Timaru: Under the Milky Way

By Sheriden Rhodes

A weekend on a farm charms Sheriden Rhodes.

Without the interference of city lights the stars over Centre Hill Cottage put on a show. Photo / Supplied
Without the interference of city lights the stars over Centre Hill Cottage put on a show. Photo / Supplied

A stay at Centre Hill Cottage near Timaru is one of the best family travel experiences going. The same cannot be said for all farmstays. Some leave a lot to be desired when it comes to style and comfort.

The Timaru farmer who owns this one, however, knows how to put the luxe into farmstays.

I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why farmer Ian Blakemore is single. Not only is he healthy and fit at 65 years of age, but he's also a rarity - a farmer with all the qualities of a metrosexual.

Aside from the fact that Centre Hill Cottage, a self-contained house on organic Centre Hill Farm in Pleasant Point, is warm and sweetly smelling when we check in one fine spring afternoon, there's a vacuum cleaner outside the door.

We marvel at the homely stylishness of the two-bedroom cottage, located above the fertile farmland of Totara Valley two hours from Christchurch.

There's a wonderful hamper with New Zealand white wine, fruit, cheese and crackers to enjoy on the deck overlooking the rolling, fertile South Canterbury landscape, and a wood fire, laid and waiting for us to light.

Outdoors we see an even more enticing sight - a bath surrounded by lanterns with a lush sheep paddock as a backdrop.

Convinced there must be a Mrs Blakemore, we go for a walk taking in views of the snow-capped Southern Alps and breathing the crisp, country air.

As we return, we see Ian walking towards us across the paddock. He apologises for the vacuum cleaner being on the doorstep when we arrived.

"Didn't see your car come up the driveway," he explains as we head to the shed where Ian sorts the organic Agria potatoes grown on the farm.

My friend and I exchange glances. We quickly work out that Ian not only knows a thing or two about running a farm, but also about offering an experience a notch above the average farmstay.

That night under a clear dark sky blanketed with stars, my friend and I take turns soaking in the warmth of the candlelit outdoor bath (built by Ian). As I gaze up at the Milky Way, the sheep bleat contentedly in the paddock and I sip on a glass of sauvignon blanc - just as contentedly.

It's an experience to rival many top day spas, and I've been in a few.

If you were travelling as a couple, Centre Hill Cottage offers plenty of country romance. Aside from the outdoor bath, the indoor bathroom with underfloor heating offers a raised spa bath with magical views of the countryside.

There are farm walks, world-famous fishing rivers, local artisans and the Mt Dobson and Fox skifields are just an hour away.

For families it's heaven on a stick. Kids will love collecting the eggs from Ian's hens, sorting the organic potatoes grown on the property and patting the sheep and lambs.

Ian can take the family on a farm walk to see the deer he raises for venison and, if the kids are lucky, he'll take them for a spin on his quad-bike.

It was a highlight for my 3-year-old daughter, Ella, who adored Ian, trailing him as he worked on the farm and going for walks with him carrying her on his shoulders. She loved getting her hands dirty, holding the chickens and collecting their fresh-laid eggs.

Every guest also gets a 5kg bag of Ian's delicious organic Agria potatoes, which we cooked up that night for Ella with a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper - possibly the best mashed potato she'd ever eaten.

The next morning Ian greeted us with a beautifully presented breakfast tray of home-baked bread, warm eggs fresh from the hens, organic fruit salad and freshly squeezed juice. And yes, Ian baked the bread himself.

As he sees us off down the farm's driveway, tearing alongside our car on his quad-bike, we all agree this is country living at its best.

IF YOU GO

Rates are $250-$350 per night for two, plus $60 a night for each extra person, including breakfasts, welcome hamper and a 5kg bag of Ian Blakemore's organic potatoes. Discounts are offered for stays longer than four nights and off-season bookings. Ph (03) 614 7385 or see centrehillcottage.com.

- Herald on Sunday

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