When Aaron Craig's wife told him he needed a life and a hobby she probably didn't think he would buy up 1600ha of pine forest near Whanganui, set up a deer breeding farm and build four luxury lodges. He tells Laurel Stowell how and why he did it.
Aaron Craig is an owner and director of Reliable Foundations - the biggest foundation company in New Zealand. It makes ribraft foundations that withstand earthquakes.
"Earthquakes turned the business into a gold mine, and from there people realised what a fabulous foundation it was."
Craig is selling the business in March next year. He may have more time in the Whanganui hinterland after that - but also has "a beautiful home" on the Kāpiti Coast.
Craig has travelled the world for hunting, and Namibia is one of his favourite places. So when his wife told him to stop working seven days a week and get a life he bought an 800ha hunting block on Tokomaru East Rd in 2015. Most of the land was steep and covered in pine trees, and there were thousands of deer and goats and kilometres of forest track.
The place was only two hours' drive from the Kāpiti Coast, and near his brother Jason's spread in Tokomaru West. That was the beginning.
"Then I thought we should build some lodges and do a bit of accommodation. Then I got carried away and built a big main lodge," Craig said.
He loves deer and turned the 32ha flat at the top of the property - 263m above sea level and a former asparagus farm - into a deer breeding farm. The farm and the lodges are now a kind of business.
When Aaron and Jenny Craig bought the land they didn't know much about forestry and hated the pine trees that covered most of it.
It wasn't until after Craig had bought another 600ha, then another 100ha and another 100ha, all adjoining, that he realised how valuable the trees were.
"They're worth millions upon millions. My kids will never have to worry about money."
Most of the pines have been thinned in the past few years, property manager Lance Davis said. Harvest will start in about seven years, and go on continuously for 15-17 years.
The forest was planted before 1990, so Craig can't claim carbon credits.
Any land cleared will be replanted, with some of it in mānuka. Craig already owns a mānuka "vineyard" in Auckland. There the trees are planted in rows and honey and mānuka oil are the harvest.
He's enjoyed meeting his Tokomaru neighbours, and they are glad he has fenced and gated his property. Each entrance has a sign saying private property, keep out, and warning of surveillance cameras. He's been told that before that poachers would come and go as they liked.
"People used to go up any time they wanted to."
The place, called Tokomaru Lifestyle online, will open to the public in spring and be the subject of a three-page spread in Air New Zealand's Kia Ora magazine during September, October, November and December. It's also about to have a new website.
Craig may let visitors shoot the odd deer, but he says it won't be about that. Instead people can feed the deer, drive the Can-Ams or cycle on the forestry tracks, arrive by helicopter and take helicopter trips to Mount Ruapehu, shoot at clay birds or targets, fish, walk or ride horses.
Or they can just laze around, enjoy his livestock and the country air. He's envisaging corporate and team-building groups using the place.
"It's not all about making money. In some ways I've made my money," he said.
The deer farm area has mowed verges and newly planted exotic trees. There's a large helipad inlaid with the name of the property and trophy deer heads. The entrance at the hilltop is marked by two wapiti statues.
There are three GJ Gardner-style lodges that each sleep four to six people, and a bigger lodge with five bedrooms and a huge deck that overlooks the Whanganui River. The lodges all have gas hot water, open fires and their electricity is provided by solar panels.
Each comes with a Can-Am vehicle that guests can use on the property roads.
The biggest lodge has a battery bank that stores enough electricity to last 20 days. Not only that, it has the heads of many trophy stags, a pizza oven, a barbecue, a chandelier, a spit roaster, a solar heated spa pool and a fire pit.
The master bedroom looks across a loop of the Whanganui River to Peter and Louise Oskam's property on the other side. The interior walls are lined with "barnwood" imported from the United States, and a stuffed bear stands in a central area of the ground floor.
Manager Lance Davis has a comfortable "barn" to live in, and says he loves being there.
Craig took his corporate clients to Namibia four times for hunting and he shot a moose and a bear in Canada. As a hunter he always used taxidermy to preserve trophies, and he ate what he killed. The meat of the moose was delicious, he said.
"The nicest meat I have ever had."
These days he's not so keen on hunting.
"I'm not one to shoot anything. I'm a big poofter. I don't like people who mistreat animals."
His 50 red deer and 30 wapiti were bought from breeders in Rotorua. They're in fenced paddocks on the top flat.
The red stags were to be for shooting, but they are so magnificent that he wants to keep them.
"I wouldn't sell them. I love having that place in the middle there where they walk around."
And people have been asking to buy his wapiti.
The two species will breed together, but he's keeping them separate. Wapiti or elk are native to North America and eastern Asia. They were introduced to New Zealand as game animals and are now no longer protected.
He's also got about 10 furry highland cattle, a group of about 50 special fallow deer brought in from Kaipara, two sika deer and 12 very rare pure white red deer.
He can keep and sell the deer, but can't legally release them. He doesn't agree with people who say deer have no place in New Zealand and destroy native forests.
"I say pull their head in. To me they're a beautiful, beautiful animal and the recreation sport is huge. I would rather have my kids out there shooting than sitting with a bloody iPad."
Out in the forest there are wild fallow, and he's seen just one sambar deer as well.
The deer have yards and a crush that's used to vaccinate them or remove their velvet. They can be hard to work with. Male deer sometimes fight each other, and Davis had a run-in with one recently.
"He knocked me over and danced on my back. They're quite vicious animals at times," he said.
The other wild animals on the property are peafowl - beautiful but annoying.
"That's my misery. Do you know how much grass they eat? A peacock eats the same as like a sheep. They're an absolute pest," Craig said.
The lodges have barely been used so far, and no one has had a dip in the spa pool yet. That could all change when Tokomaru Lifestyle opens to paying visitors in spring.