Rangitikei Farmstay

September 2015

Andrew and Kylie Stewart's farmstay business on the family farm "Tyrone"

Andrew and Kylie Stewart run Rangitikei Farmstay from their 630 hectare sheep and beef farm, Tyrone. Up to 22 people can stay at a time in accommodation ranging from a $30 bed in a bunkhouse to one of three stand-alone historic huts. Guests are invited to experience farm activities including mustering and shearing. Kiwi Experience recently added the farm-stay to its itinerary, as an option for groups of up to 16 people. The Stewarts also host an annual Mud Run. Farming remains the main income earner but tourism is a significant contributor.

Andrew and Kylie are the fourth generation of Stewarts to farm Tyrone near Marton in the Rangitikei district. The property has been owned by the family since 1901.

The couple headed overseas after getting married, including working on the Cayman Islands and touring many countries. That experience influenced their decision to open a farm-stay at Tyrone when they returned to New Zealand in 2008. At the time the land was leased so they both worked off-farm, Andrew as editor of the Young Country magazine and Kylie as a high school PE teacher.

Kylie recognised the potential of historic buildings on the farm, packed with three generations’ family treasures. Their accommodation business opened in 2008, introducing overseas and urban New Zealanders to a rural Kiwi experience. Practical skills and hard work along with help from overseas volunteers has made a success of the farmstay business, now in its eighth year.

In 2012 Andrew took over the farm, leased for five years. He helps out with the farm-stay business, a good income-earner which in 2013 won a Rural Women New Zealand Enterprising Women Business Award. Kylie says she’s been following a clear five-year plan.

The couple were both working fulltime off-farm when they started restoring buildings including the original homestead which had been a hayshed for many years, into dormitory and stand-alone accommodation. Generations of family treasures stored in the sheds became part of the décor, adding a sense of history to the venture.

Andrew had practical skills including building and basic plumbing and Kylie was good with a paintbrush, saving the cost of employing professionals. However, it was help from volunteer overseas workers on the WWOOF NZ scheme which made starting the business possible.

Marketing has relied on the business’s website, a Facebook page and tweeting says Kylie, who enjoys regularly posting photos and brief updates while Andrew does the writing. Word-of-mouth has also been important, with people who have enjoyed their rural Kiwi experience letting others know. This includes New Zealanders, some brought up on farms and wanting to share something of that experience with their children.

Kylie, who has a pre-schooler and is expecting another baby this year, manages the farm-stay while Andrew’s main job is running the farm. This can include cooking a menu of BBQ meat, salads and fresh bread for up to 55 people when buses pull in.

Rangitikei Farmstay also hosts New Zealand and overseas school-groups, with Kylie employing her teaching skills to give children a feel for what’s involved in farming sheep and cattle. Day visitors as well as overnight visitors are welcome.

The farm runs 2500 Romney ewes and 300 cattle. Stock are bred on the place and for the first time this season – despite drought – lambs have been finished after 60 hectares was planted in fodder crops.

Farm staff are selected to be good with people as well as stock, as part of their job is demonstrating mustering and shearing. At any time, they might find guests watching whatever job is going on at that time of year and asking questions.

Some visitors are happy just to meet or feed some friendly animals including miniature ponies, a pig, Clydesdale horse, goat, hens and sheep. Others are willing to pay for a tour, learning how the farm operates. They get to enjoy the farm landscape where Andrew’s father Hugh planted hundreds of poplars to stop erosion along with natives and fruit trees. Andrew planted a forest of over 40,000 pines in 2012.

For entertainment, there’s claybird shooting, hole-in-one golf and pony rides.

A recent highlight has been Kiwi Experience offering its passengers their only farm stay in New Zealand at Rangitikei Farmstay, a contact which came about through talking through options for tour-bus visits with Destination Manawatu.

Also on the farm tourism calendar is Rangitikei Farmstay’s third annual Mud Run over 3, 5 and 10km of the farm. Last year over 560 runners took part.

Returns from the farmstay business are yet to match the farming income but the couple are happy that it helps make up for the loss of Kylie’s teaching income while enabling her to stay at home.

It’s not all about business, Kylie says. She loves sharing her passion for the property with groups like the Alzheimer’s sufferers who make a free annual visit