Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Hipsters pay for farm view

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South Island couple Genna and Alistair Bird have opened a door to a world of people wanting to soak up a panoramic view from their Tiny House on a hill. Tim Fulton reports.
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Hipsters are getting to know The Grange and the open skies and plains of Canterbury.

Genna and Alistair Bird run a 560ha sheep and beef farm near Ashley Gorge, just out of Oxford. 

They started welcoming guests a year ago, not long after buying a Tiny House and dragging it up a hill with a tractor.

Since opening the house to guests in August last year they’ve booked 28 one-night or weekend stays and 64 horse-riding trips.

The farm is still easily their biggest earner but Beef + Lamb New Zealand recently invited the couple to talk to other North Canterbury farmers about farm tourism.

Karetu Downs Farmstay near Amberley also shared its experience as did the owner of a North Canterbury trophy-hunting business.

Genna said she and Alistair had been looking for extra income and wanted to show non-farmers a slice of their life. 

The online Airbnb accommodation platform paved the way.

“We’re charging for the view. 

“We’re charging for people to come in and say ‘wow, this is really peaceful’.”

The Tiny House venture defied their expectations. They originally envisaged guests would want to walk up to the house but so far no one has.

And they expected most guests would be from Christchurch but instead many are Australians flying in for an evening of dinner, wine and star-gazing.

“The kind of people we got in was kind of hipster types from Melbourne.” 

Some visitors are more adventurous so Alistair built a seat on a ridge about 100m above the Tiny House.

The Birds originally wanted to put their pint-sized lodge on that ridge but it was 700m further along a track, more exposed to the elements and perhaps too much for the average guest.


Still, the seat is a resting spot for a short walk around the immediate area and taking in the scenery. 

“They carry their glasses up there, sit up there and drink their wine.”

Alistair is partial to sitting on the seat himself, which is probably fair enough because he knocked the seat into rock to put it there. 

“I quite like sitting up there when I’m mustering that paddock.”

Every guest has a favourite moment from their stay and probably a different reason for coming, Genna said.

Some want the stars, dinner and a glass or two of wine while others like to soak up the story of The Grange, with a farming history going back into the 19th century. 

“I popped a few books up here because the family who were here for a very long time, the Hendersons, the history is amazing. 

It helps that the Birds are always up for a challenge, whether it’s practising condition scoring or keeping their kids busy during field days on the farm. 

At a B+LNZ science day at The Grange Genna managed to distract the children with chalk on the shearing board.

Finding a way to farm, host and mind the children is a serious business.

Genna said guests tend to be fussy about dust and she hates cleaning so they continually calculate how much their time is worth. Replacing the Tiny House with a more manageable building is therefore a top business priority.

People often asked them about health and safety liability over the tourism but it hasn’t been too onerous. 

All Tiny House guests are directed to information when they book and horse-riders are also given a briefing.

One day the Birds found a Worksafe officer waiting for them at the mailbox, waiting for the all-clear to enter the farm. They went through the sign-in protocols for guests and other requirements. 

“It was all pretty straightforward,” Genna said.

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