The concept of ‘farmstay’ has been around for some time. Farmstay, as the name suggests, relates to staying on a farm, and is growing in popularity as a holiday option. This is due to the unique nature of the holiday and in most cases, the high affordability.
Farmstay – why are they cheap?
Why is a farmstay likely to be a more affordable holiday than staying in a hotel somewhere in the city? One of the main reasons is simply the cheaper cost of land in the country. For example, the median house price in Melbourne was $652,500 (end Mar 2014). On the other hand, the median house price in regional Victoria was only $322,000 – around half price.
This means on a farmstay, the owners are not having to cover the extra cost of getting city-priced land. Naturally, some farms are very large and can be quite expensive in relative terms. However, if a farm is 500 acres, for example, it’s not going to be deriving its only income from farmstay.
In this article, we look at 6 factors to consider to make your farmstay experience a holiday to remember without paying the earth.
When you hear ‘farm’, what do you think of?
With any new experience, consider your expectations. Any time your expectations are exceeded, you’re likely to come back feeling great. With this in mind, it’s worth considering what you’re thinking of when you think about a farmstay.
Some people think of farming as relating to animals, yet there are many other things that are farmed. This includes various food items such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, crops, grains and turkish delight (okay, I lied about the last one).
The other items that can be farmed are trees. These provide a nice setting for your farmstay experience. They are also a more ecologically friendly way of providing timber for our needs (rather than cutting down virgin forest).
What activities are on offer?
Once you’ve determined what sort of farm you’re thinking about staying on, now turn your mind to the likely activities on offer. Where there are animals, there should be opportunities to see them at reasonably close proximity – unless we’re talking bulls and you’re wearing red!
Other activities relate to feeding animals which can be fascinating and downright cute. At some farms, you may be involved in droving the animals (help moving them from A to B). Otherwise, there can be interesting activities to watch like sheep losing their coats (being shorn) or cows being milked.
For farms that grow inanimate things, the range of activities can differ. In some cases, it’s just fun to walk around and show kids where various food items actually grow. I’m not sure what age I was when I finally discovered what a pineapple grows on (technically, they don’t grow on trees). Similarly, I suspect many young ones don’t realise that potatoes grow underground.
For farmstays that feature trees, you may be able to see the trees at different stages of growth. There are bound to be good bushwalking opportunities and you’re more likely to stumble across Australian native animals, which adds to the experience.
Other farm activities can include various types of riding (mountain bikes, motor/trail bikes, or horses) or fishing or catching yabbies. A good farmstay should also provide a nice range of activities to enjoy indoors too, for cooler days or when the sun’s gone down.
What’s available beyond the farmstay?
While the farmstay activities should provide a significant part of your holiday experience, it’s worth looking at what other activities are available beyond the farmstay. For example, how far is your farmstay from a reasonable sized city or town?
In many parts of Australia, a reasonable farmstay can be as close as 60-90 minutes from the largest city. Some may require several hours driving. Whatever the case, it’s good to know that there are other experiences nearby.
In some parts, this means wineries or botanic gardens. In other areas, this is tourist attractions such as Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, Victoria, or the various ‘Worlds’ in the Gold Coast, Queensland. For a short stay of a day or two, excursions may not be an issue. For longer stays, the odd day trip here and there can really enhance the holiday experience.
Let’s talk accommodation and space
Now that you’ve worked out what activities are available, you’ll want to understand the accommodation that’s being provided and the amount of space on offer. At a farmstay, the type of accommodation can be virtually anything. Remember, the only common thread is that the accommodation is on a farm.
A lot of farms were built many years ago. Farming is not a growth industry in Australia – many people are moving off the land. This means the farm houses may be on the older side.
At the lower end of the scale are pretty basic huts or even dormitory style accommodation starting from $40 a night at Wareen in Cooma, NSW. These come at a good price but may not provide the level of comfort you’re looking for.
At the other end of the scale is accommodation as upmarket as anywhere you’ve stayed. Spicers Peak Lodge in Queensland, for example, is over $1000/night but food is included.
Failing that, an updated farmstay with some historic appeal can provide a great experience at a reasonable price. Let the location and activities on offer guide you in terms of what you might expect to pay.
Catering and food preparation
As noted above, some farmstays provide food which can make your holiday more relaxing but probably more expensive. However, if you’re looking for a nice holiday without paying the earth, and particularly if you’re with family, you may find self-catering preferable.
As with any accommodation, the level of self-catering facilities at a farmstay can vary significantly. At its most basic, you may get a microwave, limited crockery and cutlery and a small fridge. For short stays, this may do the trick. For longer stays, you’ll want hotplates and probably an oven.
The other thing to check is the level of utensils and cookware available. I’ve stayed in many places with the minimum of each. If you’re aiming to cater for a crowd, you’re going to need big pots and pans and lots of plates and cutlery.
Other additions to your culinary experience on a farmstay can be things like fish or yabbies (freshwater crayfish) that you can actually catch. Naturally, they taste better if you caught them yourselves. One other favourite is cooking marshmallows on a campfire, which some farmstays offer, subject to usual fire restrictions.
Checking what’s claimed
Now that you’ve got the key elements sorted out for your impending farmstay visit, you want to make sure that what’s claimed is actually being delivered. Accommodation review sites like Trip Advisor can be very helpful in this regard. If there’s a whole bunch of positive or negative reviews, that will give you a good indication of what to expect.
The farmstay website (if they have one) can also show photos and possibly references from previous guests to confirm what your experience might be like. Failing that, ask for a referral from friends/family.
Farmstay, because of its countryside nature can provide a fun and novel holiday at a very reasonable price (land is cheaper in the country). Be clear on what sort of farm you’re hoping for while considering the activities on offer. Do you want to be hugging trees or milking cows?
Consider day-trip options near the farmstay if you want to head out on your stay. Look for activities nearby such as horse riding, motorbike riding etc, if they are not already covered on the farmstay. Make sure you’re getting spacious accommodation with the cooking facilities you need at a comfort level and price that you are happy with.
Finally, do a little homework in terms of checking reviews to satisfy yourself that what the farmstay is claiming can be delivered.