Sunday, February 28, 2010

Surprise! ...and Welcome to Tuateawa

Yes, I've made it to New Zealand.  Two plane rides, three bus rides, and a very winding, bumpy truck ride over the hills of the Coromandel brought me from frigid Ithaca to bright Tuateawa.  Except I didn't actually leave on March 1.  Back in October, I bought a plane ticket for February 20 and told everyone except for Dave.  What do you give as a birthday gift for a guy whose belongings all fit in a backpack?  One hell of a surprise.

So, I'm here, and I've been here nearly a week.  How's life?

View from the deck of the house, Tuateawa, New Zealand
Pretty sweet.

A lot of people have asked about what I'm doing here.  Dave spent the summer after he graduated college living and working at Tararu Valley, on the other side of the peninsula.  The man who ran the previous Tararu Valley project is working on starting a brand new project here in Tuateawa.  The "project(s)" vary by season, but the end goal is to create the physical and non-physical infrastructure to support a small community in an environmentally sound manner (so, basically, we're building a commune).  I ended up here because I figured it would be an interesting, less expensive way to stay in New Zealand for a while and maybe do a little good in the world while I was at it.

What do I actually do?  I expected that I would be doing more to help organize and manage the residential part of the program, but the program director's partner has been living here and volunteering her amazing meal planning, kitchen organization, and cooking skills.  She left today to travel for a few weeks, so I may be doing more in the kitchen soon.

A typical day (let's take today) goes like this:

7-9 a.m:  Wake up.  I sleep in the tent shown at left. A real mattress--although I can't decide if it's a step up or down from my hammock in Ithaca.  I keep my clothes with Dave's in the plastic bin in the vestibule.  Breakfast is on our own.  I have been enjoying "heavy cereal," which is a delicious combination of oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.

9 a.m-12 p.m:  Get to work.  So far, I've done light carpentry (building shelving) and masonry (bricklaying and mixing mortar by hand).  Yeah, Dad, four years in college and I'm laying bricks and getting a sunburned neck.  Whatever.  At least I have some real skills now.

12-2 p.m:  Today is my day to cook with another volunteer, so we head inside, wash up, and put together lunch.  Meals are vegetarian (mostly vegan).  We bake a lot of our own bread, so today's lunch is still-warm wholemeal bread with a variety of fillings, left-over pasta salad, and a green salad.  After eating, we wash up the dishes.

2-3 p.m:  Wash all of the dishes from camping the previous few days, clean out the van, put away tools, clean up the front yard and stack lumber, take down the laundry, sharpen a few knives.  A million little tasks that need to be done, so they get done.  The joys of communal living.

3-6 p.m:  More group work.  Today we were laying bricks for an enclosed outdoor fireplace to heat water for a spa bath (mmm!).  I was bricklaying with Dave first, then mixing mortar.  I popped inside to drain the soaking beans and to start cooking them.

6-9 p.m:  On the days I'm not on food team, I have free time to shower, read, relax, or use the computer.  Today I'm cooking, so the dinner menu is as follows:  black beans with veggies and shredded cheddar served on homemade flour tortillas (thanks, Mikey!) and roast corn on the side.  Eat dinner together.  Wash dishes.

9-11 p.m:  Today is a little unusual, because I'm on the computer now.  Usually the internet router is switched off just before dinner, and we spend the evening playing games, watching a movie, or doing something else together.  It's been a quiet evening, and the internet magically still works, so here I am, writing to no one in particular.

Soon I'll head down the little hill to our tent site, where I'll attempt to fall asleep with the full moon shining on the back of my eyelids and the noises of the forest at night bouncing on my ears.

Pohutakawa tree and tree fern against the sky.  The sun is immensely strong here, and the sky is immensely blue.  This photo is not retouched in any way.


  1. Nicole,
    Thank you for the gift of these beautifuly photos! After viewing them on this grey Ithaca Monday morning, i took a deep breath, closed my eyes and was briefly transported there. The photo at the top is my new desktop background!! Chris and I look forward to more of these spectacular views.

  2. Lisa, this is a beautiful place. I'm so happy to share it with you. Love from NZ!