Agrodome Tourist Attraction
A long-running agricultural tourist attraction
In 1970, world champion sheep shearer Godfrey Bowen was asked to produce a show to represent New Zealand at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan. The ‘Sheep Show’ was such a hit that Godfrey, together with George Harford, decided to create a permanent home for it. The Agrodome opened its doors to tourists in 1971. Over the years, the show has been delivered by some of New Zealand’s very best sheep shearers.
In 1983, the sons of the original founders joined the Agrodome team and started the second generation of this family business. Godfrey Bowen and George Harford passed away in 2006.
In 2011 Ngai Tahu bought a majority stake in the business.
The Agrodome has won the coveted New Zealand Tourism Award for the New Zealand’s Best Visitor Attraction a number of times, and has been awarded more than once for outstanding service and contribution to the New Zealand tourism industry.
Steve Whyte is the operations manager at the Agrodome. He grew up in the area and has worked at farming, shearing and fencing before getting involved in tourism 20 years ago.
He started at the Agrodome as a general hand and worked his way up, first presenting shows and now running the day to day operation of the business. He has a staff of up to 60 people who keep New Zealand’s premier tourist attraction ticking over, from farm staff through to tour guides..
He says the biggest asset that he looks for in staff is a positive attitude. He reckons most of the rest can be taught. He is very mindful that visitors want to be informed but also entertained.
The Agrodome is not just a straight visitor attraction, it is also a 160-hectare sheep and cattle farm with 1200 sheep and 120 beef cattle. The land iw owned by Agrodome as well as a block it leases from the Rotorua A & P Society.
A flock of stud rams are kept close to the main tourist venue and appear regularly in the shows put on in the auditorium. Each of the main breeds are brought on stage one by one – Merino, Romney, Poll Dorset, Border Leicester, English Leicester, Corriedale and many others. Steve says one of the problems the show is facing is the fact that many of the iconic old breeds have been phased out of NZ sheep farming and have fallen into the category of rare breeds.
Each show has a presenter who must be an entertainer, as well as be able to shear sheep and run dogs. At the back of the hall is a team of translators who deliver the presenter’s commentary in a range of languages.
As well as the show, next door is a Farmyard Nursery where people can meet and greet baby animals.
As well as the animals on show in the auditorium, the Agrodome farm has a range of livestock which tourists can see by taking one of the many farm tractor tours. Visitors get to drive around the farm and stop off to feed the animals. Each tour has a tour guide who provides commentary in the language of the tour party.
Steve says the farm is like a ‘fishbowl’. Animals need to be in their best possible condition all year round. Any animals with temperament issues have to be kept away from the public or removed from the farm.
There are breeds of livestock that are kept for their eye appeal as much as for the farming appeal. Alpacas and ostriches have space along with rarer breeds of cattle like Highland and Brahman and Arapawa Island sheep.
Because it is a show farm, they try to make sure they have the ‘cute’ factor at the forefront. The farm tries to make sure it has lambs on the ground for as much of the season as possible.
Aside from managing staff, one of Steve’s big challenges is Health and Safety, not only for his staff but for the people visiting the farm.
Although the farm show first developed by Godfrey Bowen is still a centre piece of the Agrodome, the business hasn’t rested on its laurels. Various developments have been tried – not all of them successful.
Among the more successful ventures are the farm tours using tractors and trailers, but for the free independent travelers, the Agrodome recently introduced tours in 6 seater 4WD off road vehicles. These vehicles give the tourists a more intimate view of what it takes to run a working farm as well bit of excitement.
Steve says the new 4WD tours are proving to be very popular and will be a great addition to the suite of tour packages.
At the other end of the scale Agrodome has recently bought a team of Clydesdales, which Steve says will be providing tours at a slightly slower pace once they’ve restored the old wagon the horse team used to pull. The horses were an existing team bought from Devonport, north of Auckland.