Farm stays in Oceania
How to find agriturism opportunities—the chance to stay on a working farm—in Australia and New Zealand
Farm stays in...
The first time I ever saw the Southern Cross, I was in the middle of a vast cattle station outside Adelaide River in Australia's Northern Territories. I was sitting on the terrace of a ranching family's private home, sipping a cold beer from my host's fridge and chatting with him about life in the Outback.
My bedroom (one of only two in the B&B operation) was as cozy and homey as a family guest room. The next morning, after an ample and delicious breakfast, I drove past the farm's horses, grazing in between 15-foot termite mounds, until the red dirt road became asphalt again, turned back onto the arrow-straight Outback highway, and headed off to explore Oz.
That farm stay was about the best introduction to Australia a man could wish for.
Farm Stays 101
The concept behind agritourism (or rural tourism, or farm stays, or dude ranches, or farmhouse B&Bs, or whatever you want to call it) is simple: you spend the night as a guest on a working farm. From there, though, the concept flies off in many directions.
Sometimes you just hole up for the night in a B&B converted from a farmhouse.
Sometimes you actually stick around to do volunteer work for a few days (a week, two months, a year), as with the worldwide WWOOF network.
Sometimes, just renting a cottage in a rural area where sheep wander past your window is enough to count.
Ideally, the property's owners live on-site and are farmers who derive the bulk of their income from agriculture, using this newfangled form of tourism merely to help make ends meet.
In some countries, the practice of agritourism is highly regulated; in others, it’s a wild west of opportunities, and you have to pick carefully to avoid spending the night in a barn atop a pile of hay (unless that's what you want—I've done it in Europe, and it's great).
Some local tourist offices provide lists of local farm stays.
Few are listed in English-language guidebooks—but you can sometimes find guides available in local bookshops.
You can always just look for agriturism signs on country roads, pointing down rutted dirt tracks toward a farmhouse set among the vineyards.
If you want to find and book a few before you leave, here are the best online resources for finding farm stays all across Oceania:
Resources by destination
Agrisport (www.agrisport.com) - It's very much a homemade site, and far from the best organized around, but it's loaded with links once you drill down. These are not only to specific guest farms and dude ranches, but to other outdoors and agritourism links as well, all grouped by country or state. One annoying factor: you have to open a site in a new window to see what its actual url is (otherwise every page is masked as "agrisort.com").
Earthfoot (www.earthfoot.org) - Under "Homestays" you'll find some one each for New Zealand, Australia, and Samoa.
Organic Places to Stay (www.organicholidays.co.uk) - OK, nearly two-thirds of the listings here are lodgings that happen to offer organic food. The other third, however, are B&Bs, rental cottages, or homestays on working organic farms. There are listings all over the world, with seven in New Zealand and one in Australia.
Agritourism World (www.agritourismworld.com) - Ladies and gentlemen, behold: a list of thousands of farm stays around the world... in alphabetical order by name. Not even sure why I bother including this sits, since the results are nearly random—a farm B&B in rural Pennsylvania wedged between one in Italy and another in Belize. How useful is that? Still, if you just want to roll the virtual dice when it comes to location, you'll find plenty of agriturismi here.
WWOOF: World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoof.org) - If you really want to get your hands dirty, sign up to become a temporary farmhand though this collection of volunteer organizations in 50 countries around the world devoted to supporting and helping teach about organic and environmentally sound farming techniques...
Double rooms at a working farm run anywhere from $10 (in bunk-type accommodations) to $200, but are usually around $40 to $80.
I've stayed at loads of agriturismi: vineyards and dairy farms, barns amid olive groves and frescoed villas next to horse stables.
Each stay has offered me a different experience of farm life for a fraction the cost of a hotel.
Many agriturisms require a two- or three-night minimum stay (for some, a week).
Roughly half accept credit cards.
Sometimes you get four-star luxury and satellite TV. Sometimes you’re a straw's-width from sleeping in a stall.
Most, though, are just what you'd expect from a farmhouse B&B: simple comforts, solid country furnishings, and rural tranquility—barnyard noises excepted.
The hosts tend to be a sight friendlier than your average hotel desk clerk. Some invite guests to dine with them, family-style, in the farmhouse.
Breakfast is usually awesome: farm-fresh and farmer-hearty.