Standing with my head dangerously close to the cow’s buttocks, I’d been assigned the task of attaching the suction cup apparatus to the teats. I hadn’t milked a cow since the 80s and it was oddly satisfying how each cup would so neatly swallow their assigned teat. Equipment attached and with a brief surge of confidence about my abilities as a city boy on a farm, I jumped out of the pit a job well done.
Maybe it was my swift exit that startled the girls, but mere seconds from the pit and slops of faeces rained forth from one of the other cows, right where I’d just been. “Sorry girls!” I pleaded, apologising to the cows and to Greg The Sheep for getting his gender wrong. Not Greg The Farmer, the owner of this tremendous and genuinely inspiring Hawke’s Bay eco farm and lodge, but Greg The Sheep.
Greg The Sheep is a big lad with a regal air who prefers female company of the cattle variety. Most mornings as the cows lumber their way to and from the milking pen, Greg The Sheep can be found walking and watching at their side. Greg The Sheep looked at me like I was pesky piece of insignificance, not worthy of too much upset.
As for Greg The Farmer (hereby known as “Greg”), well he just laughed. There’s not a lot that’s going to throw someone who for nearly 20 years has run a mountainous 610ha farm in one of the drier parts of New Zealand, Central Hawkes Bay. That said, the Mangarara Eco Lodge and Station isn’t just another large Hawkes Bay farm.
Together with his wife Rachel and their three primary school-age children, the Hart family are overseeing a property that is so much more about ethos than it is profit. “Grateful always” is painted on the wall of their luxury lodge living room and the family proffers a version of grace every night that is grounded in simple gratitude rather than doctrine.
Being grateful for what they have and what the planet gives us is part of the Hart family philosophy, but so too is the notion this is a fragile world where the balance between economics and environment has gotten seriously out of whack.
“We believe in the idea of ‘a great life with just one bad day’ for the animals,” says Greg with both sincerity and a smile. Which if that described our human existence then life would be incredible. And when you frame it that way for farm animals whose lives ultimately end as food, it doesn’t sound nearly so bad. The Mangarara animals are happy, whether they’re the cows who almost poohed on me, the free-ranging chickens with their mobile hen-houses, the sheep who scattered in uniformed unison or the carefree piggies who bunged their hooves in their troughs as they wolfed down their near people-worthy breakfast.
It’s food – and good, healthy, ethically produced food – that is one of the strong focuses for Mangarara and this is reflected in the restaurant-certified kitchen in the property’s lodge. Positioned between the bedrooms (that sleep up to 17) and the outdoor dining-room on one side, and the indoor dining-room and living room on the other, guests can prepare their own Mangarara-grown meat and veges either with or without Greg and Rachel’s assistance.
The lodge itself is gorgeous and wood-adorned and overlooks the bird-life overflowing Horseshoe Lake with its central, forested island. Kayaks and a dinghy are available for exploring, though the island itself is almost impenetrable. An island bush walk is a possibility in the future.
Which brings us to arguably the most admirable part of the Mangarara philosophy: reforestation. The Harts can remember a time when their island was sparse enough that the idea of a designated path was unnecessary. Intentionally allowing the island to overgrow, they’ve also actively done something that may cut into their immediate profits: converting farmland into native forest.
As the very first benefactors of the Air New Zealand Environment Trust, it’s been a few years now since almost half a million dollars was set aside for the replanting of some 85,000 trees. Hiking through the regenerating hillside forest, I also experienced one of the few preciously preserved tracts of original forest of the Mangarara Station. It’s only since March of this year (with help again from Air New Zealand) that a signposted bush walk amongst these trees has existed.
Walking through the forest, Greg and I talked about one of the great paradoxes of New Zealand: a cliched reputation of “clean and green” that somehow co-exists with a reality where more than 77% of this country’s native forest cover has been destroyed and two thirds of our rivers are un-swimmable. Greg and Rachel would rather depart this world having left it richer environmentally, rather than having farewelled it financially richer themselves.
And that’s what is so exciting about Mangarara. Sure, if all you want is a luxury escape in a beautiful lodge next to a photogenic lake and its surrounding countryside, you won’t be let down. But if you like the idea we should strive to leave planet Earth better than when we found it, Mangarara is a small slice of New Zealand where that lofty dream can be realised.
Mangarara Eco Lodge is located an approximately 50-minute drive from Napier Airport at 298 Mangarara Road, RD 2, Otane, 4277, Hawke’s Bay, NZ.
- To find out more about Mangarara Eco Lodge, please visit their website Mangarara.co.nz.
- To learn about how a percentage of your tourist dollars at Mangarara helps support local charities, please click here.
- For information about the Newstalk ZB and Air New Zealand competition to win a family escape to Mangarara, please click here.
- To read my version of this article published by the New Zealand Herald under the name “Hawkes Bay: The good life” then please click here.