Postcards from Taumata Island: Winter arrives, South Wairarapa Politics, new challenges

We have been here for a month now. The full moon came up through the pine shelter belt last night, a strange yellow ball casting shadows across the paddocks, an ice ring surrounding it, the promise of cold weather to come.

We have taken possession of two horses since I last wrote to you. Mahi and Strider. Both from Tauranga, stock horses, Mahi is a quarter Clydesdale Gisborne bred paint, we needed something large enough to carry me, he is calm and quiet. Strider is a half quarter horse half paint, with a wicked sense of humour and a rebel attitude, but a terrible weakness for carrots.

Both are taking time to settle in and fatten up. When we purchased them, the drought was in full roar in the Bay of Plenty, and both are a little underweight as a result. The farmer we bought them from was heartbroken; he was selling off a stable of near twenty thanks to the drought.

Horses have always been a part of Karene’s life, and we always intended to add them to the farm. As well as companions, they’ll be put to work and will form part of the long-term plan to start training the next generation of stunt people in New Zealand, an industry that Karene has long been a part of.

Much ado this week I see in Wellington about James Cameron and crew landing back in the capital. Many opinion pieces that were so far off the mark they came across as petty.

Film is a multi-billion-dollar industry for Wellington that can employee up to 4,000 people at a time, not to mention the hundreds of small businesses that supply it. Cameron, also, is a rampant environmentalist who is investing heavily in the Wellington region in kind, acting for our native flora and fauna.

I drove into the city last week, and I have to say it was an intimidating experience that made me appreciate the efforts that groups across Wellington have been pushing for, more green space, more room to move, cleaner air to breathe. Driving off the motorway and into the city the words concrete jungle sprung to mind, traffic was heavy, and the noise was deafening.

I genuinely have moved.

Wairarapa is a true-blue electorate who, as I said last time, thought that Simon Bridges was performing well during the Covid crisis. Not so much love in the local paper for the new leader, Muller, who is not seen to be the new hope of National and painted weak, if not insipid. His messaging is not reaching the rural community at all, and there is no surprise as to why that is.

Celia Wade-Brown has thrown her hat in the ring as the Green Wairarapa candidate. The feedback on this move was often rude, dubious, and the consensus was “good luck with that Wairarapa.”

She will not get in. The reputation follows, the perceptions of her time as mayor, and in a deeply rural community, the Greens are viewed (rightfully) with high suspicion. There is no love lost here in a place that values the land and water far more than any super-city green politician growing organic basil in their CBD apartment window boxes that has never stepped in sheep shit, but probably enjoys a good lamb rack.

A lot of land here is being sold off in blocks, and there are now dozens of large, flat, paddocks with no shelter, no water, and no services being hocked off to people who want to move in this direction. The land is often sold, then left to its own devices, a wicked waste of fertile plains that require constant maintenance. Likely to remain that way for years given you cannot get a builder here for love nor money.

I have started tuning in to the local politics of Council. The Councillors and mayor seem well respected though the Chief Executive not so much. Is not that always the way? After a perceived Council misstep, over an oven no less, a Council flat that went without one for some four months, before being embarrassed into action by the local paper.

The CEO of SWDC wrote a letter to the paper (there is no social media here my friends) that gave a long list of excuses, did not apologise, had a crack at the reporter, made passive-aggressive comments about the “anonymous source”, effectively blamed the tenant, and did not accept any wrongdoing on the part of the Council at all.

Local politics are interesting, and there is definite competitiveness between Featherston, Greytown, and Carterton with the belief that Greytown is the teacher’s pet.

Issues here surround infrastructure (hello Wellington Water), water itself (climate change is drying the valley out while water use is increasing), and things like the safety of State Highway 2, which frankly is a complete deathtrap from Featherston to Masterton. You will read the endless list of crashes and misadventures.

We’ve had some near misses as “townies”, we were ready to take order of several sheep to keep the paddocks under control and provide a source of income when one of our neighbours pointed out the paddocks we wanted them in were inadequately fenced. We came quite close to having a mob of sheep roaming the neighbourhood. He was very gracious about it.

People here are incredibly welcoming and gracious. For example, the local dairy in town has already figured us out, and what we frequently purchase, and made provision to order in what we need. Everyone knows where we live and who our neighbours are, despite us living quite some distance from Carterton.

There are, of course, challenges.

It is cold here in winter, we have had a -6 overnight in the last month, and firewood is a constant source of work, with the house having no other heating source. What we save on power, it is very reasonable; we are putting into wood.  

Running even a small farm is a full-time job, you must remember to try and take a day off a week; otherwise, it will consume you. There is, literally, an endless list of work that needs to be undertaken, we’ve both lost our lockdown paunches already and days are long. This is not for the fainthearted.

I am still working remotely for my customers, and one thing that we did not anticipate is the terrible internet speeds out here. It took a month for our telco to hook us up, to ADSL no less, that runs at a rate of just 1Mbs. For your non-technical people, that’s getting back to the 1990s.

We have had to order satellite internet, which comes at a high cost, and some drawbacks, but this is a fact of rural life. We found our location could not connect to some rural broadband services, radio, because between us and the radio tower, a colossal tree exists, some two kilometres’ away on a neighbouring farm.

The adventures continue, we have established a company to allow us to start experimenting with some sustainable products, allow for the training of New Zealand’s next generation of stunt people, and provide a powerful brand. The accountant is quite bemused by the range of ideas, which, as always, don’t fit into a standard box.

The month of June sees the land hibernate, grass growth slows, animals need hard feed to keep weight on, deadfalls must be cleared, maintenance is undertaken. I am praying for a good wind to knock the next lot of pinecones out of the shelterbelt as they make excellent fuel (high BTU’s) for the stove.

It feels precarious and overwhelming sometimes, but when you get to sit in the paddock at the end of a beautiful day, have a beer, and throw the ball for the dog, it feels rather good.

Footnote: For the weather enthusiasts among you, we’ve invested in a mid-range weather station, to get some more accurate forecasts, that sits in the middle of our paddocks. If you wanted to know the current weather in our paddock, then you can click here and entertain yourself.

4 thoughts on “Postcards from Taumata Island: Winter arrives, South Wairarapa Politics, new challenges

  1. Wonderful. We moved to Whitemans Valley in 2011. Haven’t looked back. We have sheep, cows, chickens, have planted an orchard and built woodsheds.
    Biggest learnings – tractors are mostly too big, and quite expensive, they will sink in the mud!. But a front end loader is cool and useful, get a little 4wd. Woodsplitters and wood chippers are very cool power tools, but always get a big one, as the little ones don’t cut it. We got rid of the tractor and the quad, and now use a side-by-side honda.
    A block is just as much work as a real farm, but no income!
    learn to fence, and always have a stash of warratahs, wire, and strainers.
    Electric fences can never have too much juice
    Pukekos are evil
    Make sure you have a good wetback on the fire. A stirling engine on top is cool to move the heat around the room.
    Get some heatpumps! Honestly, they will make your life wonderful – we do 61/2 cords of firewood a year, and it takes a good couple of hours to warm the house properly in the morning. We put heatpumps in over summer – With heatpumps it is already 18C when we get up – and whitemans valley is just as cold as Carterton! This is the single best investment we made. Firewood unless you cut your own is probably $250 a month!
    You can never have too many sheds.
    Things take time, but they do happen. Winter is great tree planting time.


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