Whenever someone asks me where my favourite place in New Zealand is you might think I’d say Wanaka with it’s beautiful lakes and mountains, or maybe the Coromandel with it’s long, white sandy beaches. I used to find it hard to decide where I liked best, but that was before I stumbled across Te Hapu Farm in the Golden Bay. But you won’t find this place in the Lonely Planet Guide Book, and it was by complete luck that I found it myself.
Last October I’d been looking for places to do some Wwoofing when I came across hosts, Sandra and Ken, who own a thousand acre sheep shearing and beef farm along with some holiday cottages. The farm lies on the North West tip of the South Island, in between the Kahurangi National Park and the Tasman Sea, right on the coast.
To get to the farm Chris and I drove towards Collingwood in the Golden Bay. From here the road quickly became unsealed, narrow and winding, and as we drove on I could feel civilisation being left behind us.
We followed Sandra’s directions until we turned off onto farmland. Following a long driveway we finally came to a house perched up on high ground and I couldn’t believe the views.
Surrounding the house were rolling, green, limestone hills that led onto a long sandy beach stretching for miles in each direction. I just stood there staring out at the Tasman Sea watching the waves rolling in as the sun shone and made the water sparkle. Out here I felt so removed from every thing. It was peaceful with raw natural beauty and when I looked at my phone and realised I’d lost internet reception, I couldn’t care less.
Sandra, a 70-year-old lady originally from London, greeted us with a pack of seven excited dogs. We got to know each other a bit over a cup of tea and found out how she’d moved to New Zealand to be with her Kiwi husband, Ken. Looking out the large kitchen windows I told Sandra how amazing this place was. “You should go out and explore a bit,” she said, “your Wwoofing jobs can wait until tomorrow!”
So we set off out of the house and over the hills to Gilbert Beach, one of the seven beaches on their land. As we walked we passed cows, sheep, ducks and chooks. This was my first time on a proper farm and the cows freaked me out a bit the way they just stood, staring at us. But we hurried along avoiding eye contact and they left us alone.
Before reaching the beach we had to clamber over limestone rocks and it made me laugh to see that Sandra and Ken had their very own ‘Pancake Rocks’. These formations were exactly the same as the popular tourist spot on the West Coast. The only difference was I could actually climb over and touch these ones, and had the whole area to myself!
On the beach Chris and I were instantly like kids again, clambering over rock faces, exploring limestone labyrinths, checking out the rock pools, we were gone for hours.
Over the next few days we got stuck into Wwoofing jobs for Sandra. She’s a keen gardener and has an absolutely amazing garden with every kind of vegetable you can think of. Our first job was emptying horse shit out of big heavy bags, and distributing it into smaller, more manageable bags to be used as compost. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, however, we seemed to unwittingly start with the older, more dried out shit, and it just got more moist and slimy as we went on. We also planted potatoes, cleaned out the house roof gutters, and made a big impact by weeding a seriously overgrown garden.
At night we joined Sandra and Ken for wholesome home cooked meals, which I can only describe as epic. The meat and veg was from their own back yard and there was always much more food than I could ever eat.
As I got to know the couple I soon saw how kind and incredibly open minded they were, especially when they spoke about other nationalities and cultures. They’d met each other when they were in their twenties, and since then had travelled all over the world and had three kids, two adopted and one of their own. Ken came across Te Hapu Farm when he worked at it as part of a Sheep Shearing Crew. He fell in love with the place and he just had to have it. It took a lot of saving and some seriously hard work but they managed it. “You don’t make money here, it’s more about the lifestyle and the location.” He explained, gesturing to the view out the window.
One morning we got up early and met up with Ken to go mustering. He had to move a herd of sheep and some cows to another field and would do this with his six dogs. Ken handed us a cane each and Chris and I jumped on the back of his quad bike. Then we all set off, the dogs running alongside. On route we found a little lost lamb. I ran after it, grabbing it before it escaped, and then we brought it back to it’s mother. I had to set it down and then run away fast as Ken said it probably thought I was now it’s mum after holding it.
The Te Hapu landscape is extremely hilly and uneven. Eventually we came to a point where we had to leave the quad bike behind and set off on foot to reach the animals that had to be moved. We walked along the beach before clambering up a steep hill, using the canes for balance the way Ken showed us. Once we reached the sheep Chris and I stood back and watched Ken and his dogs at work. They acted as a team, some of the dogs ran around the outside to round up the sheep while others stood back and barked, all the while listening to the different commands Ken gave by blowing a whistle. It was pretty impressive.
Before we left Ken said we had to do the Hapu Beach circuit walk. This is an 8km walk that takes you in a large loop around their farm; he’d marked this walk out himself. So on our penultimate day we got up early to complete our 4 hours of Wwoofing work, and then set off.
It took us scrambling up hills to amazing views, along bluffs and valleys, down a ladder into a labyrinth of limestone canyons, even into a 120 metre long cave, and finally down onto the long stretching beach. With the tide out we walked back towards the house, feeling completely isolated, a million miles away from anyone else. I would even go as far to say this was one of the best day walks I’ve done in New Zealand.
We only stayed with Sandra and Ken for five days but I felt like we’d gotten to know them so well in this short time. It was a bit of an emotional good bye; I don’t think I’ll ever forget my experience at Te Hapu Farm.
For more photos of Te Hapu Farm check out my photo gallery…