Blue Duck Station – preserving the history of the land

Blue Duck Station – preserving the history of the land

“It is just a matter of using the land for what it is best suited for”. – Dan Steele

Blue Duck Station is a 2800-ha farm and environmental conservation project located in the Ruapehu District on the banks of the Whanganui and Retaruke Rivers in New Zealand.

The station, much of which is rugged and inaccessible, was first offered to returned servicemen after World War I. These settlers had a vision to ‘tame’ the land and bend it to their will, but as often happens, nature had other ideas, and after fruitless attempts, the land was abandoned.

Over time, the land returned to native bush and had little commercial value. After a stint overseas, Dan Steele was working on his family’s farm when the land came up for sale in 2005, and he boldly took it on, later leasing his family property, Retaruke Station, to incorporate into his operations.

Dan and his wife, Sandy, have made it their mission to preserve the history of the land while looking to nature for answers. They have diversified the farm into something incredible, from eco-tourism to accommodation, to sheep and cattle farming, all with a strong conservation focus; Dan and Sandy are diversifying at all levels.

When Dan and Sandy reached out to me to assist them in their regenerative journey, I leapt at the chance. The Blue Duck ethos of not fighting the land to force it to be ‘something’ but rather to work with it to find a purpose that fits is the basis of a regenerative model.

I also applaud their willingness to diversify. This is something I am personally passionate about. Diversification of enterprises is the tool whereby we can use our land to better support more of the tangata, family and community.  These very things are implemented in the actions and operations at Blue Duck Station.

For these reasons, I am proud to be working alongside them.

Blue Duck Station

The History of Blue Duck Station

The history of Blue Duck Station dates back to the early 1900s when it was first established as a sheep and cattle farm. Over the years, the station has been used for a variety of purposes, including as a military training ground during the First World War.

Today, the station is home to a variety of wildlife, including the endangered blue duck whio, after which the station is named. The history of the land has been retained as much as possible with the restoration of historical buildings and the creation of a museum on the station that showcases the history of the area.

Blue Duck Station – a case study of diversification

Instead of attempting to force the land into agricultural production, Dan and Sandy have transformed part of the property into a holiday destination with activities and accommodation accessible to all.

It features some amazing diversity of land use, vegetation and enterprises. This is a great example of not just regenerative farming but a regenerative organisation.


Blue Duck Station offers great-value accommodation in five rustic lodges. The lodge has been designed to have a minimal impact on the environment, with ultra-thick insulation and thermally efficient glazing.

The Chef’s Table restaurant

Accessible only by chopper or 4WD, the venture is a collaboration with chef Jack Cashmore and serves foraged and sustainably farmed produce from the land, from wood ear mushrooms and native herbs to farm meats.


Guests can also go hunting, which in turn helps control the pests that threaten the native wildlife. Hunting is an important part of their business, but it’s also conservation.

Fresh New Zealand honey

Manuka is one of the first natives to regenerate when you allow farmland to return to native bush.

Two beekeeping companies have hives on the station, which produce manuka honey for sale.

Blue Duck Station - preserving the history of the land

Noteworthy land husbandry practices

The station has a well-established predator control program designed to eradicate stoats, weasels, ferrets, rats, mice, and hedgehogs. These are all enemies of the blue duck as well as other native species.

Approximately 400 certified humane traps and 1500 bait stations are set up and are checked and reset weekly by their team of volunteers. The success of this programme, along with the regeneration of the native bush and the clean, running water, has allowed the native species to thrive. There are currently 15 pairs of whio on the station, which is a significant portion of the remaining 1500 pairs within New Zealand.

Wetland projects

Dan and his team have undertaken the massive task to re-establish wetlands around the farm and fence them off from stock. The idea is to naturally purify the water coming off the hills and encourage native flora and fauna to thrive. Clean waterways are also essential to many native species, especially the blue duck.


They compost all their organic waste, including animal manure, and use it to fertilise their crops. This helps to reduce waste and improve soil health.

Ata Regenerative EOV monitoring at Blue Duck Station

Completing an EOV Baseline on Blue Duck Station’s land required a really good understanding of the farm property and the farming operation. 

EOV is what we call ‘contextually relevant’ – it is to be adapted to the different contexts of the farm business and the ecoregion within which the land base sits.

We got to see the farm in detail so we could select monitoring sites which represent the diversity of the land base. This often means driving to a good vantage spot to overlook the farm or driving around to get an idea of the diversity that exists.

I am often humbled by the scope of some of these operations and feel privileged that we can share this with the farmers.

Below is a shot of the incredible view from the restaurant at Blue Duck Station.

Blue Duck Station - preserving the history of the land

Regenerative farming with Ata

Regenerative farming methods are essential for us to face the challenges of climate change and the depletion of natural resources. Focusing on the health of the land, improving soil health, increasing biodiversity, and reducing the use of synthetic inputs are the cornerstones of a regenerative farming system.

Blue Duck Station is a wonderful opportunity for us to work with like-minded farmers who have a strong desire to work with nature rather than against it, and to create abundance from the land for ourselves and future generations.

We know our communities and farmlands have the potential to thrive. That’s why it is our life’s work to guide farmers through adopting regenerative practices and transitioning them to a regenerative future.

If you want to join the regenerative movement, you can. It is simple.

There is no pre-qualification required, no pre-conditions for entry and no pressure to achieve beyond the level of your own progress. All you need is a genuine desire to change towards a system that can deliver health to the planet and people and secure a long-term future for humanity on Earth.

Contact us today and take the first step on your regenerative journey with us.

Dr Hugh JellieApril 28, 20230

Dr Hugh Jellie

Dr Hugh Jellie is the founder of Ata Regenerative and has spent 17 years researching farming systems and regenerative agriculture around the world. He now helps farmers, organisations and individuals change to deliver improved environmental, social, financial and health outcomes.