There are many corners and pockets around the world where I have left bits of my heart.
Certain places resonate with us as travelers in many unique and mysterious ways. Whether I can envision myself setting up a home there or just falling in love with a particular area, I often find myself returning to these spots again and again.
One of them is right here in New Zealand, Lake Heron Station, smack dab in the center of the Southern Alps.
A high country merino sheep station full of charm and character, run by the incredible Todhunter family, Lake Heron has a hold on my heart unlike any other place. I can’t wait to go back again and again.
Tucked away in the beautiful Ashburton Lakes area, inland from Mt Somers, the station has been in the hands of the Todhunters for over a century.
Sheep farming has been the very backbone of the South Island for decades, and it’s pretty incredible to have such a magnificent piece of land open for visitors like me who are after a true kiwi experience and are keen to pull on their boots on a sheep farm.
No, you won’t be asked to shear anything or herd any lambs, though it sure is pretty funny watching foreigners try and catch a sheep. Spoiler alert: they are faster than they look.
An sheep farm (station) that covers 75 square miles of stunning wilderness, Lake Heron Station begins by a beautiful little lake in a tussock-covered valley surrounded by stunning mountains that leads up into the Alps and even onto glaciers.
Here merino sheep reign supreme in harsh conditions, growing the wool we love so much.
One valley over you’ll find what was Edoras in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Lake Heron Station remains quiet and in the hands of the sheep.
I’ve also stayed in the Lake Heron Cottage with friends, a more modern and cozy choice for travelers looking for a farm experience in New Zealand. Built in 1900, it’s been lovingly restored and has three bedrooms (if needed) and it’s the perfect place to base yourself in the mountains for an authentic experience.
You won’t run into any tourists here, just sheep dogs and pure wilderness as far as the eye can see!
Philip and Anne Todhunter will welcome you with open arms and you’ll truly feel at home once you arrive, and trust me, you won’t want to leave.
Now, the best way to experience Lake Heron is by air, and guests can explore the massive station and surrounding wilderness through scenic flights and even heli-skiing in the winter.
Philip has been flying around New Zealand’s backcountry as a commercial pilot for over 35 years and knows the land like the back of his hand. Definitely partake in a tour of the farm from the air to experience the scale of it, cruising over herds of sheep and playful chamois in the mountains.
I never get tired of seeing the beautiful glacial rivers from above, snaking blue and shimmering in the sunlight in a way that you couldn’t imagine from the ground.
Lake Heron is surrounded by some of New Zealand’s most picturesque mountains, many of which are hard to access by foot and require very long hikes in and out of the valleys to even reach their foothills.
From the air you can take in the Upper Rakaia River and Rangitata Valley, including the glaciated peaks of the Arrowsmith Range. This is the true heart of the Southern Alps and the real backcountry experience here. With Philip you can also fly over the fabled ice fields of the Gardens of Eden and Allah, which is on the top of so many bucketlists but incredibly difficult to access.
A big scenic flight would also include checking out Aoraki/Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain and the old stomping grounds of Anne, who was a mountain guide there.
Seriously, how cool is this family?
Depending on the weather and what you’re looking to see, you might even cross over to the West Coast.
Once the land turns lush and green, and often with a bit of cloud, you’ll know that you’ve crossed the famed Divide of the Southern Alps to the wetter and somewhat wilder West Coast, another favorite place I love to escape to.
From Philip’s Cessna 185, you can really get a feel for how small New Zealand is and how much the land packs a punch here.
People always ask me what is the best activity to splurge on in New Zealand, and my answer is always the same: a scenic flight. No matter how impressive the land is here from the ground, it’s even more profound from the skies.
I never get tired of flying around this incredible country. Perhaps one day I should get my pilot’s license too (sorry mom!).
Until then I’ll stick the more solid and experienced guys like Philip to shuffle me around. Now I just need to figure out when I can get back to my favorite haunt of Lake Heron, heaven on earth.
Would you love to stay on a merino farm like Lake Heron? Have you been on a scenic flight before? Spill!