Camping on a farm conjures images of mud, gumboots and cow pats, presumably with a degree of privation. But this is definitely not the case at Te Pāmu Escape, on the outskirts of Masterton in Wairarapa.
Te Pāmu means ‘the farm’ in Māori, in reference to the 850-acre sheep and beef farm which provides the backdrop for my night under canvas. But while the accommodation here is, in essence, a tent, there is nothing rustic about it.
Perched on the bank of a burbling stream under a grove of towering gum trees, the safari-style tent opens onto a wide, covered deck with an outdoor kitchen and barbecue; a gravelled seating area next to a brazier and the pinnacle of indulgence – a deep, private, outdoor bath.
Inside, the space is impeccably styled with comfortable armchairs draped in sheepskins, potted plants and a king size bed piled with pillows.
Established by Anneka Billing in 2018, Te Pāmu Escape is designed to offer the best of both worlds: luxurious comfort in a calming rural setting.
"I’ve always loved camping, both as a child and with my family," she explains. "I also love cooking, meeting new people and sharing what we have here on the farm – so the idea of Te Pāmu ticks a lot of boxes."
"Plus, doing anything outdoors is just better," Anneka reckons, "whether you’re washing the dishes, cooking or having a bath. There’s something about sleeping under canvas that’s a bit special, too: when you zip it up and feel all cosy."
Being at Te Pāmu is a multi-sensory experience. Although there is wifi and full cell reception, I deliberately put my phone away to just… sit. And listen. And smell. There is the soothing gurgle of the stream; the croon of magpies, the rustle of the breeze through the gums.
The distant lowing of cattle. A fragrance wafts from inside the tent, mingling with the earthy scents from the paddock, reminding me that every detail here has been considered: the elegant decor, the handmade crockery, the cheese platter left for me in the fridge.
The sun dips lower, gilding the stream-side willows. Strips of cloud hint at high winds, but it’s still and tranquil in this sheltered glade. I roll down the windows of the tent and click the lighter on the indoor eco fireplace and it dances to life, immediately warming the tent – if not physically, then symbolically.
Outside, the brazier wafts blue smoke through the still air. I feel quite intrepid for cultivating its roaring orange flames on my own. Right on 7pm, as promised, Anneka appears with trays of food for dinner – a juicy steak and mushrooms for me to cook on the barbecue; salad and a French tart with ice cream for dessert. All of it homemade.
Dusk draws in, with pastel shades of pink, lilac and candy floss. I’m toasty warm from the heat of the brazier and the thick blanket on my lap.
Nearby, bulls bellow, sounding like elephants. Sparks crackle, dance and dissipate into the night, the flames so much more mesmerising than anything I’d be watching on Netflix.
The logs crack, crumble, shift, smoulder, transitioning to glowing orange coals. My yawns grow bigger.
Eventually, I take myself off to the big pudding of a bed – all plump quilts, feather pillows and soft sheets. I dream of childhood summers scented with citronella and woodsmoke.
During the night, the bulls wake me with their racket and I lie there, wide-eyed, in the pitch black playing the traditional camping game of ‘what’s that noise?’
I wake again, early, and watch the night shift through the spectrum of greys to become daylight. In the letterbox Anneka has left me a loaf of homemade bread and a brown paper bag with freshly ground coffee, both tied up with string and decorated with a yellow pansy.
Reported by Jo Percival for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue