Luxury camping goes rural

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 05:00 30/01/2014

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We sit half in the tent, half on the deck outside, sipping tea made by boiling water on a gas stove, and eating scones made by Sarah Gilbertson's fair hand.

I had forgotten how good food and tea is in the great outdoors.

People at this "glamping" spot have the option of taking their own food, or having all meals brought to them, cooked by Gilbertson.

She says most of it will be produced off the Waituna West farm she and husband Angus own.

They have set up two permanent tents, with wooden frames, a cookhouse in corrugated iron, a shower and a loo.

"It's back to basics but with comfort. Here, there is no power, no technology, such as iPads, and no TV," says Sarah Gilbertson.

There are candles and lamps in the tent but, usually, when it gets dark that's the end of the camping day.

"Life is busy. So people want to get away from that. You can arrive here with a suitcase. If you go camping on your own, you need so much."

Gilbertson says people camping have to take such things as plates, pots, knives, forks and tent and sleeping bags. Glamping - glamour camping - means just walk in and out.

There is a barbecue, petanque and metal court, and there will be a darts board. There is also the option of a farm walk.

In the one tent already set up, there is a bed, and futon. It can also have stretchers.

"It's not expensive, $250 a night for four."

She already has two bookings, with couples from Tauranga and Hamilton taking advantage of the rural setting.

Angus Gilbertson runs the sheep and beef farm which has been owned by the family since 1921.

It is 600 hectares and runs 300 cattle and over-winters 3500 ewes.

He is fulltime on the farm and there are always jobs to do.

Glampers can elect to go to a shearing demonstration. They can help him if he is working in the yards and can see dogs hard at work.

This is a way for people to leave the city behind, say the Gilbertsons.

They are salt of the earth rural people, welcoming, and great hosts.

It is a destination - not a place that people would drive past and think they might stay. It seems remote and the last few kilometres are on a metal road.

But, as Sarah Gilbertson says, it is only 20 minutes from a main road.

She says glamping is growing in popularity.

"It is massive in Britain. And in Europe there are more than 300 glamping destinations."

The Waituna West glamping destination is part of Wellington- based business Canopy Camping Escapes.

Co-director Liz Henderson says the idea is to make it easy and comfortable for people to camp in a peaceful and private location.

There are already luxury campsites, with flushing toilets, hot showers and real beds in Wairarapa, Waikato and the West Coast. Now Manawatu has been added to that list.

It was murky the day Fairfax Media's photographer David Unwin and I went there but on a clear day it is possible to see Mt Ruapehu to the north and Kapiti Island to the south. Cattle look on at the campsite.

There is a piece of bush nearby, and there are more native trees and shrubs to be planted around the campsite.

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Sarah Gilbertson says she used to work in Feilding. But now they have three young children (aged 4, 2 and 1), and she was looking for a business she could run from home.

"When we were thinking about glamping we went to the Kawakawa glamour camping site in Wairarapa. The kids loved it straight away, they went off and we decided to do it."

She says the Ridge Top Farm glamp was a year in the making and planning, but building began in September.

A glamour camp means tents had to go up; a permanent kitchen, toilet and shower had to be built. "The timber floors in the kitchen and tent came from an old cottage on the farm. They were recycled."

Gilbertson says she expects the busy glamping time will be November to May; after that sheep will go through to clean up the grass in the camp.

It is high enough that it snows two or three times during a normal winter, says Angus Gilbertson.

As many urban people become more remote from rural New Zealand, more people may try the rural glamping, the Gilbertsons hope. Here, they'll wake up to the sound of magpies, with sheep and cattle nearby and have sheets and a duvet to get under, a hot shower, kitchen and flushing loo.

Sarah Gilberston says while her first glamour campers are from up north, she sees those from Wellington and Palmerston North as being their main visitors.

- Manawatu Standard

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