Whangaripo Valley Farmstay

  Jo Barnes has been a banker and a primary school teacher, but now she’s a full-time cheesemaker, farmstay host and future sheep-milker. She and her family live in the picturesque Whangaripo Valley, just over the hill from Matakana.

Jo, husband Rob and their three children moved to the 90-acre farm just over two years ago. They first came here when camping in the valley over the 2013 New Year. Jo was (and still is) working for the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese company and they camped on the buffalo farm. The peaceful valley was an eye-opener. “I saw Rob relax for the first time in ages,” Jo recalls. “We just knew we needed to be here.”

The land had glorious, wide views of the valley. However, the existing accommodation was only a small two-bedroom cabin, which the family (including three kids) and Jo’s mum shared for three months while they built another one. “I’d be lying if I said it was an easy winter,” Jo admits. “But we all made it through in one piece.”

Jo and Rob had a thing about villas. They found an ideal one in Cockburn Street, Grey Lynn. Built in 1913, it used to be a grand old dame, but needed some TLC. It was trucked up, pre-dawn, in two pieces and put together “like magic,” as Jo says.

An unexpected treasure was discovered by their builder (local Richard Denton), hidden under shingles: immaculate wooden curlicues and newell posts. They were installed in the front porch – apart from four of the posts, which the couple plan to transform into a four-poster bed.

Jo’s mum was keen to have her own place, so they found a 1908 tram carriage in Kaiwaka (as you do) that had once run at the bottom of Queen Street. It was, and still is, easily transported. They converted it into a perfectly cosy home for one. And with a long-term vision of their farmstay in mind, they whipped up a second stylish ply cabin with mezzanine bedroom accessed via a sturdy ladder; each sleeps four.

Another online treasure was soon installed – a ‘mushroomery’ in a bid to grow oyster mushrooms. Jo’s mum got stuck into this, and it certainly worked – the pale, frilly mushrooms pushed their way out through the holes in their laundry basket homes just like bought ones. But sadly they were too expensive for their market so, philosophical and resourceful, they repurposed the mushroom house into a cute kitchenette for their guests.

Since this was going to be a farmstay, animals were required. But they couldn’t be just any animals. Jo had been encouraged by Annie of the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Co to find a certain breed of sheep from Lebanon – Awassi. They can produce a staggering seven litres of milk a day – almost the same as a buffalo – and the composition’s very similar.

To Jo’s astonishment they found a couple on on TradeMe – and added two East Friesians as well. Four turned into 17 at last count, and Jo plans to start milking next season. There are plans to combine sheep and buffalo milk to make a hard cheese to add to the Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese range.

Jo also tracked down Saddleback and Berkshire pigs – the latter are the only pigs to produce marbled pork. “My piggies had an unexpected visitor last breeding season,” Jo tells us. “We saw a big wild boar wandering around one evening and the next morning he was in with our girls. He made fantastic bacon!”

Jo and Rob’s kids (Alex 10; Poppy, 8 and Molly 6 ½) have not been overly shielded from the ‘circle of life’. There’s buffalo and lamb home-kill in their freezer. Jo says their own animals are loved and cared for right up to the time they are humanely and respectfully slaughtered. “If you’re going to eat meat, that’s the best way to do it, for sure.”

The kids go to the local Tomarata school, which gets rave reviews from this ex- teacher. “Academically it’s great. Agricultural Day is fantastic – Molly won with one of our Awassi lambs last year. The kids still make miniature gardens and vegetable animals! And our whopper fireworks night is a must – BYO wine and deckchairs.”

Next summer the cabins will really come into their own. They’re only 20 minutes from Matakana and Pakiri beach, perfect for families or surfers. Guests can collect their own eggs from Jo’s flock of 40-ish bantam chooks to have with their free-range bacon. And they’ll love the other gorgeous locals – ducks, goats, two fluffy donkeys, a couple of retired horses and the latest addition: two buffalo calves, Tank and Paintpot. “These are my forever buffalo,” says Jo. “These guys won’t be going near a freezer, ever.”

Find ‘The Dent-ed Barn’ on Facebook  |  Jo Barnes M: 021 809 780  T: 09 423 9327