New Zealand, North Island Permaculture tour

Post date: Dec 13, 2013

We spent 6 weeks in NZ recently and during that time tried to visit as many Permaculture projects as we could find and fit in. Our base was Hamilton because Dad lives there. A day trip to Raglan introduced us to Solscape -> eco friendly accommodation, retreat, and education place in a stunning location. Afterwards, a quick visit to the local rubbish dump to see in action -> waste materials can be used again in some way.

Earth dome accomodation

earth dome building

Our first trip was 2 weeks heading Southwest, down to Wellington and up East coast and back around to Hamilton. Our first stop was 3 nights at Korito Education located near the bottom of Mount Taranaki, New Plymouth. Dee Turner is a passionate educator and gardener on a reasonably mature 10 acre Permaculture site. During our stay here, we visited Bena and Daniel at Puriri Farmlet and talked about their full time consulting business called Greenbridge as well as had a look around their property and re-located house renovation. Later, we met Kama who works at Greenbridge as well as lives in and nurtures community in her street. Community efforts include council approved walkway along a nearby stream with food tree plantings. We also visited Katikarā Eco Community in the Pouakai range which is looking for new members to help its resurrection from a period of decline.

Dee's kitchen garden and view towards New Plymouth

Dee's kitchen garden beds

Our next night at Avonstour near Stratford was an eye-opener about rarebreed animals. John Earney explained how animals bred for mass production of wool, meat, milk, eggs, etc are inherently weak (and thus need chemical support in medication and fertilisers) whereas animals bred taking into account their living environment can be strong and need NO chemicals whatsoever. He also told us how animals really can do work; his example was in preparation and return of the land used for a crop of hemp with no machines used.

One of the many different rare breed animals at Avonstour

cow and Dylan

Wanganui had two delights to offer; Nelson and Dani of Ecothrifty and Mark Christensen's (member of Tree Crops Association) 5 acre property with lots of heritage fruit trees. Ecothrifty is a blog detailing the eco-friendly renovation of an old wooden building and its accompanying urban permaculture garden example as well posts about all things sustainable. It was pleasing to see their dedication to community and how their garden reaches across two neighboring properties as well.

Backyard permaculture garden Heritage fruit trees

urban permaculture garden
heritage fruit trees

We found the Makino Food Forest in Fielding online, however Rob wasn't taking visitors at the time. So, we visited a pair of sisters who had started rescuing a neglected 10 acre property just out of Levin. A range of unusual mature trees and many different fruit trees showed testament to its previous botanical owner.

Tim from met us at Innermost community garden in Mount Victoria, Wellington on a Sunday after lunch. We shortly joined a Food Forest Design workshop impromptu with James who does regular educational workshops in the leased building. Great to see Permaculture so near the heart of a city.

Kotare Village and Koanga Institute (Bob Corker and Kay Baxter, North of Wairoa) was our next permaculture project. Everybody was so friendly that we gladly accepted an invitation to camp overnight. This was an excellent place to see practical Permaculture in action on a new-ish site (3 years in development); rocket stoves, urban demo gardens, seed saving, fruit trees, beehives, interns, animal husbandry, and so on.

Modeled urban typical backyard garden Beehive in urban garden

Modelled urban garden
bee hive

The Village Educational Gardens based at Tairawhiti Environment Centre in the heart of the Ballance Street Village, Gisborne provides educational training space and programs for improving environment consciousness and action. Another nice library collection. Staff takeaway coffee from across the road not a good look though.

Our second leg of the tour went North from Hamilton visiting EarthTalk in Waiuku first. A Kay Baxter designed 21 year old property in abundance and Earthcare (covenanted forest regeneration) well in progress.

Kitchen garden Banana circle

kitchen garden
banana circles

Otamatea ecovillage, Oneriri Road, consists of 6 or so properties on a peninsular in stunning surroundings. We talked for hours with Marijke and Rob about their timbercrete block and recycled wood dream house and life in an ecovillage from conception until present (~16 years).

Timbercrete house


In nearby Kaiwaka, Biogas Yoshi’s ecohouse (recommended to us by Kama) had put into practice some of Mollison’s building concepts. Biogas from human and kitchen waste, greywater treatment, renewable energy, solar chimney and pipes out from the basement to facilitate hot air in or hot air out depending on the season.

Antara retreat aims to guide/ help rehabilitate young adults in strife by offering a variety of different courses and workshops in a permaculture setting.

Piddlingmountain just out of Kaeo introduced us to Andy and his octagonal wwoofer built house on about 10 acres. Andy’s tale of 1000 cucumbers from 3 plants is testament to his organic farmer background.

Brynderwyn on State Highway 1 is where Kohatu Toa Eco village is and where Koanga Institute used to be. I was very interested to see Scott and Helen’s paper earth brick house as I thought it might have been similar to papercrete that I had worked with in Taiwan. It turned out the blocks were made with no cement, only 1/3 each of clay, sawdust, and ground waste paper. The wall was then plastered with a similar mix with cow manure added. Quite a different, but pleasing end result.

After a couple of bird sanctuary visits and a day back in Hamilton we headed for National Park. After walking across Tongariro Mountain we stayed a night at Awhi Farm in Turangi. Again, it was nice to observe practical Permaculture in action with a multicultural mix of woofers involved. Interesting to see a cordwood building as well as a sandbag ground floor building with pressed earth tile/brick second floor dome. Minimal fossil fuel use (gas for some cooking), compost toilets, veggie gardens everywhere, fruit trees, chickens, pigs, and so on and involvement with local community with workshops, etc and a newly established Farmers market.

Sandbag ground floor, compressed earth tile dome Accommodation and potato field

sandbag and earth brick dome
potato fields and accom

Lastly, just up the road from Hamilton in a town called Ngaruawahia, we visited Gubb's Earthship. Brian talked and showed us the 5 year project to build a family home using as many waste materials as possible and a budget of no more than $30,000. This earthship was the first to be built in New Zealand and was approved by the local council. Again, really cool to see this in real life rather than on youtube or in a magazine! I admired the 6m3 mulch hot water shower that lasts about 10 months, using chippings from the local power company tree trimmers (delivered for free), and taking 10 mins to reheat water between showers. Incredible.

Mulch hot water system Inside earthship

mulch hot water
inside earthship

Key tips:

Cattle love flax and it gives them minerals - every farm could and should plant a line along each paddock.

Rhubarb leaves boiled for 20 mins OUTSIDE ONLY (fumes are toxic), cooled, and sprayed on to weeds will kill them, BUT toxicity only lasts 2 hours. Spray in evening after bees are in bed.

Donkeys eat all weeds in paddocks and therefore remineralise soil with their droppings - no need for chemical sprays and fertilisers. Should every farm have a couple of donkeys??