Frank was obsessed with some red deer we had seen. We couldn’t remember exactly where or when we saw them but Frank was determined to see them again. He found a YouTube video on a Kitenui Deer Farm near Taupo. Could this be the place? We drove there. It wasn’t. We saw no deer from the road. We drove down the long, wooded, gravel driveway and were approached by an older gentleman on a four wheeler. Frank explained what he was looking for and asked if the area was public. The man replied no, that he owned the land. Fully expecting him to direct us off the property, he introduced himself (Murray) and graciously invited us to pull over and he would show us some deer!
It turned out that Murray had a lot more to show us than just a few deer. We spent the next couple hours exploring some of his 500(!) acres of land, which included his art studio, an event space, some unique old airplanes (he even has an airstrip), his home and beautiful gardens (where we met his lovely wife Barbara), and finally, more animals than we ever could have imagined!
In Murray’s studio, we viewed his black and white oil paintings of the different deer species which inhabit New Zealand, as well as a few of his incredible life-size concrete and bronze animal sculptures. Several of the sculptures are exhibited in cities around New Zealand, including Taupo and another city we will be visiting (Te Anau).
We toured a rustic building where weddings and corporate events are held. The dining area is decorated with many rifles and is illuminated with little Christmas lights, which gives the space a more intimate and old fashioned feel. The Antler Room has hundreds of (you guessed it!) antlers. Did you know that deer shed their antlers and then grow a new set? Murray is fascinated by American Indians and is an American movie buff. He shared with us that Burt Reynold’s had dined there!
We climbed in Murray’s truck and were treated to a safari! Down the dirt road, in and out of gates, we viewed several types of deer. Some of them were more timid than others but a couple came right up to us! There was one herd of small gray deer, which were being quarantined prior to being shipped off to South Africa. In addition to deer, Murray has two American bison and a zebra! Frank and I had a lot of questions and Murray was a wealth of knowledge. We asked him if he had to worry about predators.
Did you know that New Zealand has barely any native mammals or reptiles? Although they have many unique native fish, insects, birds, lizards and frogs (no snakes!), the country’s only native mammals are bats, whales and seals! All other species — i.e. sheep, cattle, deer — were introduced. Farmers like Murray never have to worry about predatory coyotes, bears or bobcats!
Our “tour” closed with a stroll around Murray and Barbara’s beautifully blooming “backyard” garden. Murray explained that they had purchased the acreage more than 30 years ago. At the time, there wasn’t a tree on it and no one wanted it. Now it’s filled with life — trees, plants, animals, even two of their nine grandchildren have homes on the property. Murray and Barbara have transformed it into a truly incredible place. We were so touched he took the time to share it with a couple of strangers who wandered in off the road!
Below are a few photos from Kitenui Deer Farm and from our drives around the North Island…