Finding Love at the End of the Road

The historic Batley House, overlooking the Kaipara Harbour in Northland, has been in the Roadley family for three generations. Today, it produces some of the best beef and lamb in the country for Silver Fern Farms. It also fuels a love story, made on the farm.

The silver-green waters of Kaipara Harbour almost wink at you when you round the hairpin bends to Batley. The rolling green countryside here seems to sigh under the weight of more than 150 years of pioneer history, during which time dozens of local characters and legends scattered their stories across the land. Now it’s quiet, idyllic and plentiful at Batley, and there are just two inhabitants, Silver Fern Farms beef and sheep farmers Rex and Rae Roadley, who live in the old homestead at the end of the road and take pride in the rich pastoral lands around them.

Rex has lived in the area for 60 years; his wife, Rae, is more of a newcomer, having arrived at Batley about 15 years ago. They are the caretakers of this lush property, and the beef and sheep that inhabit it have helped the couple make a name for themselves through their partnership with Silver Fern Farms.

Looking out over Kaipara Harbour instory

Rex and Rae live a bucolic lifestyle: fishing for snapper from the Kaipara, and eating from their robust – and growing – vegetable garden. They’re continuing a simple way of life that has been practised at Batley for decades. Batley House, now an impressive double-storey wooden homestead, was built by Joseph Masefield as a single-level dwelling in 1866. The house served as a store, a kauri gum buying business, a post office and – between 1868 and 1876 – a pub known as Masefield’s Hotel. Masefield’s son James added the extra storey to the property in 1904. The homestead was the centre of the community at Batley, which was home to roughly 200 people in its heyday.

The Roadley family roots were planted by Rex’s grandfather, Albert, and his brother Jack, who bought what is now the north side of the farm in 1912. In 1919, the brothers purchased Batley House, another 78 hectares and the grocer’s shop. The Roadleys farmed sheep and milked between 10 and 20 cows in what would become the starting point for the modern day farm at Batley. They also pioneered oyster farming in the Kaipara Harbour. Albert and his wife, Kate, had seven children, including Rex’s father, Halley. Halley and his brother, Ken, served overseas during World War II, and upon their return in 1947, they and another brother, Bob, purchased the remainder of the farm for £700 a piece.

Rex, who has never strayed far from the farm apart from to study business at Massey University, bought the property in 1987 and set about creating his legacy on the land. He has made significant improvements to the 400 hectare property since then, including fencing nine kilometres of foreshore and planting native perennials and grasses, such as flax and toetoe, to protect the pristine waters of the Kaipara Harbour.

Living on a farm is relentless; there are always things to do.

“This land needs to be looked after from an environmental point of view,” Rex says. The land here is limestone-based so it holds rain well, which makes for lush, green pastures, he explains. With brother Sterl, Rex now farms more than 600 bulls – providing a finishing service to Silver Fern Farms – plus nearly 2000 sheep. The move to bull farming, after a Silver Fern Farms representative subtly suggested it would be a good idea, has paid off. According to Rex, bulls provide a great consistency of product and are incredibly lean.

Technology is also a big part of the operation at Batley. One of the newer features of the property is techno-grazing, wherein Rex uses smaller paddocks, split by temporary fencing positioned using GPS, to strictly manage the use of paddocks and what stock are eating. By keeping stock in smaller paddocks for shorter periods of time, Rex and Sterl know exactly what the animals are eating and how much, which helps care for both the stock and the land they inhabit.

Plenty of grass here instory

The system is working – the product they produce for Silver Fern Farms is award winning. In fact, the Roadleys were shortlisted for the Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Award – Upper North Island region; an award that recognises suppliers who consistently supply quality stock to meet consumers’ needs.

Rae, a published author, was a self-confessed townie. The pair met at an event called Dinner for Six, essentially a blind date service, in Whangarei. After getting on well, Rae paid a visit to “the end of the road”. She admits she was immediately fascinated by Batley. “I had lived in Northland throughout my childhood and could hardly believe I hadn’t been here.” Rae enjoys the remoteness; she has even written a book about it, Love at the End of the Road. She also writes regular columns about farming for the local newspaper.

There are many benefits to living in such an idyllic place, Rae says. “I can go down to the beach and walk the dogs and no-one else will be there. “I’m living history in a way because of the family, the local marae, the house – so many interesting people have lived here that the history feels very real.” Her life has changed every year since she arrived. “Living on a farm is relentless; there are always things to do,” she says. The pair say they wouldn’t trade their life on the Kaipara for anything. “Growing up around family, and on a family farm, like Batley, makes you realise how lucky you are,” Rex says.

Watch our video

MiNDFOOD's Food Director Michelle McHugh and Silver Fern Farmer Rae Roadley prepare a beautiful herbed roast lamb at the historic Batley House, overlooking Kaipara Harbour.

This article was brought to you by MiNDFOOD in partnership with Silver Fern Farms.