Working Holiday on Aotea (Great Barrier)

Community Gallery Teaching room with mural

Every year the Great Barrier Island Community Art Gallery runs a winter lecture series.  I had the good fortune to be invited to run workshops last year and again this year September 2nd and 3rd.  I love going to Aotea (Great Barrier).

I flew directly from Tauranga with Sunair, known for tiny planes and changing flight schedules. We set off at 8am to accommodate the person going to Whangarei, who had a

Me and the three seater plane

detour to Great Barrier. On the way, we picked up a man in Whitianga.  I find it exhilarating taking off and landing in those 3 or 4 seater planes and then low flying over the landscape, enabling a birds-eye view of our beautiful countryside and the ocean.


Crossroads Backpackers at the Cross Roads

For two nights’ I stayed in the ‘Crossroads’ Backpackers in Claris. A great turnout of 17 people came to the first edible weed workshop.  We visited the lush Medlands Community gardens, with its’ excellent variety of greens, vegetables and weeds. The whole Island being off grid means everyone has to be self-sufficient on everything like water, power, waste disposal and where they get their food.  Count Down adds freight costs to ordered food. I noticed that the islanders are very aware of and totally reliant on

Foraging in the Medlands Community Gardens

their environment and tuned to the weather.  They want to know what they can eat in their surroundings, in case, as one woman put it, “they are ever cut off and can’t access imported food”.

After the workshops, I stayed with good friends John and Lil in Port Abercrombie. Access is by boat only, hence the reason I wear gumboots. I had a real holiday, internet free and got to knit and read, things I now rarely have time for.  The book “Woman in the Wilderness” by Miriam Lancewood vividly describes her and partner Peters’ experience living only in the mountains and bush of NZ.  The story was a perfect match for the way John and Lil live so remotely on Aotea. I relished the quiet, the sound of the sea rhythmically lapping and lulling me to sleep, the kaka parrots that squawked in the mornings, tui’s and other bird calls.  One evening we heard a very strange sound and I learned the little blue penquins had returned.  They’ve made their nest in the furthest back corner, under the house.  We enjoyed long talks on nature, gardening and how to live when you’re becoming older.  Lil and I had a walk over the hill to a neighbour, who gave us a big bag of huge guavas, (Psidium guajava) which I peeled and stewed.

Native celery & puha growing in sand

Lil and I harvested rock oysters and for the first time I ate some raw.  Lil later made delicious fritters, while I made a salad with water cress (Nasturtium officinale), wild coastal celery (Apium prostratum), and greens from the garden. I laughed at Pete the dog who barks at the

Pete and the dolphins

dolphins cruising up and down the harbour. I also made weed pesto and thistle lemonade, using the appliances when the sun is generating power.

Pea and brassica support & protection

We built a pea support from kanuka sticks, (Kunzea robusta), tall flax stalks woven into the kanuka, tied together with flax fibre.  We sowed the peas and then surrounded them with kanuka brush to ward off slugs and snails and to provide support as they grow. Lil also puts dense brush around the vulnerable brassicas. I was so taken with the kanuka brush I brought some home to put around my peas. I also brought home a mountain pawpaw cutting, hangi hangi or New Zealand privet, Ligustrum lucidum seedlings, a maiden hair fern for my bathroom and the fondest memories to sustain me till my next visit!

Rock oyster fritters and green salad

Regenerating bush once the Kanuka is cut. It was originally Kauri forest, followed by burn off and pasture.

Looking down on Port Abercrombie where I had stayed on the northern end of Aotea

Morning view from my bedroom