Tara and her family have found their perfect lifestyle on a small block looking out to the Hunua Ranges. It took them twenty years to be in a position to realise their dreams and make the move to their haven on the side of a wide valley, and they think it was waiting for them, having been on the market for some time before they found it. After looking at many properties from Kaipara to Mercer, Tara says “As soon as we climbed over the gate it was just so still. No air traffic noise, no road noise, just a couple of fantails following our progress round the property, chirping at us.”
The family (Tara, husband Dale and children Brendan and Christy) were looking for a block of land that would be easy to manage, and would allow them to run a small business based on fruit trees and a few other cash crops, but without demanding, as Tara says, “that we spent all our off-work waking hours maintaining it.”
The block is nearly flat, with a roughly 4 degree slope, making it easy to work on. They have good soil with an excellent drainage system allowing the runoff of excess water during heavy rain. It is also north-facing and has a stream running through it. The family have so far planted 145 fruiting trees and bushes, and the list of what you can fit on a relatively small area is impressive. Tara explains that they have planted in areas, with a section for apples, pears, quinces, medlars and elderberries and another for peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, currants and gooseberries. And that’s not all: there is yet another area for citrus, and then there are the chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and olives.
The block came as bare land, so in addition to the planting programme, there has been the house-building. The house was sited so it is also north-facing, as they wanted to have good sun access. The family have used energy-saving approaches to make the building as efficient as possible: there are three solar panels on the roof which ensure a free hot water supply for at least half the year. Tara comments that they use a gas back-up system for the times when the sun doesn’t quite cope. The house also has polished concrete floors which passively store heat during the day and release it at night to maintain an even temperature. When it starts to get cold, Tara simply lights the fire. The house was heavily insulated at the time it was built, making it surprisingly easy to heat and cool. Tara and her husband Dale also have a shed apiece on the property: “boy shed and girl shed” says Tara, to house their respective hobbies and their related storage needs.
The overwhelming impression is one of rural tranquility. As Tara comments, “the stream is a lovely feature – the sound is so soothing, and once we get it cleaned out nicely we are hoping that it will encourage animals such as frogs.”
So, is there anything that disturbs the peace here? Says Tara, with a groan, “Oh the bunnies! I have yet to find a commercial preparation which will deter them, so I make my own – which seems to work rather well. My son also has a gun, but they seem to outsmart him every time (think Elmer Fudd…). But otherwise, the bunnies are procreating faster than we can deter them: they are even cheeky enough to continue this practice just out on my top lawn, easily seen from my kitchen window when I’m doing dishes. In saying that, I have several recipes for bunny that I am dying to try – just got to get Elmer to bag me one or two first…”
And is there anything that would have made life easier at the beginning, dealing with a bare block of land and a house to be built? Tara comments that a storage area would have been great – instead they got a small garden shed “which the mice love” and a caravan. Once the bigger sheds were built they were able to use that space instead, which helped considerably.
Tara’s top-of-the-list for things she would not want on her block is pine trees. She acknowledges that they are great for firewood and timber production but from her perspective as a horticultural user of her small block, they are a nightmare she could live without. She notes that they tend to make the soil somewhat toxic for many other plants and that once a paddock has had pines in it, it can be very difficult to use the soil for other purposes after they have been removed. As she says“Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, just not at my place. And after all those fruit trees, I don’t think I have the room…”