Rural life

Been a busy month settling in to The Shed. To tell you the truth, we feel like we’ve lived here for years. The Far North of NZ is amazing. It’s the end of Autumn (or Fall) right now and it’s still warm during the day. T-shirt weather warm. Nights and mornings you get the warmer layers on though.

My friend down South tells me that they’ve had a dusting of snow, very strong NW winds and an earthquake. Not missing any of that! The Far North region does not get earthquakes we’re told or, if they do, the last one was decades ago. And speaking of NW winds – last week, the weather report said strong winds were expected. We battened down the hatches as they say; something we used to do down South. Along came the strong winds….a mild breeze. The farmer behind our property said yep, that’s as strong as they get.

Meanwhile, Zeph is very curious about a giant hole El Hubs has been digging. It’s a dog’s job to dig isn’t it?! The giant hole is our greywater system. Greywater is waste water from kitchen sinks, showers, baths, and washing machines. It is not from toilets (toilet waste water is known as sewage or black water).

So you dig a huge hole and fill it in. We’ve filled it with scoria (volcanic rock material) and planted. The plants will use the food particles and other components of grey water that they need for their nutrients and growth (which is why you don’t use toilet water).

El Hubs then built two raised vegetable beds and a floating deck. Everything grows overnight here. We seeded some grass about two weeks ago and already it needs to be trimmed. The floating deck was built for us to have coffee and breakfast on but Zeph and Zsa Zsa have taken it over for sunbathing purposes 😉

Don’t remember digging such a big hole!

Zeph and Zsa Zsa enjoy the sun on the floating deck. Behind them, you can see the two vege boxes and the plants in the grey water system.




Well, Dear Reader! I’ve been offline a bit due to no Internet connection. We moved into The Shed (as I call it) on April 22 (after nearly 3 weeks in the pet-friendly motel) and then spent the next 10 days or so trying to get connected to the outside world.

We had to get the telecom company here in New Zealand to give us a phone connection thingo. This is technical jargon for some wire that they embed in the earth after having dug around a fair bit 🙂 Then, we had to get a long trench dug from this connection to The Shed. After trying to find a contractor to do this, El Hubs gave up and dug it himself, with me laying the phone cable in the trench.

Then….the real circus began. We needed the same telecom company to come back and do its thing. They were supposed to be here April 26 but it was a no show. El Hubs rang on April 27 and they said Yes, Sir we’ll be there today. You guessed it – another no show. We were shopping for food on April 29 and we get a frantic call from the technician to say he’s on the property and where are we?

We rush back and the technician fiddles around and leaves us saying you need VDSL. We go get VDSL and then ask the telecom company to come again because it wasn’t working. The company says you need VDSL. Ah yes, we have that now, we reply: thanks to your technician telling us. Then they say Nope, not our issue; it’s your service provider. So we ring them and they say No, the telecom company will sort this out.

Flummoxed, El Hubs decided to fiddle around and lo and behold, connected us. What a legend. He rings the telecom company back to cancel the request for them to come out again.

So now I can bring you photos of The Shed. We are still tarting it up though. Our 10 solar panels are fired up and give us light, and we are off-the-grid yeah!! We have two water tanks that hold 45,000L each, so we now have water. We use gas for hot water and we bought a huge Weber BBQ, which is amazing – I’m sure it could dance if I asked it to. We boil up our water for coffee on it; produce pizzas and BBQ chook; we’ve even baked a cake in it.

After two weeks of living in The Shed, I can tell you that I prefer the smaller scale of things. Our house down South had two-storeys but, in The Shed, everything is compact. The dogs love the property and their new home.

We are still decorating but I will show you the inside of The Shed soon.

The Shed, nestled in the landscape, with a contractor’s truck outside. You can see the two water tanks to the right of The Shed.

The dogs are far more active here. Zsa Zsa is exhausted from all the running and sniffing. We let her rest in our truck, which is one of her most favoured of places.

Long-distance view of The Shed – I took this photo from the bank of one of the streams.

We have to pave from the bottom of the property up to The Shed. It’s about 400m, so quite a bit to pave. We could have left it but, with the rain you get in the North, the driveway up to The Shed can get very muddy. We have been stuck a couple of times already. This is the first layer of paving and you can see Zeph and Zsa Zsa trying it out!!




Regular readers know that every October, I wait for the cherry blossom in the front garden to awake from its Winter slumber. For me, it signals the start of warm weather. This week, I started to see buds and, a few days later, some blossoms.

The tree is not yet in full bloom and I’ll post a photo when that happens. In the meantime, there’s evidence of Spring all around!


Cherry Blossom is waking up!


No idea of the name of these flowers but they are a gorgeous fuchsia colour.


Quince tree.


Zeph is enjoying more time outdoors to explore.


It’s in the air. Spring. Well, this week we’ve had a bit of a cold spell but, mostly, Winter has been pretty mild. No huge dump of snow. Just two nights of wet flurries that painted the landscape snow white the next day but quickly melted with the appearance of warm sun.

Spring in the Southern Hemisphere starts on September 1st and that’s just two short weeks from now. Some cherry blossoms are already in bloom in Christchurch and, the other day, I found one of our cherry blossoms awakening, as well as daffodil buds appearing. This is my favourite time of year on the property. It seems we have long Winters and you get sick of the rain and overcast days. Mind you, in Canterbury we can get cold, frosty mornings followed by beautiful, bright blue sunny days – so I can’t complain too much.

It’s the anticipation that I savour. Of seeing the pink and white pastel cherry blossoms abloom; spring lambs leaping about on the neighbouring property; canary yellow daffodils bobbing their pretty heads; and the general feeling of rebirth. It’s approaching.


One of the cherry blossoms stirs.


A daffodil bud.


The large cherry blossom in the front garden usually waits until October to unfold in all its glory.



I was telling you recently about the shocking winds that hit us on the night of January 9. The beautiful weeping willow suffered a lot of damage as did a golden elm and our chestnut tree. The tree surgeon thought he could save the chestnut tree but the trunk was split right down the middle and this meant the tree would just rot. So sadly, it had to be cut down. I was very upset about this actually. It was a such a majestic tree. But we have saved some cuttings and the tree surgeon has told how we can replant it.

The weeping willow had to undergo serious tree surgery and had two enormous branches cut off. It looks a bit lopsided now but the guy reckons it will recover. A large golden elm also had to be chopped down.

We are now going to remove a number of towering eucalyptus trees from behind the stables. The previous owners went nuts with planting these water suckers and they’ve grown very large. I think they were growing them for firewood. But we’ve made the decision to get rid of them. We’ve been here nearly three years and do not feel these trees really protect us from the North-West winds. The macrocarpa around the secret garden, however, does.

So we have to get someone very experienced in chopping down large eucalyptus trees and he’ll be coming along soon with his cherry picker. Hasta la vista gum trees. The positive side of all this is that we will now have enough firewood to last us for years.

This was the beautiful chestnut tree.


And this is the chestnut tree now.


A large golden elm also had to be cut down.


The weeping willow was saved but had to undergone a fairly drastic prune.

What a shocker of a night. I had to get up at 5.00am this morning to be ready for a Skype work chat with a New York colleague at 6.00am. So I went to bed around 11.00pm but….who could sleep? The winds were howling and rattling every window in the house. Gales and heavy rain have been battering New Zealand over the last day or so.

The Canterbury region is well-known for its Nor’ Westers – hot, dry strong winds. You know a Nor’ Wester is coming when you look up in the sky and see the Nor’ West or Canterbury arch. We’ve only experienced one awful Nor’Wester and that was in September 2010. It was either the day before or the day after the first Christchurch earthquake on September 4. We’d only been in NZ for a couple of months. Welcome to New Zealand!

We cowered in a corridor of the house and I was certain it was going to come crashing down around our ears. But it didn’t. In fact, it’s withstood two harsh rattles at the hands of Mother Nature with the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. And last night, the house faced down the strongest winds I’ve ever lived through. All through the night, the winds carried on like raving banshees: screaming, howling, whistling. Windows and shutters trembled whilst we tried to sleep. Yeah, right. That didn’t work. I bolted upright in bed with each loud hurtling gust as it savagely hit the house and surrounding trees.

I looked outside at one stage to see Saffy and her dad, Muff, running around the race like wild maniacs. At least they need no exercise today! I later saw Rosie taking shelter in the gully near the race, which has a small stream. Karma had her four chunky legs very solidly placed on the ground – no strong wind could budge this mare! Danny was very stoic with his back to the gale force winds, calmly waiting it out. I did think of taking them all up to the stables but then looked at the eucalyptus trees behind the stables thrashing and bending. Didn’t really want my horses to be flattened thanks.

I think I managed one hour of sleep before the 5.00am alarm shrilled. And guess what? My New York colleague never showed up for the 6.00am Skype meeting due to being dragged off to an unexpected meeting.

As daylight broke, we surveyed the damage. Sadly, my favourite tree – the large weeping willow in the front garden – had its trunk split and a large chunk of this magnificent tree was lying forlornly on the front lawn. The chestnut tree was also split in two and the glass on our outdoor coffee table was shattered. Branches from other trees were strewn everywhere but the horses struck it lucky – many of these branches are from willow trees and horses LOVE willow (it’s a great anti-inflammatory and like taking aspirin).

We rang a tree surgeon who came bolting out this morning. He says there’s a 50/50 chance of saving the willow tree. It’s leaning heavily to one side and further winds could destroy it. 80km/h winds are predicted for this coming Sunday and next Tuesday. Great. He reckons the chestnut tree just needs a prune to within an inch of its life and it should be fine. So he’ll be back over the weekend to work his magic. I just hope he can save the fragile weeping willow.


The chestnut tree with its trunk split in half.


A large branch from the beautiful weeping willow.


Another branch of the weeping willow broken off.


Zsa Zsa inspects the huge chunk of weeping willow now on the ground.


Some friends, who are more advanced in the whole sustainability thing, gave us some eggs that had been laid the previous day by their chooks. We’ve been talking about getting chickens for months. We have the chicken coop and the nesting boxes. Our farmer friend says he has 10 or so chooks for us – so hope to get them soon. We plan to only house the chooks in the coop at night. During the day, they can roam about.

Now, this will sound real “urban girl” but I have to tell you that I’ve never seen a box of oh so fresh eggs before. Chook feathers, dirt and chook poop were literally sticking to the shells. I had a moment of “eew” and then settled into cracking open the eggs for my Bombe Alaska.

Three things were pretty obvious: the shells were more fragile than store-bought eggs; the yolks were a gorgeous golden yellow; and the whites whipped up very fast. Mass-produced eggs have much lighter-coloured yolks. The chook’s diet dictates the colour of the yolk. Poor hens that live in a cage will just eat the grain and feeds that are given to them, whilst chooks that roam freely about eat whatever is around.

I know there’s a whole science to feeding chooks that I’ll have to learn about. But bring it on. Once you’ve tasted the difference between a freshly laid, organic egg and a mass-produced egg…well…there’s no contest really.

A gift from our friends, complete with chook feathers.

Amazing golden yellow colour of the yolks.

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