Milking cows, riding dirt bikes, sliding in the mud ... The Farm's charm proves irresistible to families, discovers Diana Clement.
Chaos confronted us as we pulled off Old Russell Rd into The Farm's carpark.
Children and dogs played, motorcyclists hooned across the lawn, and try as we might we struggled to find the reception for the Whangaruru farm-stay accommodation.
The Farm is a place where you make yourself at home. We'd phoned the night before and been told: "There's no need to book, just turn up." The challenge, when we got there, was finding someone in the midst of this melee to tell us where to pitch our tent.
People are something The Farm has plenty of. Owners Mike and Ellen Bennett have seven children, a manager, and 13 Wwoofers (standing for Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms) who work for their keep. A few dozen guests blend in.
It soon became apparent this wasn't faux farm life. Want to milk cows? Just grab yourself some overalls and gumboots, and wander to the milking shed at the appropriate time.
Or if it's dirt biking around the 400ha farm/bush property that interests you, wander to the shed, don some safety gear, grab yourself a bike and head off.
Guests keep note of the activities such as horse riding, motorbiking and kayaking they've completed and pay at the end. Many of the experiences, such as a giant rope swing, and mud slide, are free anyway.
Our choice of The Farm for our New Year holiday was strategic. The kids refused initially to go on holiday, and I searched long and hard for somewhere with sufficiently exciting activities to break the stalemate. And it didn't take long for them to get into the swing of farm life. They didn't even baulk in the milking shed when they had first-hand experience of the liquids and other things that come out of the back of a cow. They did protest at having to walk up the back of the farm to a mudslide, then didn't want to return because they were having so much fun.
The Farm is rough and ready. That's what the Kiwi families who return year after year like. There's no standing on formality, and if you want something done, either find someone to do it, or simply do it yourself.
The other slightly unusual aspect of The Farm was the number of families with willing teenagers in tow. Once there, the teens hung out with the young Bennetts and friends and did their own thing, in the relative safety of a family-oriented destination.
The accommodation is rustic and comprises cabins and rooms in the main house and old woolshed. A couple of the living areas double as dusty (thanks to the dirt bikes) libraries, containing all manner of obscure books and magazines. I found a 1969 Women's Weekly and books that had been remaindered at least 50 years ago.
The furniture is equally eclectic - some so ancient it would be left untouched by even the most ardent inorganic-collection hunter.
When it comes to food, guests either cook their own, in one of two large kitchens, or eat with the Bennett clan and Wwoofers - at $15 for an evening meal. Full-cream milk from the farm is free and plentiful.
Finally, the bill at the end of the holiday was a pleasant surprise. All up, five nights' accommodation, and six days of horse and motorbike riding, swimming, kayaking, milking and having a good time came to less than $500 for three people.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: The Farm is at Russell Rd, Whangaruru, Northland, ph (09) 433 6894, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accommodation: $30-$40 a person, a night. Camping: $13 a person.
Food: breakfast $5, lunch $8, dinner $15.
Distance from Auckland: 213km.