River’s Edge Retreat. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

BECKIE WILSON

beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

Sheep and beef farmers can think outside the square, as two South Wairarapa farms have.

They’ve gone beyond the traditional farming practices and broadened their income streams to incorporate unique farm accommodation, showcasing the rural life and the region.

Having nearly fully booked accommodation every weekend for the past eight months, bar a handful, is encouraging for Lisa and Kurt Portas of Palliser Ridge Station, located along the coast of South Wairarapa.

Late afternoon drinks. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

The couple, along with the farm owners Jim and Marilyn Law launched their new on-farm off-the-grid accommodation, Kaikoura Lookout, in February.

“Our on-farm group got together a few years ago to look at what our additional ventures outside of the core sheep and beef business would look like,” Lisa said.

The accommodation was an idea of the Law’s many years ago as the long-term income stream was appealing, she said.

“It seemed to add easily to our mantra of opening our gates so that people could stay or visit the farm and learn about our products and our way of life.

“And that view, is just too amazing not to share,” Lisa said.

“Just above the site, is our aptly named Lookout Paddock, where we’ve all taken our families for a fish and chip picnic with a wine or two and watched the sun set.”

The relaxing one-bedroom retreat is located amongst native wetlands with a view towards the Kaikoura Ranges and the sea.

The off-the-grid living has the basic comforts of home, with a hot tub, and uses gas and solar power which allows for only basic charging of a cellphone. Anything bigger is not compatible with the hut’s system.

The off the grid space.

Kaikoura Lookout is a long-term investment.

“Building accommodation from scratch is definitely a long-term game, which we are realistic about.

“The day to day running on its own is absolutely worthwhile financially, and where we can encourage longer stays, the margin increases, but it will be a wee while before we make back what we spent to get it up and running.”

Palliser Ridge continues to expand its products outside of the core sheep and beef business.

“Kurt runs the business and the books for the main farm, and I run the books and the operations for the expansion side (wool, honey, lamb, beef – when sold as branded items), tourism options and the accommodation offer,” Lisa said.

The accommodation sits in the middle of the property meaning all staff work closely together around access onto the farm.

“The on-farm team have an interactive calendar which is updated regularly, so they can see exactly when the bookings are taking place, and plan movement around that area accordingly where possible.”

On top of the accommodation, Palliser Ridge offers a range of activities and extras during their stay, including farm tours and gift baskets with Palliser Ridge products.

Lisa and Kurt Portas with their two children Beauden and Axel.

Lisa said she was so grateful for being only an hour and a half from Wellington, and the international airport.

About 80 per cent of their clientele is from Wellington, and the rest is made up from other New Zealanders, a few Australian visitors, and international visitors.

Palliser Ridge has begun working with Amalgamated Helicopters to offer scenic flights out to Cape Palliser, with pick up from the neighbouring paddock.

“Cape Palliser has really been put on the tourist map in recent months, and many of our guests are here to visit the Lighthouse, or to walk the Pinnacles,” Lisa said.

Lisa said people enjoy sitting amongst native bush, looking out to the ocean and switching off from everyday life.

“It’s just a great place to reset yourself.”

Glamping, a niche market

A riverside glamping retreat near Martinborough is paying off, with Nicki and Matt Thomas about to invest in their second glamping tent.

The South Wairarapa night sky at River’s Edge Retreat.

Since launching the accommodation, River’s Edge Retreat, in November 2016, summers are booked out by visitors wanting to escape the city life and spend time by the river.

The couple host guests on Llandrindod Farm, a sheep and beef farm owned by Matt’s father, Rex. They explored several ideas to widen their income stream before narrowing it down to glamping.

After a year of hard research into the glamping market, they felt confident that there was a niche market for it in Martinborough.

Consents, engineered tent designs and construction took over a year, during which they put forward significant expenditure, Nicki said.

The nightly rate is $295, but Nicki said there are many costs “before we get a slice of the pie”.

“It is still however worth doing it as an additional income stream to supplement the main streams of income,” she said.

River’s Edge Retreat is a form of glamping accommodation, just out of Martinborough in the Ruakokoputuna Valley.

The luxury tent sits on the river’s edge, set in a private and natural environment.

The tent interiors include special features – touches of recycled timber, luxurious textiles and an old chandelier all giving off a rustic chic glamping vibe.

It has a flushing toilet, and an outdoor bath.

The interior of the River’s Edge Retreat.

Getting away from the busy life to unwind in a peaceful farm environment is a drawcard, with Wellingtonians as their typical customers.

Working out a business plan to fit in with the glamping busy season, the family’s other businesses and family time was important.

On top of working around their children, Ben and Henry are keen sportsmen, Matt farms on leased land and runs a no-tillage contracting business.

The busy time for these businesses is the off-season for glamping, meaning Matt will be the man on the ground for the glamping side of things when Nicki begins work as a lawyer next year.

They are currently building their second glamping site to pick up the overflow of summer bookings for their first tent.

“There is more uncertainty as to how successful we will be filling the bookings of our second site as the glamping market is niche,” she said. “Not every person

seeking accommodation wants to go glamping so it’s possible that our first site has already satisfied the demand out there.”

Besides guests looking for a glamping escape, the diverse tourism offerings in the South Wairarapa contributes towards attracting them, Nicki said.

“We have Patuna Chasm walk further up our road which is very popular with our guests. Almost every guest over summer does the walk and loves it. There are also the local vineyards, the drive to Cape Palliser/Lake Ferry via Pirinoa,  and the shops, cafes and restaurants in Martinborough Village.

“Now the South Wairarapa also has the prospect of being Dark Sky certified which will further expand the diversity of local tourism.”

This article is part of the rural series, ‘Beckie’s Block’, in each Thursday edition.