Under luxury canvas at the Chattan Farm glamping site.
Diminishing opportunities for seaside camping – with many of New Zealand’s favourite coastal spots being sold and redeveloped – coupled with a growing desire for home comforts while on holiday, has seen the international trend for glamorous camping or ‘glamping’ gain traction in this country.
Furthermore, with many of New Zealand’s glamping opportunities rurally- based on family-owned working farm properties comes an opportunity for city-dwellers and international tourists to sample rural life.
Fickle farm commodity prices have led some farmers to look at diversifying their income streams, however a glamping operation is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
It’s still the new kid on the holiday accommodation block and farmers should enter the glamping arena with a healthy dose of realism.
One business that has taken the rural glamping concept by the horns is Canopy Camping Escapes. It was launched in 2012 by Liz Henderson and Sonia Minnaar, friends who themselves hankered for a relaxing back-to-nature camping experience – without the drama.
The pair has turned an ambitious vision into a workable business reality by facilitating access to secluded spots on private land for campers looking for a touch of luxury – without an airbed in sight.
Campfires and stars
High-end tents with solid floors, magazine- worthy décor, plush queen-sized beds and high thread count linen along with well- appointed bathroom and kitchen facilities, bring new meaning to camping and are the antithesis to roughing it.
With 20 carefully curated and unique largely-rural glamping locations all around the country under its marketing banner, Henderson says the initial confidence they felt when investigating the European and North American glamping trend has paid off.
“We knew we could definitely make it happen in New Zealand,” says Henderson, who along with Minnaar has a corporate sales and marketing background.
“We were keen to take our own families camping but were put off by the effort and equipment involved. We wanted peace and quiet in the country or wilderness, and to sit around a campfire under the stars – not possible in a traditional campground.”
Henderson and Minnaar approached private landowners to get them to open up their land to people wanting a luxury camping experience – and it has worked.
"What is encouraging for the future of glamping is the growing trend to have authentic travel experiences and to get off the beaten path."
Canopy Camping director, Liz Henderson
“What is encouraging for the future of glamping is the growing trend to have authentic travel experiences and to get off the beaten path,” says Henderson
“The digital detox idea is growing around the world and glamping as a holiday option sits perfectly in that space.” Ultimately Henderson and Minnaar would like 40 glamping sites in their stable making a business small enough to ensure quality control, but large enough to offer variety and meet demand.
Private landowners under the Canopy Camping brand get profile and exposure via its website which had 240,000 sessions last year.
“We handle the administration and booking side of the business, manage payments and liaise with guests. Glamp site owners just need to give their guests a great experience,” explains Minnaar.
Minnaar says rural property owners interested in tourism and in hosting people on their property will find glamping a unique and relatively cost-effective way to share their way of life.
“Glamping provides a good secondary income plus the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. “The benefit of glamping over a farm stay or bed and breakfast operation is that guests are not staying in your home or personal space so you don’t need to be ‘on duty’ all of the time.”
Challenges for glamping operators largely revolve around seasonality although many sites offer wood burning stoves to keep tents cosy year-round. Some landowners opt to close their sites at times when farm duties take precedence, and demand naturally tails off over winter.
“We’re keen to have more cabins and all-weather accommodation options come on-board to extend the opportunity for getaways – and we’d love a treehouse.”
WHAT MAKES A GREAT
At Ngaio Downs, a 1,100ha coastal hill country farm between Kaikoura and Blenheim, glampers are welcomed by Pip and Simon Todhunter and minutes later, can have a glass of wine gazing out across farm land to the coast.
Camp Kekerengu has three large tents on an elevated site orientated perfectly for sunrise watching, a covered lounge area, and a kitchen with running water and gas cooking. The self-catering site can accommodate up to 11 people – exclusive to one booking at a time, so campers have the space to themselves.
The glamping site is “off grid”. LPG gas is used for hot water and cooking, and two of the tents have wood burning stoves to cosy things up in the cooler months.
Lincoln University tourism degree graduate Pip Todhunter says they started building their glamping business in August 2015 sensing that tourists and visitors to the area would love to share the property’s spectacular views and ambience.
“Being located on State Highway 1 means we’re accessible for travellers,” says Todhunter.
“Our glamping business is still in its infancy but bookings and feedback have far exceeded our expectations so we can definitely foresee a time when it will provide a tangible added income to our farming operation.
While not disclosing actual set-up costs, Todhunter maintains “it’s been money well spent” and with administrative tasks taken care of by Canopy Camping, they simply need to ensure guests are wowed by the glamping experience.
“It is not a drain on our time as when we have guests staying, they are self-sufficient. Aside from the clean-up between guests, we just make sure gas bottles are kept full and any maintenance issues are dealt with promptly.
“Several guests have told us this is the best place they have ever stayed in their lives, so that in itself is a great reward.”
"Several guests have told us this is the best place they have ever stayed in their lives, so that in itself is a great reward."
Camp Kekerengu glamping site operator, Pip Todhunter
Due east of Hunterville and just north of Feilding, the 607ha sheep and beef property Ridge Top Farm offers glampers a true taste of rural New Zealand with the added bonus of panoramic views of Kapiti Island, Mt Egmont and Mt Ruapehu.
“We have a country-themed glamping site with outdoor baths nestled into a sheltered spot next to wetland with regenerating native bush,” says Sarah Gilbertson, who runs the site with husband Angus.
“We set the site up three years ago thinking it was a great way to offer accommodation and a farm experience on our scenic rural property.”
Glampers can help feed farm animals, see a shearing demonstration, and rent a mini-coop to collect fresh eggs each morning from outside their tent – or do nothing but relax.
Gilbertson says set-up costs were around $50,000 and the glamping operation is now providing a decent income for the farm.
With a prescribed minimum stay of two nights, Gilbertson says the time commitments as hosts are not onerous and she estimates that they spend around three to five hours per booking depending on extra activities booked.
“Our biggest challenge is the weather which naturally we have no control over. A stormy night can be an interesting experience for guests – thankfully most of them understand that flapping canvas is part of camping.”
Offering an optional fully-catered option with breakfast supplies, hamper lunches, morning and afternoon tea and gourmet evening meals, Gilbertson delivers food to the glamp site by quad bike.
“We’d like to grow the ‘glamp ‘n tramp’ side to our business which is a two-day farm walk of 15 kilometres and includes two nights glamping accommodation plus all meals,” says Gilbertson.
Seeing children ‘unplugged’ from electronic devices and relishing the chance to explore wide open spaces, to kick a ball without boundaries, to run up and down hills and generally just be kids – is rewarding for the Gilbertsons.
“It’s all part of a more authentic holiday experience.”
"A stormy night can be an interesting experience for guests – thankfully most of them understand that flapping canvas is part of camping."
Ridge Top Farm glamping site host, Sarah Gilbertson
A glamping site which includes extensive tracts of native bush, a kokako sanctuary and where guests are welcome to take their own horses, makes Chattan Farm in the Bay of Plenty unique.
The Mackintosh family farm is a 720ha sheep and beef property with 300ha of native bush protected under a QEII covenant and is a former supreme winner in the Bay of Plenty Balance Farm Environment Awards.
Chattan Farm came under the Canopy Camping umbrella in September 2014 when busy owners Tim and Jo decided that their farm could do with another income stream – and one which would allow people to access their QEII covenant.
“We pondered the idea for some time as Tim’s busy on the farm and with contracting work, and I teach four days a week off the farm,” says Jo Mackintosh.
“However with the admin’ taken care of, it just leaves us with the day-to-day running of the business which is easy to manage.
“I’m very fussy about presentation and like things to be just so but even then, it only takes up to an hour to turn the site around between guests.
“After around $20,000 set-up investment, the glamping is paying its way and provides additional income from an area of the farm that we have previously not been able to generate any return from.”
The glamping site has a luxurious tent which sleeps up to ve people, a quirky purpose-built ablution block and kitchen block – all featuring timber milled from the property – and an outdoor bath for late night star watching. Mackintosh says it has been fantastic to see the farm through guests’ eyes.
"Glamping is paying its way and provides additional income from an area of the farm that we have previously not been able to generate any return from."
Chattan Farm glamping site operator, Jo Mackintosh
“One young family arrived with their ute loaded up with mountain bikes and they had a ball cycling all over the farm,” she says.
“We find the 60-plus age group will walk the farm for hours while others come with good intentions of exploring the property but wind up just chilling out at the camp site and switching off from the world.”