Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. – Groucho Marx
Here I am, four months later, sitting down and scratching my head to remember all that’s been happening since March!
We had a lovely final month at Toi Toi Manawa. With the help of many volunteer hands, we finished up lots of little projects and tidied up the garden and buildings for winter. After saying our goodbyes to the land at Manawa and to many friends in Whitecliffs, we hit the road – with our trusty Corolla working hard to carry us and all of our worldly possessions (read: root vegetables)!
The month of April was spent visiting friends and farms in many parts of the country. We spent a few days in and around Lyttelton before heading North to visit farms in the Buller Gorge, Motueka, and Golden Bay. Then it was across to Wellington on the ferry! After a short drop-in to see Andy’s folks in Feilding (and to relieve the car of much of the load it was carrying) it was onwards to Taranaki to celebrate the wedding of our friends Tim and Hannah. It was a beautiful wedding and a great chance for Andy to reunite with many of his parkour friends.
I had an interview in Auckland which I really enjoyed though I didn’t end up getting the job. Probably for the best, because I don’t know that we’re well suited to living in the big city of Auckland anyway! From there it was on to Whakatane to visit good family friends and to get to know the region surrounding New Zealand’s active marine volcano, White Island. Of course, part of getting to know a volcanic region is checking out the naturally heated hot pools!
Then it was across to the east coast for a brief visit in Gisborne – the first city in the world to see the sun every day. That visit included a stop at their fantastic farmer’s market where we stocked up on lots of beautiful fruit! From Gisbrone, we headed down to Kotare Village and the home of the Koanga Institute – seed savers extraordinaire and maintainers of New Zealand heritage food plants.
Further on down the east coast, we stopped for our first long-ish stay since leaving Toi Toi Manawa. A little ways south of Hastings, we came to The Family Farm and there we stayed for two beautiful weeks. The Family Farm is based at Mangarara Station – a 1507 acre sheep and cattle farm. They’re putting a whole new spin on things there though! Taking inspiration from farmers like Joel Salatin and Mark Shepard, they are focusing on sustainable and restorative forms of agriculture. This has translated into planting thousands of trees, managing grazing intensively, and focusing on perennial species throughout the farm. Another interesting element is the addition of two new families to live on the farm and develop enterprises including raising pigs and dairy cows, growing heritage vegetables and saving seeds. It’s a very whole picture and an exciting start to a new model for New Zealand’s large (and small) farms to look to and learn from.
Our time at the Family Farm was spent volunteering in many parts of the farm – from milking cows and catching pigs, to weeding garlic and shifting sheep. I hadn’t spent so much time around livestock before – so this was an especially great learning experience for me! We were delighted to spend time with such a fun and interesting bunch of people with such a passion for doing good work on the land.
After another swoop through Feilding, we headed aaaaallll the way back up North and beyond Auckland – straight on up to the Hokianga Harbour in Northland. Although Andy grew up north of Auckland, he’d never ventured this far up. For a long time, we had hoped to visit the farm of John and Gail Aiken – a couple who grow seeds for the Koanga Institute, among so many other wonderful things. We spent two weeks volunteering at John and Gail’s place. It’s an absolutely stunning spot up on a hill overlooking the river. Their garden is a total inspiration, they’ve got a beautiful orchard planted, they’ve got ducks and chickens and geese, they produce great milk from some beautiful cows, and they’ve even got a gorgeous draught horse called Kate! Did I mention that in Northland they can even grow pineapples and bananas?! We learned a ton in the gardens with John and Gail – and in the kitchen too. They do a lot of fermenting and cheese-making, among other things. And the seed saving! Because they save seed on a commercial scale (and we were there in the autumn) we had the chance to be involved in saving lots of seeds – from radishes and eggplant to beans and cucumber. We picked up some great new techniques and left feeling really empowered. Seed saving is such an important and exciting piece of food security. And so much fun!
We covered a lot of ground on those couple of months – for those who aren’t too familiar with New Zealand geography, here’s a quick map of the destinations we hit:
We hurried back down South to catch a flight from Palmerston North back down to Christchurch where we met my Mom and Dad at the airport. After a 15 month separation, we had the chance to spend four weeks together seeing the sights and catching up. We watched dolphins play from a boat in the Akaroa harbour, visited a magical, natural nursery for baby seals in Kaikoura, toured wineries with a friend in Blenheim, got to know the new puppies (!!) at Andy’s folks’ place, toured parliament in Wellington, soaked in hot pools in Taupo, and visited geysers in Rotorua. And so much more. In between, we spent lots of time playing cards, chatting, cooking and relaxing in some truly beautiful places. The weeks flew by and before we knew it we were waving goodbye!
We’re extremely fortunate to now be looking forward to a trip to Canada for August and September. It’ll be a fabulous time for us to visit with friends and family and to explore possible opportunities for ourselves on that side of the world. And when we get back to NZ it’ll be spring! Perfect!
In this little gap before we head to Canada in a few weeks’ time, we’re working away at odd jobs nearby Andy’s folks’ place. So far, that’s meant a mix of warehouse work and traffic control. I’m a big believer that rolling up your sleeves to do something entirely different from usual is very healthy and helps to round a person out. And working the stop-go sign is more fun than I’d ever imagined!
I am loving our current freedom to travel, explore, and collect ideas and inspiration. I’m also looking forward to the time when we land in a place and hang our hats for a while. As fun as odd jobs are for these couple of weeks, they are also a good way to reenforce our choice to work in the realm of sustainable food and farming. It reminds us of the elements of good food work that energise and excite us and make us feel really satisfied at the end of the day.
When we return to spring in New Zealand, we’ll be ready to jump into our next growing adventure, wherever that may be. And then when my current visa expires in February, well, only time (and also our soon-to-make decisions) will tell…
Until next time!