The Road to Nowhere

Posted by Nick  | 11 May 2014  | 0 comments

So there’s this road. It’s a gravel road. It comes off the main road and runs along the boundary of our farm. Directly on the other side of it is a river. The road is only ever used for logging the pine plantation over the hill. They’re logging at the moment, but once they’re done in a month or so that road won’t see any more activity for another thirty years.

We were told the road used to lead to an old work camp back in the day, and that it actually turns to paved cobblestone farther up. Curious, we decided to investigate.

Hopping over the wire fence on our boundary, we followed the dead road along the river. Being a Saturday, there were no logging trucks on the road. We shortly came upon the top of a roaring waterfall which plummeted down in cascades through dense native bush. We had been told there was a waterfall nearby, but weren’t expecting it to be that big. It was difficult to view from up on the road, so we didn’t snap any good pictures. There didn’t seem to be a safe route down the vertical gauntlet of coarse brush and blackberry brambles either. We promised ourselves we’d return another day, prepared to trail-blaze a route to the waterfall’s base.

The river beginning to cascade. Unfortunately we couldn't get a good shot of the waterfall itself. Next time!
The river beginning to cascade. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a good shot of the waterfall itself. Next time!

We continued along the meandering road, large pastoral hills on our right and steep native rainforest to our left. It was so peaceful; what luck to have a quiet road to walk down next to some gorgeous New Zealand jungle. It felt so much more tranquil to know that there wasn’t another soul around for miles.

The river petering off through native bush.
The river petering off through native bush.

Almost an hour later we came to a junction. Ahead the road continued – at least that’s what the map had implied. Instead it sort of trailed off into farmland and became gated. Technically the public road would have continued up and eventually joined with the main road, but I guess it’s now mostly overgrown with whoever’s property it runs through. We never did come across those cobblestones.

Forking off was an entrance into the pine plantation, no longer gravel but mud. Entrances into pine forests always look kind of spooky, and this one was no exception. Naturally, we went in.

Foreboding plantation entrance at the "end" of the road. Shall we revisit at midnight?
Foreboding plantation entrance at the “end” of the road. Shall we revisit at midnight?

We walked through the pine forest for five or ten minutes then turned back when we came to a clearing with multiple tracks. Despite being a monoculture, the tall soon-to-be-felled plantation held a peace and charm of its own. The tracks will be great for horse riding when the forestry operations cease, as will the long road leading up to it.

We will definitely be coming back soon to investigate that river and waterfall! What a find!

Cleaning Up

Posted by Nick  | 10 May 2014  | 0 comments

A hundred-year-old working farm can be a messy place. As far as farms go we received ours in pretty good condition. The pastures have had a lot of love poured into them over the years (aka super-phosphate), are well drained and lush, and there are very few weeds. Working gravity-fed troughs are in all nine paddocks. It has mostly decent seven-wire around its two kilometre perimeter and the paddock fencing still has a few years left in it, too. So overall it’s top notch. But the outbuildings, however, have seen better days…

The shed currently housing the hay bailer, yet to be tidied.
The shed currently housing the hay bailer, yet to be tidied.

They’re looking a bit worse for wear and aren’t in ideal locations but it’s great that we have them and they do have a quintessential rural character that’s difficult to recreate with new materials. They’re charming in their own right. For the time being we’ll pretty them up a little and put them to good use, starting with a good clean out.

The previous owner left a bunch of stuff (not all junk) behind: Knickknacks, relics, and old mechanical components that are as rusty as they are mysterious. We don’t mind, as half of it is worth holding on to and will no doubt come in handy down the track (especially the timber). Last weekend we rummaged through the main shed and workshop. This weekend we dove into a couple of other adjacent sheds as well as an old chicken coop and run, which we may or may not repurpose (it’s pretty gnarly).

One corner of the shed.
One corner of the shed.
The other corner. Yep, that's a kitchen sink.
The other corner. Yep, that’s a kitchen sink.

Weaving around the old hay bailer (which we had purchased from the farm’s previous owner), we fought through aeons of cobwebs to extract items like tyres, a kitchen sink, reels of barbed wire, piping, an old spring cot, eel traps, and an interesting little archaeological find…

An otherwise unremarkable slab of concrete happened to have retained some of the newspaper onto which it was poured. The newspaper – an issue of The New Zealand Herald – was like a timestamp, hinting at the era when the slab was made. I know, it’s no greenstone spearhead or ancient Maori bone carving, but given New Zealand’s relatively short history, a relic from even a few decades ago is still pretty fascinating.

A lot of the newspaper had rubbed off, but some of it was still legible. Unfortunately there were no dates to be found, but we did deduce that it’s at least forty to fifty years old, as goods are advertised in pounds rather than dollars and 1967 was the year that New Zealand decimalised its currency. I reckon the newspaper is at least another decade older than that, however, given the fashion depicted on one of the clothing advertisements. It may even be from the Wartime era, as there’s one excerpt without any company affiliation that recommends stocking up and conserving eggs – maybe part of a rationing campaign? Most revealing of how dated the artefact is was an advertising slogan that read “dandruff is dangerous!”

"Order extra eggs now!" "Dandruff is dangerous!"
“Order extra eggs now!” “Dandruff is dangerous!”
Gentlemen's fashionable attire. What do you reckon, circa 1950s?
Gentlemen’s fashionable attire. What do you reckon, circa 1950s?

Some of the objects we’ve unearthed are probably much older than this – possibly a hundred years old from the original settlers of the area – but at least this piece has verifiable “antiquity”.

Satisfied that that particular shed was clean enough for the time being, we moved on to another which we discovered had a leaky roof. Without corrugated iron, the roof consists of wooden planks covered in plastic. The previous owner had nailed a big thick tarp (which was actually the side of a truck) to the beams from underneath. It had sort of worked, as many of these makeshift solutions do, but water had begun to pool in large amounts on top of the tarp, between it and the “roof”. At the bottom of the hanging bulges grew slimy beards of algae that dripped on you when you walked under them. It had to come down.

We pushed out the water bulges and set to work on a shaky ladder prying the heavy tarp from the beams. It’s tough work prying out nails above your head, especially when they’re damn roofing nails. Real buggers to get out. As with most tasks that seem simple at the outset, it took more time than expected.

"Tarp" removed.
“Tarp” removed.

Next we went around to inspect the chicken coop, which looked like it hadn’t seen a hen’s bum in a long time. The run had broken chunks of concrete swallowed by the grass which we had to dig out. We made use of the rugged iron pry bars we’d discovered when cleaning out the workshop the previous weekend. We pulled out some delicious old posts as well, which might make some nice rustic outdoor furniture.

Char managed to pull one of the posts out by hand, without any help from me or the aid of a pry bar. Born for it.

Char with her trophy post.
Char with her trophy post.

After clearing away some ragged chicken-wire and makeshift framing, the area looked a bit better. We did a quick job of clearing out inside the coop, too, which housed odds and ends. Just need to blast out all the hay and poop. We’re undecided on whether or not to reuse the coop as it’s quite shoddy. It’s also not in an ideal location and might be a bit too heavy to move. For now, at least it’s another place investigated and cleared that we can check off our list.

Coop/Run before.
Coop/Run before (check out the makeshift corrugated downpipe and bath trough).
Coop/Run before.
Coop/Run before.
Coop/Run after.
Coop/Run after. We left the posts in for now as we may decide to re-wire the run.

There are still some outbuildings which need a bit of attention, like the barn, but everything is starting to feel a bit more organised now with all the junk in one place: Our mounting trash pile.

Our First Weekend

Posted by Nick  | 05 May 2014  | 0 comments

After visiting the farm the previous weekend for the pre-settlement inspection we left feeling overwhelmed by the gravity of what we had committed ourselves to. The place was massive and in the middle of nowhere, we knew next to nothing about farming, and we felt self-conscious – was it glaringly obvious that we were townies?

There had been five old blokes there during the inspection (the previous owner and his friend, the farmer we’d be leasing the land to graze, a neighbour, and the real estate agent), all of whom were seasoned country folk who’d grown from the deep roots their ancestors laid there a hundred years ago. It was suddenly very apparent to us just how inexperienced we were. The self-doubt on the drive back to the city tormented us both in silence.

It wasn’t until we returned to the farm a week later for our first weekend as its new owners that all (or most) of that apprehension dissolved.

Looking back towards the cottage and out-buildings from somewhere near the middle of the farm.
Looking back towards the cottage and out-buildings from somewhere near the back of the farm.

It just so happened that the day our offer was accepted was also our anniversary of seven years. It also just so happened that the first weekend we could spend at our new farm after settlement coincided with my birthday. I love serendipitous crap like that.

We arrived on the Thursday afternoon just before dusk, two-door coup packed to the brim with tools, cleaning products, and bedding. When the car engine was shut off we were agape at the abrupt stillness. Save for the songs of tui and magpie and the flitter of fantails the air was filled with a silence that caused us to mutually exhale with relief, as if we’d been holding our breath for seven years. Our tensions and mounting dread melted away in an instant. For the first time it truly felt like ours.

We spent the remaining hours of light in a kind of trance, absorbing our new world at a pace befitting the setting. We lay in the lush grass in a paddock listening to birdsong and taking in our surroundings, and for the first time in a long time there was no doing… only being. We were home.

We made a discovery! A private little waterfall hidden from view. Could this be a future Zen garden?
We made a discovery! A private little waterfall hidden from view. Could this be a future Zen garden?

The house felt unfamiliar to sleep in the first night, but after a good clean the next day, getting intimate with its nooks and crannies, it quickly started to feel like our new home. It’ll feel even better once we get some damn furniture in it. It’s a pretty old cottage, but in time we’ll spruce it up. Definitely keeping those characteristic chocolate brown matai floorboards intact – they’re a keeper. The pink particle board kitchen and linoleum… not so much.

Giving the tiny kitchen a once over - what colour is that... mauve?
Giving the tiny kitchen a once over – what colour is that… mauve?
What a hundred years looks like.
What a hundred years looks like.

Thank you previous owner for leaving a winter’s supply of pre-cut firewood! The farm is quite a bit farther south than Auckland and is also comparatively elevated, with an altitude of almost half a kilometre above sea level. We’ve been warned the winters can be quite frigid, with about a dozen heavy frosts each season. Did I mention the house is completely devoid of insulation? Yep. Brrr. The little wood burner does a top job, though, and fortunately the cottage is small enough to heat fairly fast. Got to keep that fire stocked!

Collecting pre-cut firewood for our first night.
Collecting pre-cut firewood for our first night.

On Friday we received some warm welcomes from a few neighbours that popped by, which was really nice. They each invited us to the barbeque that was being held across the road in the local hall that night. Apparently they hold one each month as a way for the rural community to stay in touch. Our nearest neighbour is almost a kilometre away, but about fifty locals come from far and wide to catch up at the hall. Our land having once been the proposed centre of a township that never was, it makes sense that the hall is where it is.

When we turned up the hall was packed. It was surprising to see such a bustle out there in the sticks. At first we were a little perturbed that we’d tried to escape the overpopulated city only to find ourselves forced to assimilate into a community far bigger than anything we’d had to integrate into before. When we made introductions, however, we quickly fell at ease. There’s something about the warmth and humility of country folk which seems absent in city-dwellers. It’s the community cohesion, isn’t it? Everyone knows everyone. Everyone’s accountable. Everyone’s connected. As it damn well should be. We’re both quite introverted persons, but after meeting the locals we’re optimistic about having the opportunity to poke our heads out of our shells a bit and take advantage of the unspoken quid pro quo policy that is the glue of rural communities. Also, it’s probably about time we made some more friends…

In the evenings we keep toasty by the little wood burner in our makeshift living room. It'll still be a little while until we can get some proper furniture in...
In the evenings we keep toasty by the little wood burner in our makeshift living room. It’ll still be a little while until we can get some proper furniture in…

Saturday was my birthday, and I got to play with my fancy new archery set (as if an entire farm wasn’t enough of a birthday present). Having lived with only a tiny front yard for the past few years, large enough for only a couple of cramped garden beds, it’s so liberating having the space to do something like archery. I shot and shot until I lost two arrows in the long grass. Good one.

Ahh, space for outdoor activities.

We spent the remainder of Saturday and Sunday cleaning up the bits and bobs left by the previous owner. We made a start on clearing out the shed, which coughed up a number of old relics from who-knows-when. There are a lot of solid iron pulleys and machine parts which we’re holding on to. If for nothing else they’ll at least make some good art. We found some mighty pry bars, a grain husker, and some new bailing twine worth a couple hundred bucks. There are some good reels of wire about the place, too, and even an old kitchen sink. In the barn we were delighted to find that the previous owner had also left us a decent amount of milled wood, and there’s a load of neglected macrocarpa sleepers in one of the paddocks as well. You just know they’re dying to be turned into garden beds.

The shed with some odd gifts left behind.
The shed with some odd gifts left behind.
Trimming the fat.
Trimming the fat.
Disassembly of some rickety old drawers.
Disassembly of some rickety old drawers.
Shed after a clean out, just needs a good water-blast.
Shed after a clean out.
The workshop adjoining the shed after a tidy up.
The workshop adjoining the shed after a tidy up.
A collection of hardcore iron tampers and pry bars.
A collection of hardcore iron tampers and pry bars.
The barn with a handy selection of milled wood, old and new; sleepers, framing, beams, and slabs.
The barn with a handy selection of milled wood, old and new; sleepers, framing, beams, and slabs.
Weathered macrocarpa sleepers; these go for $20 or more each at a garden centre. What a score!
Weathered macrocarpa sleepers; these go for more than $20 each at a garden centre. What a score!

When it came time to leave to head back to the city (which we can no longer call home), we naturally didn’t want to. We’d become attached to the farm almost overnight and it felt wrong to be abandoning it – even if it were only until next weekend. Admittedly, we were a little eager to get back to modern luxuries like the internet, a decent bed, and a place to sit, but those creature comforts pale in comparison to the feeling of contentment and peace that was bestowed on us as soon as we set foot on our (not so) little slice of heaven. We’re in love with it; it’s a canvas just waiting for us to get creative. There’s a lot of work to be done to upgrade it from bare pastures into a landscape bustling with life, and we’re excited about that. If it were perfect already we wouldn’t have anything to do now, would we!

Our first weekend on the farm comes to a close and we struggle to pull ourselves away from the beauty and tranquillity of our vast new home.
Our first weekend on the farm comes to a close and we struggle to pull ourselves away from the beauty and tranquillity of our vast new home.

We’ve had a taste of the dream and we’re already addicted. Can’t wait until next weekend, when we go back to the land!