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Jenss Family Travels: Harris Hill Farm

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Rainer Jenss and his family are currently on an around-the-world journey, and they’re blogging about their experiences for us at Intelligent Travel. Keep up with the Jensses by bookmarking their posts, and follow the boys’ Global Bros blog at National Geographic Kids.

It’s nearly impossible to travel anywhere outside of a major city in New Zealand without catching an eye-full of sheep within easy view of your car window. It’s well documented that there are about 40 million of them grazing the country, or ten times more than the four million human inhabitants of the North and South Islands. So why, after spending more than three weeks exploring this British Commonwealth nation, would we want to spend our final week surrounded by 300 more of them? Because a farm-stay offered us a chance to pack away the suitcases for a while and experience the country’s traditional way of life, not to mention its heart and soul: their people.

Having searched the Internet for just the right one, we realized shortly after pulling into the driveway of Maggie’s Cottage that Carol discovered a gem when she booked us on the Harris Hill Farm just outside the city of Nelson on the South Island. Unlike the countless farms we saw driving through New Zealand’s countryside, this small farm was perched high over a major city and had a view that would rival any in the region.

Harris Hill encompasses 475 acres of rolling hills and native bush overlooking Tasman Bay and the surrounding mountains. It’s run by Sue and Mike, along with their five children and numerous in-laws. Their guests have the option to help out if they wish, so Tyler and Stefan found their own unique way to lend a hand. After every meal, they raced to feed the resident pig with our leftovers and scraps. If this boar’s size is any indication, Harris Hill’s guests and residents must leave quite a lot on their plates! Although we couldn’t actually participate (for fear that we might seriously do harm to ourselves or the sheep), watching Mike and his son-in-law shear their sheep was certainly an impressive feat.

Another major draw for spending a week on this particular farm was its central location to the plethora of outdoor activities and leisurely pursuits around the Nelson area. To appreciate just how much there is to do here, if my hometown of New York City is to entertainment and culture what Nelson is to the outdoors and adventure, then you’d have a pretty even match. This area, it seemed, offers so many cool activities and natural beauty, that it’s almost impossible to experience them all, but we sure did give it a go.

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The city of Nelson itself is quaint and very accessible. Perhaps its most celebrated tourist attraction–that we were told not to miss–was the WOW Museum, a rather eclectic gallery featuring a strange mix of award-winning garments designed as works of art from New Zealand’s annual World of Wearable Arts Awards Show and an impressive collection of classic automobiles spanning three centuries of motoring. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when we walked in, but we were pleasantly surprised at how much we all enjoyed it–including the kids (for some strange reason!).

Something that we figured the boys wouldn’t appreciate quite as much were the renowned vineyards of the nearby Marlborough region. Knowing that we couldn’t subject them to hours of wine tasting, we settled for having lunch at a couple of the better known wineries, which seemed to work for everyone. It truly astonished us that with all the amazing natural beauty we’d already seen here that there’d be room left over for growing grapes for world-class wines. What does this country not have?

Something we knew would suit the boys just fine were some of the adventurous pursuits, like the ATV quad bike tour through the hills of nearby Happy Valley. We combined the tour with a ride down the world’s longest “flying fox” called the SkyWire. It’s a nearly one-mile-long zip-line that propels you at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, 400 feet above the region’s beautiful native forest.

But perhaps the area’s biggest attraction is the tropical beauty of Abel Tasman National Park (above right) and wonderful isolated beaches of the Golden Bays. Not wanting to subject the rest of the family to more windy roads and hours in the car, I took the drive to the Golden Bays on my own. Although the round-trip took up almost the entire day, it was well worth the effort to reach Wharariki Beach, where the wild surf of the Tasman Sea pounds one of the most dramatic beaches I’ve ever set foot on.

The next day, I piled everyone back into the car for a day-trip across the bay to Abel Tasman that turned out to be one of the trip’s highlights. It’s widely accepted that the best way to catch a glimpse of the golden sandy beaches along the coastline of this national park is by kayak. So we were quite frustrated to learn that the minimum age for most sea kayak rentals was twelve. Fortunately, we did find one operator, Tasman Charters, that would take our 9- and 11- year-olds on a full-day combination boating/hiking/kayak trip. This allowed us to not only see the most beautiful areas of the park, it got us up close and in the water with seals that colonize the rocky coast of the Tonga Island Marine Reserve.

Shortly before the end of our stay, we met a retired couple from Florida, who, instead of splitting their time in more traditional locales like the northern part of the U.S., spend six months of the year in a cottage on Harris Hill, and have done so for the last six years . . . an idea, that I told Carol, we might seriously want to consider when the time comes. For now, the time has come for us to leave New Zealand, a realization none of us were too happy with as we truly loved every moment in this wonderful country.

Photos: Rainer Jenss

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