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With its rugged landscapes and untamed beauty, Central Otago, is home to one of the most innovative, forward-thinking and idyllic farms in New Zealand, Royalburn Station. Owned and operated by Kiwi food-legend Nadia Lim, together with her husband Carlos, we were invited to tour of the grounds and meet the wonderful team bringing Nadia and Carlo’s dream to life. QT Queenstown’s Executive Chef, Ryan Henley, uses as much from Royalburn as he can get his little hands on, we were quick to see the synergies between both Royalburn and Ryan’s food ethos.
To say we were blown away is an understatement. Not only are the views, landscapes (and Nadia) absolutely stunning, it was evident how Royalburn Station has emerged as a leader in innovation and ethical farming. Read on to dive a little deeper into the farm practices of this rural gem providing some of the best produce in all of New Zealand, the importance of regenerative farming and their circular-system farming methods.
Nestled between the picturesque towns of Arrowtown and Wanaka, this alpine farm dates back to 1887, and has evolved into a pioneering agricultural venture. Royalburn delivers award-winning lamb, pasture-raised eggs, grains, seeds, and a bounty of produce directly to consumers within the local region. Covering an expansive 1,200 acres on Crown Range Road, the farm experiences the extremes of hot summers and freezing winters, creating a unique environment for their food production.
The ethos of Royalburn goes beyond conventional farming practices. It’s a living laboratory where experimentation, learning, and development of sustainable practices are ongoing. Nadia and Carlos have made it their mission to improve soil health, regenerating and leaving the land better than they found it. The focus on healthy soils extends beyond mere sustainability – it’s about fostering a thriving ecosystem that benefits crops, livestock, and the underground world beneath our feet.
A key aspect of this regenerative approach involves rotating crops, a method that not only maximizes yield but also contributes to the health of the soil. Waste reduction is also a top concern, with every part of the farm being utilized, creating a zero-waste, circular system farm. Animals are born, raised, and eventually contribute to the land, with bones transformed into mulch and soil. Mulch is then turned into fertilisers which are used on the land, and the cycle goes on.
View of Queenstown from Royalburn Station
What sets Royalburn apart is its farm-to-plate operation, delivering some of the best produce directly to consumers and to top restaurants around New Zealand (us, wink). Freshness and quality is what we can expect from everything that comes from the farm.
The Market Garden
The Market Garden grows seasonal ‘organic’ crops using only natural fertiliser. On our visit, we plucked salad greens from the land and ate them straight from the garden. From vibrant salads to beets, onions, garlic, and soon-to-come pumpkins, the garden is a thriving hub of fresh, locally sourced produce. A giant glasshouse promises a future brimming with tomatoes. With the harsher climates experienced on the farm, the team are still trialling different things to see what grows best.
Market Garden at Royalburn Station
Chicken and the Egg
Further down the hill we were met with 5000 free-range chickens, living their best chicken life (seriously, these must be the freest chickens in the country). With acres of land to roam as they please, the chickens are fed a diet of oyster shells, peas, wheat, barley and animal protein from the farm. Laying a whopping 3500 eggs per day, the eggs are collected daily, and delivered out to local customers. You can’t get any fresher than that. Here, Nadia explains their circular system to us in more detail: the chicken excrement is collected and put on mulch pits which becomes compost and fertilizer. The fertilizer is then used for enriching the Market Garden and soils, with garden produce, grains and seeds then used as chicken feed. Zero waste, full circular farming.
Royalburn free-range chickens
Livestock is a significant focus for Royalburn, with their pasture-raised lambs being a standout, award-winning product of the farm. Their philosophy with sheep is ‘we like them being a little wild’. Being as hands off as possible, they don’t remove their tails or ear mark lambs, leaving them to grow stress-free alongside their mothers.
The farm also has its own abattoir, a rarity in New Zealand, and employs an ethical, stress-free approach to animal processing. This no-stress killing practice ensures a more humane and sweeter meat, with lambs processed on-site without the stress of transportation. The lambs are then dry aged for five days, adding a layer of richness and flavour to the meat. This commitment to ethical practices extends to the entire process, from farm to table, with the meat sold to local chefs and restaurants. The lamb’s wool is also used to make seedling pots, weed matting in the garden, and spun into yarn to make quality woollen blankets and throws.
Royalburn beef is raised on a farm in Northern Southland, 100% pasture-fed, the cattle graze freely in their designated paddock. Following the same humane practices as the lambs, the cows are processed right there in the paddock, ensuring the most ethical and stress-free approach possible. The meat is then dry aged for a minimum of 21 days which enhances tenderness but also intensifies flavour.
Charcuterie and Snags
In addition to their premium meat offerings, Royalburn’s charcutier uses offcuts and trim to make authentic, dry-aged charcuterie such as salamis and sausages. Royalburn has gained acclaim for its delectable sausages, crafted on-site by their skilled butcher. The farm’s sausages feature seasonal variations, showcasing the diverse flavours from the farm – using ingredients such as Alpine Honey from their own hives to herbs from the Market Garden. Royalburn also takes pride in their venison sausage, crafted from wild venison hunted in the surrounding mountains.
If you’re visiting Queenstown, make sure to pop into Royalburn’s Farm Shop where you can purchase produce straight off the farm and meet the people who have grown, raised and harvested it.
A Flavourful Friendship
Chef Ryan Henley and Royalburn Station are like culinary kindred spirits, both dancing to the beat of zero waste and sustainability. With a deep-seated passion for responsible sourcing, Chef Ryan diligently seeks out the finest ingredients from local farmers, fisherman, and artisans who share his commitment to the environment. He orders whole animal from the farm and butchers the lamb himself in-house, something Royalburn love as this also means zero-waste. The hotel is also now fully composting with Mr Chippy. Any leftover food, veges, scraps and bones go into compost so there is zero wastage. QT Queenstown’s menus are a celebration of fresh, and fabulous farm fare. You’ll find Royalburn lamb on the menu at Lil Red, aged whole, served with courgette and seaweed butter. You’ll find Royalburn eggs, seasonal and lamb sausages in Bazaar Marketplace for breakfast, venison sausages on the menu at Reds and vegetables throughout menus when available.
Ryan Hennley working with whole animal at QT Queenstown
The Bountiful Feast
Concluding our tour with a barbeque at the historical homestead, Prohibition House, Nadia and her team cooked the most gorgeous lunch using only what came from the farm. Different cuts of lamb, cooked on the BBQ with nothing else added but heat, this really was some of the most beautiful lamb we have ever had. Paired with Nadia’s homemade salads and a glass of Central Otago Pinot, our Royalburn Station tour was a standout day on the 2023 calendar.
Lunch at Prohibition House
A special thank you to Nadia, Jason, and Oli for your hospitality and stories. We would also like to pay our respects to Ortega ‘Tré’ Anderson, Royalburn’s butcher, charcutier, and close friend of Ryan’s, who was tragically killed in a car accident late 2023. Your will continue to inspire and your legacy will live on in every corner of Royalburn.
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