Hawkes Bay: The good life

By Tim Roxborogh

At Mangarara, they put the planet before money, writes Tim Roxborogh.
Hart family: Emma 10, Bill 10, Greg, George 11, and Rachel who own Mangarara Eco Lodge and Station. Photo / Warren Buckland
Hart family: Emma 10, Bill 10, Greg, George 11, and Rachel who own Mangarara Eco Lodge and Station. Photo / Warren Buckland

Standing with my head dangerously close to the cow's rear end, I'd been assigned the task of attaching the suction cup apparatus to the teats. I hadn't milked a cow since the 80s and it was oddly satisfying how each cup would so neatly swallow its assigned teat.

Equipment attached and with a brief surge of confidence about my abilities as a city boy on a farm, I jumped out of the pit, a job well done.

Maybe it was my swift exit that startled the girls, but mere seconds after I exited the pit, sloppy faeces rained forth from one of the other cows, right where I'd just been.

"Sorry girls!" I pleaded, apologising to the cows and to Greg the Sheep for getting his gender wrong. Not Greg the Farmer, the owner of this tremendous and genuinely inspiring Hawkes Bay eco farm and lodge, but Greg the Sheep.

Greg the Sheep is a big lad with a regal air who prefers female company of the cattle variety. Most mornings as the cows lumber their way to and from the milking pen, Greg the Sheep can be found walking and watching at their side.

He looked at me like I was pesky piece of insignificance, not worthy of too much upset.

As for Greg the Farmer (hereby known as Greg), he just laughed.

There's not a lot that's going to throw someone who, for nearly 20 years, has run a mountainous 610ha farm in one of the drier parts of New Zealand, Central Hawkes Bay.
That said, the Mangarara Eco Lodge and Station isn't just another large Hawkes Bay farm.

Greg Hart, his wife Rachel and their three primary school-age children are overseeing a property that is much more about ethos than it is profit. "Grateful always" is painted on the wall of their luxury lodge living room and the family proffers a nightly version of grace grounded in simple gratitude rather than doctrine.

Eco Lodge, Mangarara Farms. Photo / Warren Buckland
Eco Lodge, Mangarara Farms. Photo / Warren Buckland

Being grateful for what they have and what the planet gives us is part of the Hart family philosophy, but so, too, is the notion this is a fragile world where the balance between economics and environment is seriously out of whack.

"We believe in the idea of 'a great life with just one bad day' for the animals," says Greg with sincerity and a smile.

If that described our human existence, life would be incredible. And when you frame it that way for farm animals whose lives ultimately end as food, it doesn't sound nearly so bad.

The Mangarara animals are happy, whether they're the cows who almost poohed on me, the free-ranging chickens with their mobile hen-houses, the sheep who scattered in uniformed unison or the carefree piggies who bunged their hooves in their troughs as they wolfed down their near people-worthy breakfast.

Mangarara Farms, Patangata, regenerative farming methods. Photo / Warren Buckland
Mangarara Farms, Patangata, regenerative farming methods. Photo / Warren Buckland

It's food - and good, healthy, ethically produced food - that is one of the strong focuses for Mangarara and this is reflected in the restaurant-certified kitchen in the property's lodge.

It sits between the bedrooms that sleep up to 17 and the outdoor dining room on one side, and the indoor dining room and living room on the other, and guests can prepare their own Mangarara-grown meat and veges either with or without Greg and Rachel's assistance.

The lodge is gorgeous and wood-adorned and overlooks the birdlife overflowing Horseshoe Lake with its central, forested island. Kayaks and a dinghy are available for exploring, though the island itself is almost impenetrable. An island bush walk is a possibility in the future.

Which brings us to arguably the most admirable part of the Mangarara philosophy: reforestation. The Harts can remember a time when their island was sparse enough the idea of a designated path was unnecessary.

Intentionally allowing the island to overgrow, they have also actively done something that may cut into their immediate profits: converting farmland into native forest.

The farm is the first benefactor of the Air New Zealand Environment Trust. It is a few years since almost $500,000 was set aside for the replanting of some 85,000 trees.

Greg Hart looks over some of the older trees on Mangarara Station Elsthorpe, were he has been planting 85000 carbon credit trees on marginal land. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Greg Hart looks over some of the older trees on Mangarara Station Elsthorpe, were he has been planting 85000 carbon credit trees on marginal land. Photo / Glenn Taylor

Hiking through the regenerating hillside forest, I also got to see one of the few preciously preserved tracts of original forest of the Mangarara Station. It was only last month, with help again from Air New Zealand, that a signposted bush walk appeared among these trees.

Walking through the forest, Greg and I talked about one of the great paradoxes of New Zealand: a cliched reputation of "clean and green" that somehow co-exists with a reality where more than 77 per cent of this country's native forest cover has been destroyed and two thirds of our rivers are unswimmable.

Greg and Rachel would rather depart this world having left it richer environmentally, than having farewelled it financially richer themselves.

And that's what is so exciting about Mangarara. Sure, if all you want is a luxury escape in a beautiful lodge next to a photogenic lake and its surrounding countryside, you won't be let down.

But if you like the idea we should strive to leave planet Earth better than when we found it, Mangarara is a small slice of New Zealand where that lofty dream can be realised.

Need to know:

Mangarara Eco Lodge is about 50 minutes' drive from Napier Airport at 298 Mangarara Rd,
RD 2, Otane, 4277, Hawkes Bay.
Visit mangarara.co.nz for more.

Tim Roxborogh is on ZB's The Two, 8pm-11pm Sunday.

- Spy.co.nz

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