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The rise of the luxury farm stay.

24 November 2021

As city-dwellers set out in search of wide open space and fresh country air, the luxury farm stay is entering its heyday. But the rise of agritourism is more than just a post-COVID travel trend, billed as a lucrative alternate income stream for Australia’s beleaguered farmers.

Explore


The rise of the luxury farm stay.

24 November 2021

As city-dwellers set out in search of wide open space and fresh country air, the luxury farm stay is entering its heyday. But the rise of agritourism is more than just a post-COVID travel trend, billed as a lucrative alternate income stream for Australia’s beleaguered farmers.

Hazlewood Estate in Qld

Hazlewood Estate, a privately owned wagyu farm in the Gold Coast Hinterland, is one of a new breed of luxury farm stays banking on an agritourism boom post COVID. Image: Hazlewood Estate.

Before COVID, Australia’s agritourism sector was growing steadily – 9 per cent annually for domestic tourists and 11 per cent for international travellers. Between them, they contributed a not-insignificant $11 billion to our regional economies.

Those figures, understandably went into freefall as the country duelled drought, fire and the pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped farmers like Angie and Michael Armstrong from entering the agritourism market. 

About 550 kilometres south-west of Sydney, the Armstrongs’ 11,000ha property Callubri Station has been in the family for 150 years, farming mainly merino sheep and wheat.

Callubri Station in NSW

Callubri Station, an 11,000ha property in remote central-west NSW, has been in Angie Armstrong’s family for 150 years. Image: Jeph Chen.

Angie Armstrong admits it has been tough in recent years. “We had four years of drought, dust storms and then the mouse plague, and not a lot of income. And now COVID.”

Tourism, she says, was an option they’d been considering, but it was whilst deep in drought that they decided to forge ahead, applying for a grant from Destination NSW to help them prepare the farm as an agritourism destination. They opened to guests in October 2020.

“I just wish we’d done it sooner, to help sustain us through those hard times,” Angie says, “but hopefully going forward, the tourism offers a chance to diversify the risk a little bit more.”

Callubri Station owner Angie Armstrong

Angie Armstrong launched Callubri Station as a luxury farm stay in October 2020. Image: Wolter Peeters.

The comfort factor

While the benefits of an alternate income stream for beleaguered farmers are obvious, agritourism is a win–win for all.

More than 70 per cent of Australians live in major cities, and many of them are looking for ways to connect with and support the country’s regional and remote communities. However, as Angie points out, it’s not easy to spend time on a farm if you don't have friends or family who own one.

“Part of the reason we started this business is seeing how much my friends and family, when they came up from Melbourne and Sydney, appreciated just getting out in the fresh air, seeing amazing night skies and wildlife, and doing some physical activity. And I think people really enjoy travelling and knowing that their dollar is going towards small communities and people who are trying to build something that really showcases Australian life,” she says.

Night stars at Callubri Station

Lockdown-weary city dwellers are eager to embrace the freedom of wide open spaces at farm stays such as Callubri Station. Image: Jeph Chen.

However, all this altruism does come with a caveat – while guests may want to experience farm life, they’re generally reluctant to relinquish their creature comforts while doing so.

The new breed of farm stays successfully fills the gap, offering a mix of luxury and authenticity.

At Callubri, the historic property’s accommodation is surprisingly contemporary. Guests stay in ‘sky houses’ made from shipping containers piled on top of each other. Picture windows frame expansive views of the station, a shared deck overlooks a 12m mineral swimming pool, and there are robes and a complimentary minibar. Guests can immerse themselves in farm life with a farm tour, a visit to the shearing shed or wildlife spotting, all without sacrificing their creature comforts.

Moon bathing at Callubri Station

Guests of Callubri Station can immerse themselves in farm life without sacrificing their creature comforts. Image: Callubri Station.

Neither do they need to forgo gourmet pleasures. Dinner, served in the shearing shed or under the stars – prepared by Angie, a former caterer and café owner – is a big drawcard.

Opportunities for regeneration

Food is front and centre at one of Queensland’s newest agritourism ventures, too. Opened in September this year, Hazelwood Estate is a wagyu farm and polo club in the lush Gold Coast hinterland, just 7km from Lamington National Park.

“We bought the property with the intention of a family weekender, training horses and keeping cattle,” says owner Andrew Northcott, “but it’s such a beautiful area and we saw the opportunity to share that with visitors, along with the passion my wife Claire and I have for the region and agriculture.”

With the area ravaged by bushfires between September 2019 and January 2020, the couple applied for funding from the Queensland government to build Hazelwood’s 16 cabins, three pavilions and stand-alone restaurant.

Hazlewood Estate in the Gold Coast Hinterland

Andrew and Claire Northcott purchased a former dairy farm in the Gold Coast hinterland initially as a family weekender, but have since transformed it into a polo club and wagyu farm with luxury cabins. Image: Hazlewood Estate.

Part of their plan is to regenerate the former dairy farm to be carbon positive and to be off the grid within the next 18 months. Currently, they have a large solar farm, all the water used on the property is rainwater collected from the roofs and funnelled into a 600,000-litre water tank, they’ve planted more than 7000 trees, and are practising regenerative agriculture with their cattle.

None of this comes at the price of luxury though. Both the larger pavilion suites – featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls with views over the paddocks, fireplaces and free-standing baths – and the cosy cabins dotted across the hillside have all the amenities of a smart hotel room.

Hazlewood Estate in the Gold Coast Hinterland

Hazlewood’s standalone restaurant The Paddock is a destination in its own right with a high-profile chef and a field-to-fork menu. Image: Hazlewood Estate.

From next year, guests can tour the property’s beehives and the kitchen garden, or do a wagyu class and tasting with meat cooked over wood felled on the property.

But it’s the restaurant, The Paddock, set within a soaring contemporary structure of stone and glass, and fitted with an expansive bar and leather lounges arranged around a massive fireplace, that’s the heart of the farm and a magnet for food-loving guests. Executive chef Cameron Matthews, formerly of the Spicers Group, has collected a swag of accolades in his stellar career, his field-to-fork menu unlikely to disappoint.

Future focus

In Victoria, restaurateur Alla Wolf-Tasker of Daylesford’s acclaimed Lake House has recently entered the agritourism market, too. The regenerative Dairy Flat Farm set on more than 15ha fulfils two purposes – providing produce for the Lake House menu and allowing guests to experience a genteel version of country life. There’s an extensive vegetable garden, bakery, vineyard, olive grove and orchard of 350 trees, all of which guests of the luxury European-style lodge are free to explore. There is also an ongoing series of classes and workshops, from baking to beekeeping.

Dairy Flat farm in Daylesford

Dairy Flat Farm’s extensive vegetable crop provides produce for the iconic Lake House Restaurant in Daylesford. Image: Dairy Flat Farm.

According to Australian Regional Tourism (ART), interest in agritourism is set to keep growing and, setbacks such as COVID aside, annual expenditure for agritourism products and experiences is forecast to increase to $18.6 billion by 2030.

Angie Armstrong shares this positive outlook.

“I think agritourism has got a huge role to play and hopefully support continues from the government for this type of tourism, because it's very genuine and showcases the real Australia. People are really hungry for these small stories and to learn something about the way of life in their own country.”

Find your farm-stay bliss

Keen to experience life on the land? Here’s where you can do it:

Find your farm-stay bliss

Keen to experience life on the land? Here’s where you can do it:

Hazelwood Estate, Qld
Pack your walking shoes for bushwalking and wildlife-spotting in the nearby Lamington National Park. Take a farm tour, learn about beekeeping and wagyu breeding, have a treatment at the day spa, then stroll up the gentle slope from your accommodation for dinner at The Paddock, Hazelwood’s noteworthy onsite restaurant.

Dairy Flat Farm
, Vic
Groups of 12 can book out the entire lodge at Dairy Flat Farm, or couples can bed down in their own king suite. All reservations include access to the cedar spa, electric bikes and fire pit, as well as breakfast and one night’s ‘farm-house’ style cooked dinner. Book in for dinner at the highly regarded sister property and recipient of Dairy Flat’s botanic bounty, Lake House, just 7km away.

Dairy Flat farm in Daylesford

Groups can book out the entire lodge at Dairy Flat Farm, or couples can bed down in their own king suite. Image: Dairy Flat Farm.

Callubri Station, NSW
If time is tight, you can fly into Callubri via a charter flight from Sydney or Melbourne. Activities include a daily farm exploration and ‘smoko’, an afternoon touring the crops and shearing shed, followed by sundowners at the station’s highest point. There’s also the unique experience of ‘moon bathing’ in two clawfoot bathtubs set on a vintage truck in a remote part of the property, with local bubbles and a grazing board. 

The Pickers Hut
, Tas
Accommodation at this sixth-generation farm close to the Derwent Valley is in a luxury (and historically fascinating) ‘hut’ overlooking pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay vines and verdant rolling hills, where the property’s merino sheep graze.

Burnside Organic Farm
, WA
In WA’s Margaret River wine region, Burnside offers an experience for anyone interested in organic and biodynamic farming (and wine!) with farm tours and wine tastings. Accommodation is in one- or two-bedroom luxury bungalows.

Mt Mulligan Lodge,
Qld
A 28,000ha Brahman-cross cattle station north-west of Cairns, Mt Mulligan is run with an ethical and environmentally sustainable ethos. You may be fortunate to be there at muster time; but if not, there’s plenty more to do, from barramundi fishing to bushwalking.

By Natascha Mirosch