After three weeks of staying with my good friends Laura and Darren at their home on Waiheke Island I thought it was about time that I told you a bit about their life here. 18 months ago they bought what’s known as a lifestyler’s block on the island 30 mins ferry ride from Auckland. Lifestylers, as the name would suggest, are those people who choose to put the way they live their lives ahead of any other priorities that may motivate them. They generally have a strong will to escape city life, to cultivate and to live off the fruits of the land with as little impact on the environment as possible. For me being a city kid, used to the hustle and bustle of Barcelona life, Laura and Darren’s place on the highest and least populated part of Waiheke can seem like the end of the world, albeit the end of the world with spectacular views and air so fresh it burns the lungs – just how the end of the world should be I hear you say! In a series of upcoming posts I want to tell you a bit about how they are trying to live the ‘Good Life’. An eco-wedding, solar panels, organic veggie patch, woofers and a cultural community festival are all part of the package.The story begins with Leslie Walters, a Saatchi and Saatchi marketing exec who exemplified the city worker who wants to escape to the country and embrace the change that a lifestyle block offers. He bought 20 acres at the east end of Waiheke Island in 1997 to develop into a family retreat. He got as far as building a post and beam straw bale house made from old bridge timbers and keeping a few animals on the land. But unfortunately for the Walters family the change from city to country life was not a smooth as they’d hoped and the Te Matuku area was just too remote. In stepped Laura and Darren who were ready to take on the challenge. They bought the land from the Walters in June 2004. Laura and Darren had been searching for their ideal piece of land for three years. They had roamed the New Zealand countryside with an A4 list of prerequisites: Spring water on the land, good views, mature trees, and what they call the ‘wow factor’! It was not until they came to stay with some friends on Waiheke one weekend that they found exactly what they were looking for. Although it did take seven visits over a period of six months to persuade them that the enormity of the task was worth taking on.
It has taken a lot of dedication and back breaking work, but after 18 months we can already see and eat the fruits and vegetables of their labour. Since I’ve been here we’ve eaten organically home grown swiss chard, beetroot, leeks, potatoes, broccoli, watercress and eggs. They have extensively landscaped the property; building roads, taking out fences, planting orchards, digging garden beds using permaculture principals and forming a pond and water purifiying wetland using the spring source that bubbles up in the middle of the garden. Although Laura and Darren haven’t named their new home yet, happily one of the possibilities is Maunga Puna which is Maori for mountain spring. They have moved the solar panels from the field to the roof of the house and bought new batteries for them so that now the house is 90% solar powered. The progress hasn’t been without a struggle though; unfortunately the old solar batteries left them without power in the middle of the New Zealand winter for 6 weeks. Brrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh! Luckily the straw bale house is pretty well insulated. The donkeys they inherited got the better of them when they ate all the new plantings. They had to deal with the wettest winter in 40 years and, well lets just say they’ve been stuck in the mud more than once or twice!
While it has been tough it’s already clear that Laura and Darren are making a great success out of their dream project. Laura believes that one of the most important differences between them and the previous owners is that the Walters wanted to get as far away from civilization as possible, an exercise in escapism, conversely Laura and Darren’s idea is to bring sustainable civilization to Te Matuku. They want to be as inclusive as possible, welcoming anyone and everyone, neighbours and those from afar, to come and see how you can live off the land. Their idea is to put on a series of cultural events; workshops, cooking classes, music festivals and creative arts shows over the next few years. Read in the next post about the amazing event two weeks ago that was Laura and Darren’s wedding on their own land.