Whakatane

January 23rd – 29th 2016

The following is a chronicle of the time I walked into the crater of an active volcano, had a major revelation in my TinyHouse future and just might have found my new home.

Like many medium-sized New Zealand towns, Whakatane has all you might need but if you blinked, you could miss it. Steeped in rich Maori history, Whakatane speaks of the very troubling story of our young Commonwealth nation. Ancient disused Pa sites and ‘confiscated’ land exist side-by-side with the modern version of life set out by a colonial society. Impressive Maori engineering beside modern day tourism ventures designed to profit from nature’s loss.

Whakatane’s homestay is a Work Away placement (as opposed to a WWOOF). It was helping a semi-retired person do a renovation on an investment property she’d just bought… in short, it was supporting just the kind of venture that creates the economic sieve of the ‘rent trap’ as we know it. It’s the type of venture which we have made ok so that people are left with no option but to throw their hard-earned wages into someone else’s retirement fund and making it near impossible to create any financial wealth/equity in their own lives.

Despite that little rant though, I’m actually not bitter about it. It was a great chance to watch someone’s creative vision become a reality and to actually be part of making it happen. That is the way I chose to experience it. It was a chance to enjoy some of the quirks of our little, young country too. Like how things like this gem still exist in people’s homes not as an interesting character addition, but in line with other oddities bygone era. Things that are simply there because they’ve not been updated.

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Would’ve definitely bought this and scrubbed it up if I had a place to put it… and a way to get it there.

Alas, it was due to be updated now. Along with some simple removals, substitutions, groundwork and rearrangements, the property looked like a whole new place by the time I left and they were still only about halfway. It’ll be interesting to see how it looks when it’s finished. It inspired me and reminded me of my goal to develop a permaculture property some day. Geoff Lawton inspired me in a similar way with his production “Designing 5 Acres for Abundance”. Worth a look if you get a chance.

While it was not ideal ethically, there’s no point denying that is the reality of how people are buying their freedom these days. The rich DO get richer. May as well use that. Logistically too, the dogs didn’t have much chance to stretch their legs at the house we stayed at, we were just parked up on the nature strip out the front of a footpath, rather than in a yard. However, they were able to come out during work times to the renovation site, so they still got to be involved and active.

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The massive benefits were definitely my host and her son being awesome. Very welcoming and friendly. It makes all the difference when you feel like a welcome house guest rather than the hired help. The food too was amazing. We delicious meals that Janet just threw together out of random health foods she likes to add/mix. It all tasted great and was very nutritious to boot.

On that note, food actually inspired a paradigm shift for me. During the latter half of the week, a French couple came to join in the work. One of whom is vegan. She mentioned a vegan cheese she could make out of cashew nuts which was quite nice. Having tried other vegan cheeses and being less than impressed with the consistency (especially when melted), taste and/or price, I was keen to try it. Turned out that it more of a cream cheese but there were variations to make hard, cultured cheeses too (If you’d like to try it, all you need do is ask. I have the recipe). It also tasted AMAZEBALLS and was relatively affordable. PLUS the required ingredients keep really well without refrigeration. This last part is the key point.

Tasty cheese (or ‘Cheeze’ as the recipe put it) which doesn’t do harm to other beings in its production is pretty cool by itself. Not being one for fad diets, I’ve never really given the ‘raw food movement’ much time or thought. Nutritionally, I still won’t. If it works for you, that’s great. Doesn’t seem like a bad thing… it’s just not for me. Practically however, there is a lot to be said for it in a life downsize and reduction in dependencies, consumption and spending.

I can only speak for myself on this really but for me, this whole thing is about rethinking habits and assumptions. The root of it all comes down to questioning beliefs and asking oneself what it really required or important. Freedom is really about making those things a priority and shaping a life around them.

Here I got thinking how I could incorporate a blender into my very low fi electrical set up. Even changing a blender over to DC power would still draw far too many amps to be practical. So I looked toward manual options. Why is this a revelation? Here’s the thing, it got me thinking about how we create flavour in our foods. A blender opens up a whole heap of options for combining flavours and changing food consistency without the need for heating or cooling. It also therefore means less need for energy consumption and spending. If we can learn to make flavoursome, varied foods without the need for external energy sources, we both become more connected to the process of making food and considerably reduce our need for consumables. Those sound like key principles of sustainability to me.

Failing to secure an onward WWOOF/WorkAway, I decided to take a regular holiday after Whakatane. So I put my tourist hat on before I left and went out to White Island… because, you know, that’s the best thing to do when: 1) a cyclone has just blown through; 2) the area (a neighbouring town, Edgecumbe, being to one of New Zealand’s largest quakes) has had a couple of earthquakes over the last few days; and 3) the week before, the company you’re travelling with had a boat burst into flame, fully evacuated mid-sea and sink to the sea floor (these things all actually happened too- no exaggeration).

There were a few bumps in the road on the boat ride over causing several people to relive their breakfast (not me, although I’ve felt better). But the payoff was pretty spectacular. It’s a pretty surreal thing to walk inside a volcano knowing it has erupted during your own lifetime (some might say a bit dumb). And the water out there! Man, it was beautifully clear and not as cold as I’d expected. I decided to have a cheeky wee swim off the side of the boat while we waited for the others to get ferried back and it was wonderful. With that, I shall leave you with a photo form the trip

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