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An all-in good time

8 December 2023

Having just thrown open the gates to Ayrburn, the 60-hectare, $200 million development set on a 160-year-old estate near Arrowtown, visionary Chris Meehan talks us through what to expect from the brand-new-but-also-historic precinct that’s shaping up to be unlike anything else on offer in Aotearoa.
Interview Josie Steenhart

From brunch beside a bubbling brook, laid-back lunches in a woolshed full of art by the likes of Goldie and McCahon, private fine dining in a stunningly restored historic homestead, cocktails inside a centuries-old stone cottage or wine and oysters in a former speakeasy (and manure shed) to catching kōura for your own pizza/pasta in the on-site lake, picking your own flowers, licking lush ice creams and a whole lot more besides – Ayrburn is set to be the hottest new spot in Central Otago this summer.

How would you describe Ayrburn, in your own words?
A wine and food paradise.

Tell us a bit about each individual area/space?
Ayrburn offers venues that cater to every taste and occasion.
The heart of Ayrburn, The Woolshed offers fireside or alfresco dining from dawn to dusk, serving uncomplicated comfort for all. It’s a place where everyone feels welcome whether just for a coffee or a cocktail.

The Manure Room is, as the name suggests, located in what was originally the old manure room. It was also known as a bit of a speakeasy during prohibition, so the perfect spot to savour the flavours of Ayrburn’s latest vintage wines while basking in an atmosphere that combines comfort and elegance for an all-in, good time.

The Manure Room offers exclusive Ayrburn wines, unavailable anywhere else in the world, with wine tastings during the day, transforming into a sophisticated wine bar during the evening.
For the kids and kids at heart, The Dairy is a quaint, nostalgic gelato parlour that’s like stepping into a storybook of sweetness.

The Burr Bar is a haven where you can sip on whiskey and cocktails with close friends. Designed to be generous and flamboyant, the venue pays homage to an iconic local, Adrian Burr.
And finally The Dell is a central lawn to host vibrant markets, alfresco lunches, and concerts. Savour a picnic from an Ayrburn venue, relish freshly pressed coffee from The Bakehouse, or enjoy a bottle of our Ayrburn vintage with friends.

Ayrburn really does have something for everyone.

Where/how did the concept come about and how long has the project been in the works?
We bought the property in 2015 and worked on various ideas. By about 2018 we thought we had the concept right, and five years later, here we are…

Tell us a little bit about the history of the land/property…
Established in 1864, Ayrburn is reimagining its heritage by seamlessly blending a world-class wine and culinary experience and honouring its proud history as one of the first farms and more successful in the area.

Every building at Ayrburn has been meticulously restored, right down to preserving the natural sag of barn rooftops, honouring the original character in every decision.

From the craftsmanship behind each creation to the stories behind every door, Ayrburn is a celebration of its heritage. It has been restored stone by stone – honouring its history, with its original character evident in every building.

Can you talk about the ways in which you’ve utilised historic materials/elements?
We’ve done everything we can to preserve and enhance the history of this remarkable place and the fabulous buildings and trees that sit on it.

We’ve re-used the historic building materials wherever possible, which was an extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming process. But anyone now seeing these buildings would appreciate the detail and thought that has gone into respecting their historic significance.

What have been some of the highlights and challenges along the way?
Highlights have been the amazing group of designers and artisans who have shared a passion for Ayrburn and an enthusiasm for their work that I have never seen in over 30 years of doing this.
The challenges have been the excessive bureaucracy and resultant time and money wasting that the local authorities have put us through.

Ayrburn is both for visitors to the region but also for locals, right?
Ayrburn is first and foremost for the locals. They will have the greatest appreciation for the work we’ve done and the spaces we’ve created.
Ayrburn was the social hub of Queenstown back in the day and played host to the A&P Show and many district-wide social events for many years. We hope it again becomes the hub for locals to get together and have fun, and this is foremost in our minds.
As well as our locals, we want visitors to treat Ayrburn as a must-do every time they come to Queenstown. Book your flights, book your Ayrburn visit.

What are some of your personal favourite spaces?
My favourite is The Burr Bar. It’s named after a great mate that I bought the property from, and is located in what was Billy Paterson’s original homestead when he settled the farm in 1864.

These very first settlers to Queenstown had the pick of where to put their houses and it’s no accident he put this one where he did.

There’s nothing better than sitting outside The Burr Bar in the late afternoon sun and then retreating inside to enjoy the character and ambiance of the old cottage.

How does it feel to have Ayrburn complete and open to the public?
It’s fantastic. The highlight for me is seeing people of all generations getting together to have fun among all the unique treats that Ayrburn has to offer.

Anything you can tell us about future plans/developments for Ayrburn?
We have one of our upmarket Northbrook luxury later living villages approved for the grounds of Ayrburn. With 150 apartments and loads of amenities, it will also be a fantastic addition to the district and will be well sought-after.

We also have seven prestige homes and a 20-room boutique hotel approved for the wider 55ha site.

Anything else people might be surprised/interested to learn?
That the Ayrburn food and wine precinct is only half-done. Stage one is complete, but there are at least another four amazing venues, including the flagship Billy’s restaurant opening late next year, as well as The Bakehouse, RM Butcher and a florist.

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