Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cattle graze on the hillsides above Te Kouma Harbor. (Gloria Salavarria)
A New Zealand way of life

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 6:00 a.m.

Cyril Strongman took me with him on a run that he had at Bill Johnston’s remote station overlooking Te Kouma Harbor on the Coromandel Peninsula. Bill needed Cyril’s help in repairing a diesel power generator that he had at his home.

New Zealand

Cyril, the elder brother of my friend Nigel, is a very active 83-year-old.

When he retired, Bill traded the security and conveniences of municipal utility services for a fabulous view of Te Kouma Harbor. His custom-built dream home is a long way down a gravel road—accessible by 4-wheel-drive and not just any 4-wheel-drive but one with good brakes as his house sits at the bottom of a steep incline with no room for brake failure.

New Zealand

The view from Bill's house, complete with a place to put your drinks on the railing as you view the harbor.

The hillside on which Bill lives is rocky and the soil is scarce but Bill works hard on reclaiming his land from the scrub bush and he uses his own compost to create a basic kitchen garden for himself.

New Zealand

Bill wearing a New Zealand singlet.

Bill also does as most New Zealanders do—he hangs his laundry out for drying. A Kiwi may have a clothes dryer in his laundry room but he uses is only when it’s raining outside and he absolutely cannot wait until a sunny day in order to get dry, clean clothes.

Electric power is not a cheap commodity in a country that’s completely dependent on hydroelectric, geothermal or coal-powered generation—although some inroads are being made now with wind generation. Nuclear power is out of the question since there is a nuclear ban in this country that even excludes nuclear-powered vessels from docking in New Zealand’s ports—much to the annoyance of the U.S. Navy.

New Zealand

A solar dryer is a standard feature in all Kiwi homes.

One of the striking things an American will notice when visiting New Zealand is the Kiwi’s fondness for corrugated iron sheeting. It is their roofing material of choice—has been from the very beginning when Europeans first settled the islands. New Zealanders are so fond of corrugated, they use it in their sign making, and some even sheathe their entire house in it. Corrugated is to New Zealand what adobe clay is to Arizona, New Mexico and parts of southern California.

New Zealand

Kiwi fondness for creating in corrugated at its finest.

New Zealand

Yet another example of Kiwi creativity in corrugated iron.

As to why corrugated is so popular with the Kiwis, it’s a part of their pioneer heritage and it was a construction product, apart from lumber, that Kiwis could manufacture—thanks to the islands’ rich deposits of iron sands and coal but it wasn’t until I visited Bill’s place that one of the big reasons they like corrugated clicked into my mind—water conservation.

When you live on a remote island in the South Pacific, you’re surrounded by salt water. Fresh water arrives in the form of rain and you had better do a good job of saving some of it when you have the chance and so, it’s not the lullaby of rain pounding on corrugated sheet metal that charms New Zealanders so much as the opportunity to save some of the valuable water run-off from their roof and store it in a large tank—to be pumped out for household and garden use.

New Zealand

This tank stores the rainwater that runs off Bill's corrugated roof.

Bill also enjoys smoking his meats and cooking some of his meals outside in his smoke house—not a common Kiwi feature but one he personally enjoys. He has a collection of cast iron cookware for the job.

New Zealand

Bill and his smoke shack outback.

Fortunately the repair job on Bill’s diesel generator didn’t take too long for Cyril to fix and the men were able to sit and relax over a “cuppa” (Kiwi for a cup of coffee).

New Zealand

New Zealanders and Australians are a lot more conservation-oriented than Americans. No matter what their political views—conservative or liberal—a New Zealander habitually saves, repairs, innovates and makes do because he has to.

In a small island nation that’s located out in the middle of the South Pacific and on the opposite side of the planet from their parent country, the United Kingdom, you just can’t go out and buy another if something breaks down. You either fix it, or find a way around it.

There’s another good reason—on a Pacific island there’s not very much room for trash dumps. Besides, in a country as beautiful as New Zealand, you also don’t want to mess it up!

New Zealand

Cattle graze on the hillsides above Te Kouma Harbor.