Business Rural North Autumn 2021

22 | Farming and tourism successful blend Virginia Wright T he first time Dan Steele drove through the wild country in the Kaitieke valley with his parents, Richard and Rachel, to look at a farm they were thinking of buying he knew he was in a special part of New Zealand. “Just coming down the back country road I felt like I was coming home,” says Dan, “ and I said you’ve got to buy this place before I even saw the farm.” That was in 1993; his parents followed his advice and bought Retaruke Station. Home for Dan is now right next door on Blue Duck Station which he runs together with the home farm to create a successful mix of traditional farming, honey, and tourism. After a stint as an auctioneer, then as a stock agent, and a couple of years travelling overseas, Dan came back to work with his parents on Re- taruke Station in 1999. In 2005 he began buying three neighbouring parcels of land, each small enough to make them difficult to sustain economi- cally, but together enough for Dan to have a bit of scale and to start putting his vision of diversifying the land into action – to make use of its natural wilderness rather than try and tame it. “I felt like it was a last opportunity to put a big station together. I knew this land was really special and I didn’t want it to be snapped up by a wealthy foreigner for a bolt hole or a hunting estate,” Dan explains. Dan’s vision has never been just about farm- ing the land in the traditional sense. “Some of the steepest rainforest should never have been cut out of the bush if you put your hand on your heart,” he says. He disputes the traditional usage of the term “effective”. “I’m making more out of reverting land, with honey and the various other activities, than I would if I was able to farm it, so our land’s 100% effective but I’m farming about 50% of it with traditional livestock.” Between the two stations they run 5500 sheep, 800 cattle, and 100 or so red deer, but it’s the combined streams of manuka honey and tourism that bring in the bulk of their income. The underlying ethos of everything they do at Blue Duck Station is conservation and the name itself reflects that as Dan explains. “I knew it was a pretty special environment and I noticed a lot of RURAL PEOPLE » Blue Duck Station: Dan Steele these little ducks living in the forest when I was poking around and hunting up all the little bush streams. I was learning more about them when I realized that they were disappearing in front of my eyes from feral cats hunting them.” Dan went to DOC and worked with a couple of the local managers on fixing the problem of the cats as well as the stoats, weasels and ferrets. From there he set up the whole place as a conservation project. Blue Duck Station has always been a fam- ily affair. As well as leasing the home farm from his parents, Dan’s older brother Richard is the resident mechanic and his Rotorua-based younger sister Anna does the business advice and ac- counting in her role at RightWay. Around the same time as Dan was buying his first parcel of land his wife, Sandy Waters started her own tourism business when she turned the old nurses’ home at Raetihi Hospital into a 60 bed lodge. “We met a few years after that through tourism,” says Dan, “then we joined forces and she came out here in 2010.” The family has since expanded to include Blue (10yrs), Snow (6yrs) and three-year-old twin boys Forest and River. You can find Blue Duck Station in the very centre of the north island up a valley that time’s forgotten. As Dan likes to say, “we’re half way be- tween Auckland and Wellington, half way between Tauranga and New Plymouth and the furthest place from the beach in New Zealand by road, on the edge of the Whanganui National Park.” The Steeles have made their little bit of paradise accessible with six lodges and 12 staff facilitating a diverse range of activities - horse- trekking, jet-boating with history tours, guided hunting with a strong teaching component, especially for younger people and canoe journey, to name a few. The station is also on the biggest walking trail in New Zealand, the Te Araroa Trail which runs from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and they’re about to be inundated with mountain bikers doing the cycling equivalent on the Tour Aotearoa. They offer accommodation for the Mountain to Sea Cycle trail that runs from Ruapeha to Whanganui or you can just go and hang out and enjoy what the bush, the rivers, and a strong drive to preserve it all, have to offer. “It’s our home, you’ve got to look after it, and the best way to look after it is to look after Mother Nature,” says Dan. “It provides us with clean air, clean water and good food. What else do you need?” For all bike sales, Service work & Accessories... 5 Maniapoto Street, Otorohanga 35 Hakiaha Street, Taumarunui 07 873 8196 07 895 7994 | On top of the world on top of a horse at Blue Duck Station. Proud to support Dan & Sandy at Blue Duck Station and Lodge. Covering Hawkes Bay and Ruapehu - Call us for all your Regional Connectivity requirements i ll ll i l i i i 0800 100 534 | |