August 30th 2016 saw me flying in a tiny FlyMySky plane across the clear, blue sky to Great Barrier Island from Auckland. The smooth flight gave panoramic views of the Island’s bays and inlets and bush clad peaks and valleys and the flat land, much of which looked like wetland.
I was met by family friends John and Lilian who live in Nagel Cove at the Northern end of the Island with access to their property only by boat. So the adventure began! We drove over very windy, luckily sealed roads to Port Fitzroy, stopping on the way at Okiwi Passion, the market garden run by Gerald and Kaitie Endt who
supply produce boxes to folk on the Island, and who a couple of months ago featured on Country Calendar. We picked up some eggs and Kaitie gave us a tour and I saw she had lovely weeds which they do their best to control with bamboo mulch. I pointed out some edible weeds and Kaitie is now going to include e.g. creeping mallow in her salad green mix. I returned to Okiwi later in the week to collect a range of weeds for the two popular workshops on identifying edible weeds I ran through the Art Gallery in Claris.
Once at Point Fitzroy, which consists of a store come post office, nurses’ clinic and small library we carried our luggage down to the wharf to John’s barge. He is the moorings maintenance man on the Island for all those essential tie ups for boats. All aboard we motored thirty minutes to arrive in their little cove to then unload into a small plastic dinghy with all the luggage and row ashore. Lilian had advised me to wear gumboots, and
now all was revealed, I clambered out of the dinghy into the water. Gear on the beach, we then hauled it up 45 steps. Fitness is a bonus of living there and I could totally appreciate all the work John has put into the property over thirty years with terraced rock (and now tyre) walled gardens, every rock of which has been carried up as well as all the recycled materials used to build the house, huge workshop, greenhouse, outside compost toilet and shower rooms. They have a wonderful pergola over a path up which they grow tomatoes, and beans in
summer. They have built the gardens on seaweed, resulting in very healthy looking vegetables, flowers, fruit trees and herbs. Frosts don’t occur allowing bananas, mountain pawpaw and citrus to do well.
I was very amused by Pete, the sun seeking Jack Russell who would only leap into action on hearing dolphins in the Bay and then bark from the shore like a good watch dog. I did get to see dolphins as a result.
John had excavated some land to create a flat area, disturbing and compacting the soil and scotch thistles had come up thickly, I pointed out that the deep tap roots would break up the soil and the refreshing tasty lemonade I made so surprised them that they could see these plants as a resource, rather than as a curse. I added that the roots are also edible and to prevent them spreading cut off the flower-heads.
John and Lilian have 12 solar panels for power and gel storage batteries backed up by a generator. They collect rain water, have composting toilets and wood fire for cooking and water heating, as well as gas cooking elements. They did have internet and Vodafone coverage but not Spark so I was off line for the four days that passed too quickly.
My time on the Island closed with two highly popular workshops identifying edible weeds run though the art gallery in Claris. I will definitely return to the beautiful Great Barrier Island.