The feathered and furry residents of Bullwool Farm and Nature Park have the public well-trained. They know their persistent calls will result in a tasty snack from their fans.
The chorus of quacks, clucks and baas work their magic whatever the age of the visitor but it’s the children who are most entranced by the chance to get up close to friendly farm animals.
Providing that positive experience is exactly what the family-run park is all about. It certainly seems to be working with the property just south of Paeroa off State Highway 2 is visited by family groups and school parties throughout the year.
It’s a 100 acre working farm owned by the extended Austen Family which became a tourist attraction almost unintentionally. Jan Austen’s love of rare breeds led her to introduce new animals to the farm, and Keith’s talent for poetry and story-telling won him fame both locally and nationally. That resulted in requests to visit the farm, which first opened its gates to the public in 2004.
Today Jan and Keith are joined in running the park by daughter Sue and son-in-law Tony Howse and their children Ashleigh, Tallis and Matt.
It’s a well-structured and relaxed set-up with visitors supplied with small buckets with colour-coded containers of food for different creatures. Some can be fed by hand but for others, there are shuts in which to place the food. When it comes to the beady-eyed emu, the risk to fingers is avoided by the use of a stick fitted with two staples at the end.
A large pellet of food is fitted between the staples and the stick offered up to the tall bird who deftly slides its beak through the wire fence to pluck the food free – well-trained bird, well-trained public.
There’s even a handy ‘scoop-on-a-handle’ for little ones to use in feeding the animals, keeping tiny hands safe.
Feeding animals is just part of the appeal. The park has quirky playground areas too with a pirate ship, a bandstand complete with ‘instruments’, miniature cars to tow up hill and ride down on – and in one paddock, a ‘top dressing plane’ on a wire to broadcast pellets to the sheep.
Most of the unique wooden play equipment at the park is the work of Tony, an award-winning sculptor who runs a kauri gallery at Whangamata.
As well as the animal attractions, there is also a bush discovery area, a replica miner’s camp and a small museum telling the story of the region’s early history, including kauri logging and gold mining.
Bullwool Farm and Nature Park is open daily from 10am to 4pm.