Life-flip for dairy farmers-turned-horticulturists

Leigh and Dave Hannah.

There’s no more foggy 4am wake-up calls for Dave and Leigh Hannah.

The former Waikato dairy farmers turned orchardists are happy to have later starts to their days now they’re on an orchard in the Western Bay of Plenty.

“We sharemilked on various properties in the Waikato before more moving to Ngakuru just south of Rotorua to a larger sharemilking position,” says Dave.

“Eventually we were able to buy our own dairy farm next door. Some years later, our neighbour approached us wanting to buy the farm – so we decided to find somewhere warmer where there’s no fog.”

Both Dave and his wife, Leigh, had grown up in Tauranga so wanted to come back home. “We looked around at orchards but didn’t like those where the house was in the middle of the trees and [we] worried at one stage that we’d made a mistake agreeing to sell.

“But then we found this place on Kauri Point Rd, north of Katikati, which is just a little green kiwifruit and avocado orchard. It’s a nice place to live and the house overlooks the harbour and the orchard below.”

Fifth season

It’s the couple’s fifth season on the six-hectare property. One hectare is planted with avocados, and the main income is from exporting the kiwifruit that covers around 3ha.

“We have a property manager who’s been looking after the trees here for about 15 years,” says Dave. “So I just do the mowing, a bit of spraying, some maintenance and he looks after the vine work. I wouldn’t know what I’m doing so it works well. It’s a completely different lifestyle.”

“We were a bit lost when we came here,” Dave laughs. “The alarm doesn’t go before dawn anymore. We don’t miss that part. Dairying is hard work. It’s a young man’s game.”

Dave and Leigh had friends in the fruit-growing industry and done plenty of their own homework before taking over the reins on the property. “There were no real surprises. Avocado prices are a little low at the moment but that’s farming. They’ll come back up.”

One change

Leigh and Dave have only made one change to the orchard. “We’ve gone early start with the kiwifruit,” says Dave. “There’s an incentive if you can pick the fruit in the first three weeks of the season, so we’re probably one of the earliest green kiwifruit orchards to be picked around here.

“You’ve got to be in the right place with the right climate. The higher altitude orchards can’t do that but we’re only 50 metres above sea level so we can manage it. And this is an old orchard. Our vines must be at least 50 years old, so we’re well established.”

The new pace of life has also allowed Dave to spend more time doing what he loves – getting creative making handcrafted homewares in his shed. He’s constantly on the lookout for timber that can be salvaged or milled and particularly enjoys breaking down wine barrels using the French oak timber to create beautiful pieces.


“I got a truckload of barrels once but they were dirty and old. I had to scrape the old wine off and some were completely buggered, to be honest. So I found a guy in Hawke’s Bay and I just deal with him now. I can fit 20 on my ute and trailer, so it’s well worth a trip down to be able to pick them out myself. Oak is just a beautiful wood to work with and I use every part of each barrel.”

As a farmer, Dave’s attitude has always been: ‘Don’t throw it – fix it!’

“I’ve made some cool furniture but I think it’s about the size. We sell a lot of smaller items like platters, cheese boards and table centrepieces. I have a few real estate agents who have standing orders for gifts they give away to clients.”

Dave gets huge satisfaction and enjoyment creating items from recycled native timber.  “I have a container full of wood that I’ve collected. Someone’s given me old timber door and window frames.

“I also have this amazing Kauri that’s come from a swamp and could be hundreds of years old. I can blend them together but the main thing I use is the barrels.

“There is nothing better than standing back and looking at a finished piece that will sit in someone’s home.”



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