Have you ever wanted to wander off the beaten track into the beautiful, but privately owned, countryside of New Zealand?

Well, thanks to Waikato’s Michele and Roy Connell, now you can.

A few years back the couple were watching an episode of Country Calendar when they had a light bulb moment, said Michele.

“On that episode was a beautiful farm in Canterbury and it had a river running through it, it had bush on the farm and the only people who got to enjoy it were this family of four who lived on it. It was a tough time for dairy then, a couple of years ago now. And that got us thinking, why can’t farmers monetise what they already own?,” Michele said.

That was the moment Off the Beaten Track was born.

“Our vision is to connect holidaymakers with a taste of authentic rural New Zealand that’s delivered through locations and experiences that are privately owned.”

The idea was to find a bunch of landowners who would be open to letting holidaymakers stay and share the land they love. This enables rural property owners to create a side hustle and it gives holidaymakers a chance to see a side of New Zealand they never would’ve before.

“We knew that most of New Zealand was in private ownership and you only need to take flight over New Zealand and look down and think, ‘there’s a lot of off-the-beaten-track properties down there’ to see the opportunity.

“So, we did some initial market research to gauge the response from prospective landowners and holidaymakers. We were overwhelmed with the positive response and we knew we were on to something.”

That idea turned into a reality on April 1 last year. The couple launched a website and were fortunate to be approached by Hamilton-based business incubator SODA Inc. and were accepted into an incubator program in July last year.

This helped the couple to define their customers and target market.

“Through the SODA process we learned a lot about our business so we’ve just launched a fresh website on April 1 this year.

“SODA partner you with a business growth advisor, who works alongside you to see where you want to take the business and what you’ve got to do it get there.”

She said it was great having external advisors to help shape the business and now they were going to help take them further.

“We are fortunate to be in the next stage with SODA, who are currently sourcing new business growth advisors for us to work with and help us to take the business to the next level.

“For us it’s about getting people to know we are there. We’ve been trying different marketing angles, we know this is naturally an online business through Facebook and social media.

“Our goal is to create a tribe of New Zealand-lovers that come together and connect and share our beautiful backyard.”

Michele owns Classic Events as well and Roy is a full-time farmer.

“[With Classic Events, there are] multiple events occurring all year round which keeps me busy, but I  am pleased to have employed a staff member to help me with OTBT which is fantastic as it’s meant someone had been able to push along the business.”

In fact, she said, they’d had three new listings in one day last week.

“It’s my passion project. I’d dearly love to spend more time on Off the Beaten Track. I can see myself down the track being able to do that, I really do believe in that.

“We are unique in that we are the only offering that offers you authentic rural New Zealand experiences.”

She said even part of the listing experience for the land owner was about listing three unique experiences that were on or around their property.

“That could be a 2km drive to an awesome bike track, or it could be a picnic by their stream, or lunch at their rural pub. The whole thing is around authentic New Zealand experiences.

“It’s offering something that’s private, unique, safe and off the beaten track,” she laughed.

She said they currently have just over 100 properties from the top to the bottom of New Zealand listed on their website.

The entrepreneurial couple believe Off the Beaten Track is going to take off internationally, but for now they’re focusing on the domestic market.

“We have identified our core domestic markets, but we’re positive that we have a big appeal to the international market who want to discover the undiscovered New Zealand.

“This will be our first real summer, because last year we were heavily involved in the SODA process. It’s already shaping up to be really busy.”

Michele said there was a good variety of accommodation available with a big price range. Places include somewhere to pitch a tent for $20 a night, somewhere to park a motorhome, glamping, to cabins and cottages and more.

SODA Inc is a Hamilton-based business incubator, who works with founders from all industry sectors to create a customised program with the help and support they need and go to market on a case-by-case basis, both locally and internationally, to find the perfect advisor for them to work with.

Content provided by The Waikato Story.