Farm tourism is one way dairy farmers can help improve the public's understanding of the sector.

It gives non-farmers an insight into dairying and country life, and lets them see first-hand how farmers care for their environment and their animals.

Sharing slice of paradise

Perched high on a hill overlooking Waikato River, Te Papa Eco Cottage receives rave reviews from guests. So do the hosts, Stu and Kim Muir, who farm at Aka Aka, near Pukekohe.

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"Plus, knowing they're helping support our environmental work is a feel-good for visitors. They get to see the work we're doing and they know they're giving back to the environment during their stay."

Stu and Kim travelled extensively before they had cows and kids, so it was a natural step for them to share their home with overseas visitors and other Kiwis.

A guest enjoys the view from Te Papa Eco Cottage, owned by Stu and Kim Muir.
A guest enjoys the view from Te Papa Eco Cottage, owned by Stu and Kim Muir.

"Building separate accommodation for visitors was always something we were going to do," says Stu. "With the downturn it seemed like the right time, not just as a bit of additional revenue, but also to give us something that was enjoyable to do during a worrying time."

They recycled timber on the farm to inexpensively build what a recent guest described as "an absolutely gorgeous little slice of paradise".

Te Papa Eco Cottage, which runs on solar power, welcomed its first paying visitors 18 months ago. Guests staying in whitebait season can use the gas cooktop to whip up a batch of fritters.

The whitebait are now plentiful in the river below, thanks to the couple's considerable environmental work, which includes 20-plus whitebait spawning ponds.

Stu and Kim carry out ongoing pest and weed eradication, plus extensive planting of mostly native species.

The cottage provides a secure funding stream for this work, says Stu.

An Off The Beaten Track cabin offers visitors a rarely seen slice of rural New Zealand.
An Off The Beaten Track cabin offers visitors a rarely seen slice of rural New Zealand.

"Plus, knowing they're helping support our environmental work is a feel-good for visitors. They get to see the work we're doing and they know they're giving back to the environment during their stay."

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He adds that with tourism and farming the mainstays of the economy, farmers are ideally placed to take advantage of both.

"And, at the same time they're helping to educate people who don't know too much about farming, or the rural way of life."

The couple also host school visits through DairyNZ's Find a Farmer programme. To give schoolchildren and other guests an up-close view of the spawning ponds, and to see the abundant birdlife, the Muirs are now planning to build a bridge and walkways.

Getting off the beaten track

Another agri-tourism business that's connecting holiday makers with a taste of authentic rural New Zealand is Off the Beaten Track (OTBT), owned by Waikato dairy farmers Roy and Michele Connell.

Some years ago, the Connells were watching an episode of Country Calendar featuring a beautiful South Canterbury dairy farm with river and bush views. The only people enjoying these stunning sights were the four farm-owning family members.

Dairy was facing economic challenges at the time, so Michele started wondering how farmers could share their land with others and reap an economic benefit. The Connells carried out some market research and that gave them the confidence to launch OTBT, an online platform allowing farmers to offer accommodation to visitors.

"[This] is something New Zealanders take for granted. For an overseas visitor, what we term our 'ordinary', through their eyes is 'extraordinary'."

The concept was received enthusiastically by the tourism and outdoor industries, local councils, and other rural sector organisations that have provided support.

Michele says anyone who owns a slice of paradise can earn money by sharing it with visitors.

"Not only is belonging to OTBT financially rewarding, but it's an opportunity for farmers to show off their wonderful properties and meet new people.

"With most of our beautiful country in private ownership, OTBT is about connecting lovers of the great outdoors with undiscovered locations and experiences.

Roy and Michele Connell, owners of Off the Beaten Track.
Roy and Michele Connell, owners of Off the Beaten Track.

"This needn't be confined to land; you could use the family bach, the hay barn with a cosy loft, or the perfect spot to park a motorhome.

"You can have as little or as much interaction with visitors as you wish and don't need to provide anything additional.

"The only criterion for being part of OTBT is that the location must be off the beaten track," she says.

Tourism chief backs concept

Hamilton and Waikato Tourism chief executive Jason Dawson says he's all for developing more 'open the farm gate' concepts.

"Our open pastures, picking fruit from trees, digging up vegetables and seeing milk production in action with a dairy herd, is something New Zealanders take for granted," he says. "For an overseas visitor, what we term our 'ordinary', through their eyes is 'extraordinary'."

He says dairy farmers opening up their gates, land and homes to be explored by visitors not only brings a positive economic gain, it also creates social and cultural benefits for farming families and visitors alike.

"It's also a great opportunity to educate our domestic visitors about the importance of the primary sector, using experiences to positively tell the dairy story and build loyalty."¦ Inside Dairy

Visit dairynz.co.nz/insidedairy for more details