The Gentle Annie Family Story
Ellen came to New Zealand to work as a primary school teacher from Ithaca in Upstate New York in 1974. She took up teaching in South Auckland, where she met Phil, who was working as a Parks and Recreation employee for the Auckland City Council. After a year, they moved to the South Island so that Phil could continue his Park Management training at Lincoln College. It was there they decided their future lay not in city life, but in the countryside. So, they headed to Northern Buller, an area that had fascinated Phil during his years at Lincoln College.
The Gentle Annie property became home in 1976. With its warm microclimate and Phil’s background knowledge in horticulture, the couple endeavoured (while raising a family of four children) to make a living from the land and be as self-sufficient as possible.
Ellen’s parents, Warren and Claire traveled over to New Zealand from New York each year for over 35 years to visit the family. They helped out with all the goings on at Gentle Annie during it’s evolution, as did May and Bill (Phil’s parents) during the early years.
The horticulture business developed into a 16,000 square foot greenhouse operation growing Winter Tomatoes and Babaco fruit. In May of 1984, the glasshouses were destroyed by a twister that swept ashore from the sea.
A need to replace their livelihood became necessary, which coincided with the adjoining dairy farm coming up for sale. After a couple of interesting years dairy farming, the herd was sold, and Phil and Ellen’s focus turned toward tourism. With Phil’s background in landscape design and recreation, he developed a full size 9-hole golf course (many holes of which can still be made out when wandering the property).
The Cowshed was converted into a snack shop and club room for the golf course. After a few years it became apparent that the golf course was costing too much to maintain, and at the same time, the Cowshed was becoming a popular restaurant. The turning point came when a violent flash flood destroyed much of the lower portion of the golf course.
The Cowshed Restaurant was run from 1990–2000 by the family, hosting daily trade, weddings and other functions. The holiday home accommodation was developed step by step to where it is now able to accommodate up to around 50 guests. The addition of the camping ground has enabled many others to enjoy this beautiful place.
Since 2001, the Cowshed Cafe has been leased to many talented people, who have offered a variety of cuisine during each Summer Season.
Phil and Ellen have 11 grandchildren. Their eldest son Tom lives in Tauranga with Scout, Rosa and Lewis. Tom works as a High School English and Inquiry-learning teacher. Dida, their second child, lives with her husband Craig nearby at Carters Beach, with their three children, Guiseppe, Zabeel and Tobias. Dida too works in the teaching arena, Phaedra, their younger daughter, lives with her husband Tim and their three children, Dakota, Indira and Aalia in Greymouth. Phaedra has also been involved in teaching, more specifically teaching English as a second language, and is currently studying Primary School teaching.
Jesse, Phil and Ellen’s youngest son, and his wife Jessica moved to Gentle Annie to live in 2009. They now have two children: Ithaca-Jane (4), and Beau (1 1/2), and both are able to be “stay-at-home” “work-from-home” parents with wonderful support from their family. Jesse and Jessica plan to homeschool their children, as well as continue to successfully run and grow the accommodation business, camping ground and the Cowshed Cafe together.
Come to Gentle Annie and tell us your story – we’d love to get to know more about you!