I am standing in a paddock at the Motatapu station near Lake Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand. Surrounded by fluffy white sheep, I have a sheepdog whistle between my teeth, and I am trying my best to make any kind of sound at all.
The farmer gives me some tips before expertly whistling to the dog who promptly rounds up the sheep with a few barks and lots of running around. “How come you don’t have one of these whistles?” I ask, taking the piece of metal out of my mouth in defeat. “Lots of practice!” he answers.
If you’ve ever been saddened to see farm animals squashed into feedlots or kept in cramped enclosures but still enjoy eating meat, then you need to get to New Zealand. Here meat production is as close to an idyllic childhood view of a farm as its possible to be.
I watched from high above in a helicopter as lambs grazed on the mountainside. They roamed free, where even a sheepdog wouldn’t follow. I even spied a few deer sharing the land with them. Here farmers understand how the emotional wellbeing of animals matters just as much as their physical health and how that directly translates to the quality of the meat that’s produced. One farmer told me that even raised voices can heighten stress hormones in cattle which can affect the taste of the beef. That’s why they keep things nice and calm.
Animals raised here will eventually end up packaged up as Silver Fern Farms branded meat which is available across the United States. I had a chance to try the 100% grass-fed beef and lamb and it was delicious!
If you want to visit beautiful Lake Wanaka on the south island consider staying at the Edgewater Resort. Rooms here are large with a full kitchen and living room so families can spread out. Enjoy lake or mountain views and take some mountain bikes for a spin or play tennis all on-site.
If money is no object and you want to stay closer to those lambs, right in the shadow of the Remarkables Mountain range, then the Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead and Eco Sanctuary could be the place for you. Rent out the entire homestead for a whopping $25,000 a night, with a two-night minimum. Expect total luxury for that price including full staff and sumptuous accommodations.
You’re close to Queenstown here which is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Make sure you get a great overview of the city by taking the Skyline Gondola up to the top of Bob’s Peak. From here you can take the luge down on a thrilling ride which kids aged six and up, will just adore. Real adventure junkies may want to book bungee jumping, rock climbing, canyoning or jet boating- Queenstown has all the thrills!
I travelled on to the North Island and arrived at the Taurapa Station near Napier to learn more about the Atkins Ranch lambs. I met another farmer, Dan Hall-Field as we explored the expansive land on ATVs finishing up with a beachside lunch at Ocean Beach Cottage. The sheepdogs were tiny dots in the distance moving a mass of white blobs up and over a ridge at Dan’s command.
The difference in the taste of the meat in New Zealand, arguably the best in the world, is most certainly due to how it’s raised. A diet of 100% grass, and what grass, its jade green, lush and unending here. The animals are also allowed to wander free and live a natural life.
Atkins Ranch lamb is available in Whole Foods across Canada and if you don’t regularly eat lamb it’s time you gave it a go. It’s tasty, versatile and healthy.
Close by you’ll find Napier where restored art deco buildings make you feel like you’re on a film set. Take a guided walk to learn more about the architecture and history of this little city, keep an eye out for the sea walls murals. On rainy days pop inside to check out the National Aquarium of New Zealand and meet a penguin!
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Teenagers will enjoy a trip to the historic Napier Prison where you can have a tour and even get a souvenir mugshot and fingerprints taken!
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Hawkes Bay is a huge wine-producing region so if you’re travelling alone or with older kids, a winery tour may feature in your plans.
Whether on the North or South islands you’ll see evidence of the country’s commitment to raising pure, natural, 100% grass-fed New Zealand beef and lamb, which you can pick up back home in Canada as the tastiest souvenir of your trip.