Visiting Blue Duck Station, a taste of the wild outdoors for city kids!
In December last year, turning off State Highway 4 near the National Park in the North Island onto Oio Road, the kids asked me “how much further till we reached the farm?’’. Knowing perfectly well it was another hour on this curvey, farm road until it ended at our destination – I played the distance down. “Oh well, not too far kids, how about we try and spot some sheep on the way, and who will be able to see the river hidden deep in the valley first?”
We were four kids and two adults. My three boys, Joey (12), Frankie (10) and Mickey (8) plus my niece Sofia (7) and my sister, Alannah, off we went on our jolly way – and making that last hour seem shorter, was easy.
We wound our way into ever more beautiful scenery including white cliffs, and emerald green riverine valleys, and spotted plenty of sheep, a few goats, plenty of fantails, falcons and wild deer high on the ridge, as we went deeper into the bush on our one-way road – we finally saw the Blue Duck sign – ‘Hooray!’ said the kids.
The road had ended at the rugged and beautiful Blue Duck Station on the banks of the Wanganui and Retaruke rivers, making the off-road car journey worthwhile! Adventure awaited us at this unique place which combines conservation of native wildlife with sustainable farming and fun, adventure tourism.
The farm has a variety of accommodation and Dan Steele, owner of Blue Duck Station, had kindly insisted we stay in the very comfortable Frontier Lodge, just past the entrance to Blue Duck. It is very well fitted out with three large bedrooms all with en-suites, a lovely kitchen, dining and sitting area and two decks looking out to beautiful bush, and to the children’s delight, some horses to watch!
Didn’t take long before they all scattered about exploring outside, while Alannah and I set about unpacking our few things for the next two days of adventure in the wilderness.
We had brought a home made lasagne to share with Dan and his colleague, Jack Cashmore whom we had invited to dinner that evening, as Dan’s family was away.
It was a lovely way to spend our first evening and the kids got the chance to ask Dan lots of questions about the farm and the animals and the history of the area from after World War One, which is plentiful and interesting.
We eventually had our last drinks on the deck outside, staring at a night sky brimming with stars, before turning in for an early night ahead of our big bush safari set for the next day. And importantly, our search for a pair of blue ducks (whio) with some ducklings, which Dan had promised the children he would seek out.
The day started with delicious farm bacon and eggs with homemade bread and jam at the Blue Duck Cafe – and importantly for the adults, proper espresso coffee – yummo!
Dan organised two 4WD farm vehicles to take our party and enlisted the help of one of his guides, Michael, to take the kids with him while the adults rode with Dan.
The children immediately became fascinated by Michael. “He looks like a mixture between a farmer and a surfer,” said Frankie with idolatin.
Michael with his plaited beard, cool tattoos, kind manner, and infinite knowledge of the native bush and creatures who live in it, had those four children spellbound for the entire trip.
So we jumped in with our respective guides and their troupe of faithful farm dogs on the back and off we went.
First, Dan stopped to show the children where fossils were in a steep cliff and intrigued them with his information on the abounding and ancient natural history of the area, which goes back to dinosaur times when New Zealand was very young. All of them spent ages looking for their own rocks to take home with shell, fish, and possibly even dinosaur, fossil shapes!
Loaded down with a few rocks in the back of the vehicles, we drove on through beautiful rainforest with giant pangas and native trees until we stopped to walk down to the river’s edge and find those whio.
Tramping through dense undergrowth with Michael pointing out native bushes and flowers and explaining why and how the multiple pest traps are set, we finally got to the river’s edge and quietly walked along, until Dan’s keen eyes spotted the pair.
We spent ages watching these special ducks and were hopeful of seeing some ducklings but to no avail. Which worried Dan who had radioed home base to see if there had been any further sightings.
After a while, we headed back to the vehicles and wound our way up to the highest point on the farm – a very unique spot called Top of the World. It is here, where Jack, an up-and-coming British chef will be opening his new fine dining restaurant The Chef’s Table and three cabins later this year.
We were suitably impressed by the spectacular views which stretch over natural bush as far as the eye can see and include the three impressive volcanoes.
On the way back down that steep ridge in our 4WD, we stopped to look at the swathes of manuka bush clad on the side of the hill which are the source of beautiful pure Blue Duck manuka honey and also spent time looking at a wondrous mahoe tree, which reminded us all of secret fairy tales.
After an adventurous day, the children spent the rest of the afternoon, feeding the farm pigs and horses, taking short rides on the ponies and climbing trees around the lodge.
Dinner was cosy and rustic in the Blue Duck Cafe and everyone went to bed feeling satisfied and happy. We also heard from the other guides that the baby whio had been spotted, so we were all relieved about that!
The next day the kids were up early excited about a jet boat ride on the majestic Wanganui river.
Dan managed to get all of us on board with our life jackets and off we zoomed with whoops of delight from the kids as we spun around on the water at speed. We slowed every now and again to admire the quiet beauty of this living river.
After the jet boating we stopped into Dan’s parent’s 1920’s farmhouse for some homemade cookies and a chat with Dan’s Mum.
We also went to look at the beautiful farm stags Dan has, with lots of “oos and aahhhss” from the children who reckoned these impressive creatures were Santa’s reindeer. And were shown around his Aunty’s incredible garden tended with care and age-old knowledge, and saw the collapsed ‘beekeepers bridge’, which famously collapsed in 1994 – not on the farm I might add!
The last evening at the Blue Duck Cafe was lots of fun as we regaled the highs of the last two days in this magical place, so different from where we live in the city.
After our usual bacon and eggs, farm-style, we said our goodbyes and piled into the car.
All of the children want to return, and the older boys have already asked Dan if they can come and work with him after they finish school!!
We all learnt so much and are so grateful to all the team at Blue Duck for their kindness and fun. How lucky are we to have been able to have had this unique and special Kiwi experience.
So if your family is keen to discover a unique location, be inspired to protect nature, learn about farming, and have fun doing outdoor activities like jet boating, kayaking, tramping, horse trekking, mountain biking, bush safaris or clay bird shooting – then you must come and have a look!
I know we will certainly be back!