A weekend visit to a farm can be an educational experience for the kids, writes Diana Clement
A weekend away on the farm is as Kiwi as jandals and hokey pokey icecream. But without a connection to the country, 21st century children don't get that opportunity.
Unless you pay to stay, that is, which is exactly what our family did for a long weekend.
Where to go vexed us. But after a couple of hours of fervent Googling we settled on the Kahoe Farms Hostel near Kaeo - thanks to the fact that it has a soccer "stadium". The Kahoe Valley "Stadium", aka the soccer pitch on the front paddock, hosts the world's first football tournament every year.
The tournament kicks off at 9.30pm every New Year's Eve with teams such as "New Zealand", "Austria" and "Italy" playing round robin matches until midnight when the final is played to coincide with the dawning of the New Year.
It was the soccer connection which made us choose Kahoe for our farmstay holiday.
I'd read that Italian owner Stefano Virgili had decked out the tin garage or "Soccer Museum" with memorabilia from Europe and elsewhere. My 7-year-old would be mesmerised, I guessed correctly.
The typical Kiwi garage also offers exercise machines, TV, and a games room sporting an ancient foosball table. It's all bodged together in traditional Kiwi style - which no doubt Stefano picked up from his wife Lyndsey Johanson and in-laws whose ancestors first moved to the farm in 1887.
On our first day we spent some time poking around the farm. Within minutes the children were on a first-name basis with the two kunekune pigs, Butterscotch and Butterbean, Henry the dog, a couple of donkeys, three friendly cats and a tame calf. We then headed off for a 1.5 hour tramp to a historic kauri dam, and natural swimming hole, deep in the bush behind the farm and only accessible to those in the know.
What surprised me was how little the children knew about farming - asking questions such as why certain paddocks were empty and why the farm only had bulls - which, for the record, it breeds. They were astounded that one family could own so much land, but concluded that farming was an easy life because you just left the animals out on the paddock.
Back at our clean, comfortable, and tastefully decorated "hostel" - which is better described as a lodge, we tucked into a meal of homemade traditional Italian pizza and pasta - good enough to rival any big city restaurant.
I say lodge, because the house, built by Lyndsey's grandfather in the 1920s, has been lovingly restored, without removing the original features, and the place is decked out in New Zealand and Italian antiques.
There is plenty to do around Kahoe Farms. It's a short drive to the seaside hamlet of Mangonui, which has a couple of nice cafes. Or there are iconic Northland beaches to visit, and if you're so inclined, it's possible to hire a yacht, join a fishing charter, or play a round of golf at the nearby Whangaroa Golf Club.
We chose to while away our second full day with a couple of hours on the wharf, fishing - although we were noticeably the only people not to land a kahawai or snapper. It was fun and a learning experience nonetheless. We returned to the farm in the afternoon to go on a mangrove expedition in the Kahoe Farms kayaks.
For two hours we navigated the tiny mangrove channels of the upper Whangaroa Harbour - a relaxing end to a unique Kiwi holiday.
Getting there: Kahoe Farms Hostel is 280km north of Auckland and 12km north of Kaeo on State Highway 10. Phone (09) 405 1804. Prices range from $25 for a bed in the dormitory to $80 for a couple in a room with an en suite.
Best fishing: Off Mangonui wharf. Bait and hand lines available from the Four Square, 100m from the wharf.
Best fish and chips: Fish 'n' chips at Mangonui's "world famous" fish 'n' chip shop just beside the wharf.
Best pizza: Stefano's homemade pizza and pasta. As good as the best restaurant food.
Best kayaking: In the mangroves near the farmstay.