Joanne and Jonathan Leigh

On the next episode, screening 22 July 2018 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:

Jonathan and Joanne Leigh love life, they work hard and play hard. Their three teenage children are talented, smart and capable.

Eldest son Cameron, 18, was a top junior golfer and is now studying at Otago University, their next in line William is New Zealand’s Junior Boys barefoot water-skiing champion and their youngest, 16-year-old Rebecca, has just made the New Zealand junior rowing team.

The whole family has been camping in a paddock alongside Lake Karapiro for the last 16 months while a new home is being constructed. They are unnervingly cheerful about their circumstances, all claiming that this time camping has been mainly carefree.

It is a long story as to how they ended up camping by the lake but it ties in with the family’s calf-rearing business.

The Leigh’s own Top-Notch Calves, situated just outside of Tirau. They’re one of the country’s largest calf-rearers. This year they will nurse 7000 calves through their first 12 weeks of life.

The vast majority of these calves are males, purchased from dairy herds around the Waikato region. They stay at Top-Notch until they are over 100 kilograms when they’re on-sold to bull-beef farmers.

The calves arrive at Top-Notch just days old. From the moment they get off the truck they are closely observed and given a thorough health check. 

The calves are then placed in their new homes. Every pen offers both shelter and open sunlight with sawdust underfoot, and water and meal on tap. The animals are introduced to the feeding barrels where they’ll derive most of their nutrition in the coming months. 

The Leigh family at Karapiro

The systems at Top-Notch are impressive - anything that can be automated has been. They can store up to 300,000 litres of milk but there are no buckets to lift.

A lot of thought has gone into making the operation easy to operate, which gives the staff more time to focus on the welfare of the calves.

When Jo and Jon set up Top-Notch they planned for it to be a part-time enterprise; they’d rear calves each spring and spend lots of time with their children.

But their calving empire quickly grew into a full time proposition and they now take advantage of autumn calving to give their employees 10-month contracts. 

Luckily time with the kids has come in the family businesses - all three Leigh children have worked in various capacities at the calf-unit as well as the neighbouring dairy farm and a newly acquired run-off block on the shores of Lake Karapiro. 

When the family moved into the palatial home overlooking the Lake, they quickly discovered they wanted to be down beside the water, where the action is. They decided to convert the house into Lakeview Lodge, offering accommodation for over 20 guests.

When the builders began the renovations on the lodge the family decided to go camping. They were happy to live in tents for 16 months with little respite from a Waikato winter.

They’re building a permanent home in the paddock by the lake so that they can continue to work and play as a family for many years to come.

Read more about the Leigh family's calf operation here.

Find out more about their accommodation here.




Dan Henry


Camera & Aerial Photography

Steve Fisher 


Field Sound

Don Paulin 


Editor & Colourist 

Mike Townsend


Post Production Manager

Bailey Palmer


Sound Mixer

Ian Leslie



Stephen Gallagher


Production Manager

Robyn Best



Vivienne Jeffs 


Network Executive

Vicki Keogh


Associate Producer

Dan Henry 



Michael Huddleston



Julian O’Brien