David de Rothschild, the ardent environmentalist, stages high-profile expeditions to endangered places, but off-duty, as Dani Shapiro discovers, he bolts for his farm in New Zealand.
I first fell in love with New Zealand eight or nine years ago. I was doing a lot of riding at the time, and the place has amazing horses. I had started out that trip in Sydney, where I damaged my knee messing around in the ocean; it was as big as my head and obviously I couldn’t ride, so I got a camper van and drove around with a friend. New Zealand’s landmass is a bit larger than that of the U.K., but with only 4.2 million people. You can drive for hours and not see anyone. When you’re in school, you learn about mountain ranges, lakes, glaciers, rivers, valleys—but in New Zealand, you see such places as you had imagined them. It’s like a picture book.
I have a farm now in Akaroa, the oldest colonial town on South Island. It’s built around a harbor formed by the back-to-back eruptions of two volcanoes. The climate is good for wine, and one of the first wineries in the region is there. The town has a real charm to it. Hickory Bay, on the Banks Peninsula, is a piercing aquamarine blue, and green mountains go right to the water’s edge. You have to ask yourself, Is this real?
I’m slowly turning my place into an organic farm. My vision is to slowly regenerate the flora and fauna, and to do it myself. To mix the cement. To understand the farm’s rhythm, and what it’s all about.
Learn more about David de Rothschild’s nonprofit, educational expedition outfitters, Adventure Ecology, at adventureecology.com.
Three of de Rothschild’s local favorites.
A lodge on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, 45 minutes from Glenorchy, Otago. 64-3/441-0115; blanketbay.com
This Akaroa winery has a full-service restaurant and a pizzeria.
French Farm Valley Rd.; 64-3/304-5784; frenchfarm.co.nz
Hokitika Wildfoods Festival
On South Island, a showcase of the west coast’s most novel and tasty natural food. It kicks off on March 8, 2008. wildfoods.co.nz