search of crayfish under flat rocks, waterfalls and the giant carnivorous land snail (Paraphanta). The fresh forest smell is mixed with that of logs burning back at the homestead and our boots are covered in mud as we walk down a creek and over electric fences.
Henry seems to have taken to farm life with gusto so we ask him if he'd like to live on a farm and he replies: "Yes ... but, not one in the country." Fair enough!
Finally, we reach the top of the hill and try to make out both coasts of New Zealand, which is possible at some points nearby. It's here that kiwis can be seen at night, as well as a remarkable variety of birdlife - from wild turkeys and pheasants to green shining cuckoos.
Back at the farmhouse, Hugh shows us how he can rustle up the steers from the comfort of his deck with the help of his clever dog. We also feed bread to the silver amur carp, who eat weeds and grass clippings as well as the weeping willow branches dangling over their pond next to the main house.
We leave the farm in the afternoon for a show at the Kumara Box, which mixes Kaipara travelogue, kumara history, curios and comedy. Ernie, who runs the show, takes us around his kumara farm in a homemade train pulled by a tractor. He shows us one joke after the other on the route, even the smallest chapel in New Zealand, built in a paddock.
It's getting late but the sun is still shining so we drive out to Baylys Beach for a dinner of fish and chips at The Funky Fish Cafe. It's worth the drive: family friendly, affordable, great food and just as the name suggest: funky - especially the bathrooms.
As we arrive back at the farm, both our children ask to go to bed. Other parents will know that's not usual back in the city, but it means one thing: an early wake-up call, so in the morning we try the outdoor hot tub as the dawn chorus serenades us from the tops of trees.
Before we leave, Hugh brings out his "chariot", which is a motorbike pulling something like an old plastic trough. He gives us a ride around the farm on it and we're waved off just as the heavy rain starts up again. It was a memorable rural break in the weather, full of charm from both the hosts and the rolling hills.
DOWN ON THE FARM
Tangowahine: offers a suite ($165 per night), a farm cottage ($235 per night) and an eco annex, available only with hire of the suite or cottage ($60 per night).
Matakohe Kauri Museum for the history of kauri logging.
The Kumara Box costs $20 for the show, $10 for the tractor ride.
Next to an observatory built in someone's front garden is The Funky Fish Cafe.
Gumdiggers Cafe across from the Kauri Museum sells steak and kumara pies, kumara top pies, and burgers named after famous kauri trees. Ph: (09) 431 7075.