Uma Rapiti may be the only place in the world where you can watch your neighbors landing their helicopter while squatting over a composting toilet. That’s also what makes it perfect. Bankrolled by two American expats, it’s a permaculture “lifestyle block” on the once-crunchy-but-rapidly-gentrifying Auckland suburb of Waiheke Island. Operated by youthful farm managers and staffed by young travelers seeking adventure and knowledge, it’s a rotating door of energy and enthusiasm, but not always expertise.
It’s edges are rough. Staying there as a WWOOFer (named for the program that connects young travelers and farms: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) means working 4-5 hours a day, seven days a week, and living almost completely outdoors, but its benefits are great: free accommodation in a beautiful setting, ample healthy food, and most importantly – knowledge.
Make no mistake, living outdoors is vastly different from the average day spent on car camping jaunt. There’s something psychologically jarring about being exposed to the elements: rain, wind, mud, and cold, year-round with no hope of a warm fire and a good book with a cuppa tea. All the routines of daily life are more difficult. Oh, it’s raining? Your shower will be colder than you’d like. Is that a bit of wind? Good luck keeping the propane flame lit to heat up dinner. But the rough life can be rewarding. Bad days are tolerated, while good days are cherished.
The farm was established in 2007 adjacent to a newly constructed home in the ritzy development of Park Point. Nestled between million-dollar houses designed by award-winning architects and panoramic vistas of looming Auckland, it’s a bit of an oddity. While the neighbors are planting olive groves and pinot noir, Uma Rapiti is fretting over kale and brussels sprouts. Why are these grungy kids rubbing elbows with Auckland’s elite old guard? Why are they huddled around a pile of soil, examining it as if it were nuclear launch codes?
According to the US Department of Agriculture, over the last century, nearly 70% of the farms in the United States have closed. Without the small farmer, our food choices will skew increasingly toward the easy-to-grow and easy-to-ship, rather than the healthy and delicious. Imagine a world where our most basic of needs are monopolized. It’s a scary thought, and we’re headed straight for it at dangerous speed. Uma Rapiti is one of those slowing us down by training young people to grow their own food.
The potential power of this type of arrangement is immense. Each year, several dozen young people interested in farming arrive at Uma Rapiti starry-eyed but ignorant, and leave armed with the knowledge and motivation to start their own version of the farm in their own corner of paradise. With small family farms disappearing, programs like WWOOF and facilities like Uma Rapiti are essential to the health of our society.
It turns out we were both working on posts about how things have changed since we left New York. Written individually but presented together, we hope they offer some insight.
It was a difficult decision to drop everything and travel. I gave up a job I liked for an organization that I believe in. I said goodbye to an amazing group of friends that continuously brought new and exciting things to my life. I left behind the best city in the world. In the days and months approaching my departure, I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I was doing the right thing. Would I miss it? Would I regret making this move? After a month on the road, I’m confident that I made the right call.
But I wasn’t wrong about the things above. I miss my job. I still check in on my old projects religiously – and the paycheck was nice. I certainly miss my friends and family, whom I think of often. New York restaurants make my mouth water from the other side of the globe.
It was still the right decision. In a few weeks I’ve realized immense clarity about myself and my future, a clarity that has eluded me for my previous twenty-eight years. A supernova-sized weight has been lifted off my shoulders. If that weren’t enough, I’m learning how to do things that I’m excited to take back home and having a blast. Without this fresh perspective, filled with new people living different lives and new experiences outside of the cocoon I’d constructed, I never would have been able to examine my priorities this way. I didn’t even realize that I was unhappy in my old life. So I guess there’s one less thing to miss.
If, unlike me, you’ve got the self-awareness to acknowledge your own unhappiness, make a change. The answer might be hidden in one of those cracks that you haven’t examined in years. Sometimes shaking things up is the only way. Yes, you have responsibilities you should be aware of, but all too often we create a false sense of obligation. Give your two weeks notice, put your couch on Craigslist, take care of the things that are tying you down, but don’t let them dictate your life. You aren’t obligated to live a life that doesn’t completely fulfill you. A job is mostly just a way to pay your rent; a couch is just a collection of fabric and wood. Give up the things standing in your way.
This doesn’t necessarily even equate to an extended time traveling. Maybe it’s moving to a new city, or separating yourself from an unfulfilling situation, or opening yourself up to a new experience. Travel is just a convenient way to remove oneself from a previous life and force the kind of introspection required for real answers. Plus you get to meet new people, experience new cultures, and become inspired along the way. If you have the tiniest of inclinations to travel – do it. Find the means. There was a time in my life when I thought I might never discover what I wanted to be. Escaping from that over the last month has been one of the benchmarks of my life, and I want everyone to experience this euphoria. Please join me.
3:45 am Woke up to pee like an hour ago. Can’t go back to sleep. Writing always helps. The BIG IDEA here is that life is changing in a major way and I don’t think I can or want to go back. I like living simply. I like growing food. I like being on a farm.
This trip started out as a bit of an experiment. When we first set out, farming was something that I was interested in, but working on farms was largely a means of traveling. Not any more. The more I learn and do, the more this way of life makes sense and feels right.
For example, composting table scraps makes sense. We have yet to fill one garbage bag in the three weeks that we have been here at Uma Rapiti. We eat as much as possible from the garden, compost food waste, then put it back into the garden. All while reducing the grocery bill and eliminating the need for soil mixes from Home Depot. Having chickens that lay eggs make sense. All you do is feed them and they give you eggs. It is like getting a present every morning! Oh really, Stina? You’re impressed that chickens lay eggs? Did you miss that part in first grade? No, I didn’t. I have just never seen it happen. I have never had free eggs. FREE! (Note: Free Range, Organic eggs are $8 at the Union Square Farmer’s Market)
Maybe that is my favorite part of all of this, that we are helping to produce the best tasting, healthiest food and it is free if you just put in the time and work. I can totally do that. I can only imagine having a pig and eating that, too. So many delicious parts… loins… chops… ribs…. And that is what now guides our next step. I can only imagine having a pig. Okay, so let’s go see what having a pig is like. September is a vineyard, October is TBD and November is pigs, cows and chickens. Or chops, milk and eggs.
I learn something new every single day. Whether it is through talking to Chad and Lizzy, the farm managers here, who have worked with all sorts of animals on farms of all different scales, through the books we are reading, or by getting my hands dirty in a new project. How to keep slugs out of the garden, use a table saw, brine and marinate olives, use a sewing machine, how to fish. Doesn’t it make sense to know how to fish if you eat fish?
I’ve also figured out that my interest in farming stems from a good meal: good for you, good tasting, and sustainable so you can do it again and again. I love learning about food and spending time preparing something that makes others happy. There is some combination of plants, animals, cooking, eating and sharing with others will be how we make our way in the future. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I’m curious and excited to find out. We are going to spend this year exploring anything and everything that seems interesting. What do we like? What could we see ourselves doing? Our trip has become a workshop for our next phase of life.
Uma Rapiti grows olives, but as of last week, no one here was a fan of green olives. There were however, six massive, dusty, jars of olives that had been brining since May, which needed to be prepared for eating. Except that no one really wanted to eat them or knew how to prepare them.
Olives are one of those things that I have wanted to like for years. They seem classy and good with wine and cheese. But I only like the black ones. Well, this seemed like a great opportunity to get over that and learn to like green olives. I stepped up to the plate, fired up laptop and asked O Holy Google, knower of all things, how to marinate olives. I found a great website that featured recipes like “Just like Mama Used to Make,” “Tried and True,” and “Old Tradition from the Middle East.” Figured I couldn’t go wrong with recipes as confident sounding as those. I mean, an Italian grandma is NOT going to lead me astray.
So here we go:
Step 1: Prepare a new brine. They had been in a 10% salt brine and needed to go into an 8% salt brine so your blood pressure doesn’t go through the roof upon snacking. I boiled 1 gallon of water with 1 cup of salt, then let it cool. Actually that is a lie, I boiled 3.7 liters, since we don’t do gallons on this side of the pond.
Step 2: Scoop off the moldy, snot like substance that had accumulated in the jars.
Step 3: Rinse the olives.
Step 4: Grind spices, chop herbs, slice garlic and lemon.
Step 5: Layer spices and olives in a jar, top with brine, give it a shake, seal and label.
In the process, I snacked on runaway olives and started to mind them less. We might even say I started to like them, considering how many I ate. The process took the whole afternoon, but it was my kind of work and thus, didn’t feel like work at all. I expected olives to be the sort of things that get better the longer they sit, but after just a few hours they had already absorbed much of the flavor of the marinade. That said, I officially like olives!
The best marinade was Lemon, Cumin, Oregano, Garlic and with just a splash of Olive Oil on top. So good, I’d recommend getting a plain ole grocery store container of olives and adding those herbs before your next dinner party. Or just your next dinner.
In a previous post, I mentioned that we had recently witnessed the dissolution of a sand mandala at the local marae. That day also happened to be Christina’s birthday. It was a pretty rockin’ party:
Ok, so the party wasn’t for her. And it wasn’t a party. But it was amazing nonetheless.
A few years ago, reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma flipped my world-view on its head. It showed me that many of the problems we face as a society (health and energy, notably) can be solved by more responsible agriculture. As that book began my path toward eating more naturally, The One-Straw Revolution (1978) hammered it home. If you care about food, farming, or achieving a sustainable society, it’s truly revolutionary.
Fukuoka (1913-2008) was a proponent of “do-nothing” farming. That’s a bit of a misnomer, as his methods still involve lots of work, but he certainly did a lot less than the average farmer. Distilled, his philosophy is: let plants grow as they do in nature. He advocated four main principles:
- No cultivation. This means no tilling or disturbing the natural structure of the soil.
- No prepared compost or chemical fertilizer. This comes with a few qualifications, but essentially it’s: keep the level of fertilization in the soil balanced.
- No weeding by tilling or herbicides. “Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community.” Though he does admit that weeds should be controlled through other means – ground cover, mostly.
- No dependance on chemicals. Duh.
So some of his ideas are radical even for the crunchiest of alternative farms. After having seen the beautiful vegetables that thoughtfully prepared compost produces, I’m having trouble reconciling the idea of giving up that black gold. But his explanation makes sense: when you add or subtract anything from soil, you’re upsetting the natural balance. Weeds will grow better in compost too!
The book is mainly about food and farming, but delves into some interesting facets of his own brand of eastern philosophy. Some tasty nuggets:
I do not like the word “work.” Human beings are the only animals that have to work, and I think this is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is.
High five, Fukuoka-san! I can certainly get on board that train.
Of course, the “food mandala” above will vary based on where you are in the world, and I’m sure you’ve heard the “eat seasonally” refrain, but boy-howdy does it help to see it laid out like this. The meals practically jump off the page, don’t they? I’ll take some of this, with a little of that, and voilá! Here’s a balanced, seasonal, and healthy meal. I’ll pass on the pig fish though.
By realizing “no-mind” without becoming lost in the subtleties of form, accepting the color of the colorless as color, right diet begins.
Ok, that one is a little kooky, but I included it to give you an idea of what you’re in for. Most of the book is totally normal, practical advice and evidence about farming, but at the end he goes off the rails a bit, getting occasionally touchy-feely and frequently soup-spoon obtuse. I didn’t want you to read through the book and think I was about to join a commune in Nepal. Fear not, I still wear nylon.
So this is all very nice, but hardly revolutionary. Well, the best is yet to come. You’ve heard the old adage: “you can have it cheap, good, or fast: pick two.” The same applies to local, organic, and cheap, but you’re usually allowed only one. Imagine if you could have all three! It would absolutely be revolutionary, as Fukuoka insists.
But, how? He contends that because his principles are easier and cheaper than more intensive organic farming (remember, “do-nothing”), he can match or beat the prices of the good ole boys using nasty chemicals and petrol-guzzling combines. All of a sudden, we can have cheap, local and organic!
Nothing will change consumer’s habits faster than hitting them where they feel it most: the wallet. When the modern organic grower realizes this, they will truly have a toehold in the marketplace.
The One-Straw Revolution made me think long and hard about some principles I’d taken as fact and offered solutions to some major hurdles of modern organic agriculture. If you’re game for a similar adventure, pick up a copy today.
Lizzy and I were in the midst of weeding the mandala, a spiral shaped garden hosting a combination of flowers, herbs and veggies, when Chad walked up and mentioned, “It’s 10:30, so if you want to get oysters, you should do it while it is low tide.” I was up and dusting off my hands before he even finished his sentence. I knew what time it was. We had been talking about going oyster hunting for a week and had checked the tide schedule the night before.
We grabbed buckets, chisels, mallets and Betty the dog, and headed across the road, down the muddy path, and out on to the rocky beach that is Cable Bay. Though we’ve been at Uma Rapiti for ten days, I had yet to venture down to the beach. I didn’t realize a) how close it was or b) that it was more oyster mecca than beach. Within three steps of the path and out onto the black rocks, I was crunching oysters under my feet. It was impossible not to step on them as they covered everything. I reached down, grabbed one and twisted it off the tip of the rock and tossed it in my bucket. Beginners luck though; none of the other oysters were that easy to get off.
Lizzy showed us how to chip the oysters off of the rock, but mentioned that if we broke the shell, it was best to eat them right then and there. So we squatted down where we were and started whacking away at the rock, carelessly breaking shells left and right. Since we had to eat them, I downed the first four plump, salty oysters that I attempted to harvest. Woops?
“Stina, you think it’s ok if they come off in a big cluster?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Ooh, look at this one!”
Grinning ear to ear, teetering from one rock to the next, and snapping ohmygod this is so awesome pics, we were on cloud nine.
Before the moment flew by, I perched on a rock to soak it all in and give a silent thanks to the powers that be. Holy shit. This is actually happening. Eating oysters right off the rocks. In New Zealand. Part of me couldn’t believe how exhilarating the whole experience was.
That pause also allowed me to realize that I could easily overindulge if I kept slurping oysters at a that pace. Also, I still only had one in my bucket, so I slowed down and worked a little more carefully from then on out, making sure not to break the shells.
Lizzy went off with Betty to collect driftwood and Zach and I unintentionally parted ways, as we both walked, noses down, in opposite directions down the rocky coastline. I could hear the chink chink chink of him collecting what I thought to be WAY more oysters than we four could eat, so I focused on looking for mussels, which were nestled in the tide pools and far less abundant.
About an hour later, we headed home to figure out how to shuck, fry, and consume the morning’s haul. Inspired by the fried oyster salad at Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore, we set out picking lettuce from the car tire planters in the garden, and roasting root veggies in the toaster oven. Zach figured out how to shuck and once he got a hang of it, taught me. The first one was the hardest, and I thought for sure I was going to impale myself with the shucking tool, but after a few, I got a hang of it. I imagine shucking oysters is a bit like killing an animal, in that it makes you appreciate something that is pretty hard to do, that one often takes for granted. Oh, they don’t just come on the half shell?
Harvesting, shucking, cleaning, soaking, battering (in cornmeal, not abuse), then finally fried and served up atop a salad. To celebrate our luxurious lunch, we unscrewed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Jurassic Ridge, a vineyard up the road. As we sat down to eat, someone pointed out that the oysters came from the beach, the herbs, lettuce, veggies, and oranges in the salad were all from the garden, and the bread baked fresh that morning. The salt, pepper, butter and oil were the only things not from within a mile of the farm.
The meal was the culmination of an awesome, inspiring experience. The day was the perfect combination of favorite activities, exploring new places, and learning practical skills. And yes, shucking oysters is practical.
The town marae is the center of New Zealand Maori society. It’s a community center, place of worship, event space, and cultural nexus. It’s also a place to welcome visitors and teach them about the history of the Maori people. The most remarkable thing on display, though, is the universal reverence and respect for Maori culture.
The welcoming ceremony is called a powhiri, and visitors are usually required to be formally welcomed via this ritual before entering the marae. Recently, Christina and I were powhiri-ed at Piritahi, the Waiheke Island marae. The ceremony largely consists of oratory in the Maori language; ancestors and relevant current events are recognized. At our powhiri, three New Zealand soldiers that were recently killed in Afghanistan, including the first female kiwi killed-in-action since the Vietnam war, were paid respect.
I know what you’re thinking. “A welcoming ceremony? Gimme a break. It’s probably another trite song-and-dance, paying lip service to a culture in order to get something for yourself.” I can’t deny that I didn’t get a few good meals out of the deal, but the experience was authentic. We spent two full days there, helping feed more than 200 visitors like ourselves. This wasn’t required, but they needed help and we were available.
Throughout my time at the marae, I felt welcome. More than welcome, in fact; I felt as though I was a integral part of the space. We were often asked about our lives, where we were from, what we did back in the United States, and conversation flowed easily. The Maori are not only extremely friendly, they’re gifted in the art of small talk. This made us comfortable.
“Now that you have been welcomed, this is your home,” a Maori woman said to me over tea and cakes. If we had any doubt of that, it was extinguished when it became clear that we were expected to help clean up afterward. Forget trust falls, sometimes a stack of dishes eye-high can be a very effective team-building strategy.
We weren’t alone in helping out though. The kitchen was full of white kiwis that were volunteering for a two-week-long celebration of buddhist culture and the creation of a sand mandala at the marae. It was a fascinating cultural stew. Maori, buddhists, and whites coming together for a mutually beneficial mash-up of traditions. The buddhists had a place to work, the whites had this work of art and dedication to be amazed by, and the Maori had an audience for their traditions.
The creation of the sand mandala is almost absurdly intricate. Over two weeks, grains of colored sand are dropped individually into a ten foot wide design that would, after its completion, be cast off into the sea as nourishment for the earth. Nearly two hundred hours of work would be swept up in a matter of seconds. Over the next few days I’ll be posting a few videos and some photos from the dissolution ceremony.
My experience at the marae brings to vivid life the stark contrast between the relationships of white New Zealanders and Maori versus Americans and the indigenous population of their homeland. Native Americans are an afterthought in U.S. culture. Maori are at the forefront, elbow-to-elbow with their imperialist oppressors. The All Blacks, the uber-popular national rugby team, performs a Maori war dance, a haka, before every game. Granted, it’s effective in communicating terror, but the thought of the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys performing a native dance, even if it were to make their opponents spontaneously wet themselves, is absurd.
Furthermore, there’s a palpable mutual respect between the two cultures. I’ve heard of middle-aged kiwis enrolling in Maori language classes because they feel like its “about time they learned it.” Dozens of place names are authentically Maori, instead of bastardized, anglo-friendly versions of indigenous names. The culture is literally everywhere you turn here. The national aesthetic is three parts Maori to one part European.
I’m not sure where the source of this reverence lies, but it’s fascinating to watch. Stay tuned as I learn more.
Zach and I are still on Waiheke Island, but have moved to Uma Rapiti, a permaculture lifestyle block on the other/windy/fancy side of the Island. The people who own the property are only here part time and have hired farm managers to run the farm and educate volunteers about permaculture and sustainable living. There is a young orchard, a few garden beds, a green house, an outdoor clay oven, and endless experiments and projects going on. This place rules.
We are here for three weeks, but I feel like I could stay for eight or sixteen easily. Right now there are just four of us here: me and Zach and Elizabeth and Chad, the two farm managers. We stay in a sleepout, a simple one room structure, and cook in an open air pavilion on a camp stove. We poo in a composting toilet and the shower is outside and solar powered. The only time I have spent inside this week (other than sleeping) is when I’m skyping or blogging in the toolshed, which is the only place that we get good internet reception.
Our first day started with us planting olive trees, but plans changed as black clouds rolled in from over Auckland and the rain started “pissing sideways.” We ran for cover and spent the remainder of the day doing quick jobs in between the rain. About halfway through that first day, while painting signs to label the trees in the orchard, I realized that I had used my sense of smell way more than usual, to navigate this new place and new practices. So, I’m going to lead you through A Day in the Life via the things I smelled.
7:30 am: Milo malt beverage. Chad suggested mixing instant coffee with said Milo Malt beverage. Malt beverage to me means Colt 45, but this stuff looks like Ovalitne. I pried the paint can style lid off and took a whiff to find out. Smelled like chalk. Tastes like a less chocolatey Ovaltine, but masks the instant coffee taste, so I continue to drink it every morning.
9:00 am: Compost/Potting soil mixture. While planting olive trees, Zach asked if the compost/potting soil mixture was from the compost on the farm. Chad replied by scooping a handful and sniffing it. Nope, store-bought. We both took a whiff to get a sense of what he was talking about. Smelled charcoley. And like dirt.
11:00 am: Plum tree blossom. I was taking inventory of what was in the orchard and which plants needed to be marked. The delicate, sweet scent of the tiny, white plum blossoms caught me by surprise as I walked past. It is like what every plum scented air freshener or candle tries to be, but none has ever achieved.
3:00 pm: Fresh baked bread in the bread maker. Need I say more? While there is no oven here, there is a toaster oven and a bread maker. Om nom.
3:30 pm: Sawdust. I got a flashback to being in the backyard in Roger’s Forge, Dad in the garage with the O’s game on the radio, the scent of sawdust wafting from the open garage door. This time though, it was Zach cutting fence posts for a fence surrounding the garden beds. This was the moment that I realized it had been a very smelly day. I was painting at the moment and sniffed the yellow paint that I was using to paint signs. For the record: it didn’t smell like anything.
5:30 pm: Ginger. As the sun goes down, the temperature drops to really cold. I put on all of the shirts that I brought and made myself a cup of hot water with ginger, pear, honey and thyme and snuggled up with the book I’m currently reading, Mastering the Art of Self Sufficiency in New Zealand. P.S. This book is hilarious, informative, and makes me think I could pull off being a farmer.
6:00 pm: Garlic. In a pan. We’ve all smelled it before, yet it never gets old. This was the beginning of a delicious parsnip soup.
7:00 pm: Campfire. Where we devoured the aforementioned parsnip soup and fresh baked bread.
9:00 pm: Bed. Bed doesn’t actually smell like anything, but I felt it is a more appropriate place to end than the campfire.
I have a complicated relationship with wine. I probably don’t need to explain why I like it, but the flip-side is more subtle. It’s just that its impossible not to sound like a snotty sophisticate when talking about wine. I feel like every time I open my mouth I’m saying “mmmyes, Alfred, I’ll have the ninety-nine Chateauneuf du-Pape. Post haste!” Why can’t I talk about the way something smells without sounding like an affected debutante? Wine is way too wonderful to have artificial barriers erected around it. Some producers agree with me, and I’ll go out of my way to support them. Goldie Vineyards on Waiheke Island is one of those producers.
Goldie came recommended, and was steps away from our afternoon work at the burger truck. We checked out the website and found they offer tastings for just $5! Giddyup. This was way more our pace than some of the ritzier places on Waiheke.
We coasted down the dirt drive and tossed our bikes against a nearby tree. Hmm, the tasting room was empty. Not just of clientele, but staff too. No problem, we’ll find someone that can help us. We hunted around a bit until we found Heinrich, who greeted us warmly. He was a young man in his early thirties, hair unkempt and wearing a weathered sweatshirt. We felt right at home.
Heinrich, whom we later found out was actually the winemaker at Goldie as well, expertly guided us through four generous tastes of wine, detailed below. More than just a wine tasting though, we got to know him a bit. He and his wife emigrated here and he was interested in our plan, or lack of plan as it were. The conversation veered to and from the wine, and we learned not just about what was in the bottle, but what went into making it.
Chardonnay (2011) – awesome. very smooth, buttery, oaky. High praise from Stina: “There’s no chardonnay I’d rather drink.”
Rosé (2011) – Good. Big strawberry nose. Almost candy-cane on the nose, but not an unpleasantly sweet taste. A totally different rosé.
Syrah (2011) – Delicious. Light bodied, heavy vanilla and smoke nose. Smooth, silky tannins. My favorite.
Cab/Merlot (2010) – Good. Medium/full body. benchmark of the style. Plum and dark berries. Soft and velvety. “Silky.”
Heinrich highlighted the difference in body between the two reds. It turns out 2010 was a very wet year on Waiheke, while 2011 experienced a drought. I prefer lighter reds anyway. I loved the syrah and found the 2010 very good.
The Goldie experience was excellent. We felt welcome and at home. Maybe because it was a weekday in the winter, but it was an uncommonly casual wine tasting experience. Wine shouldn’t always be so stuffy and sophisticated. It’s a beverage, not an investment opportunity. Well, I suppose for some its both. I sincerely hope its not only the latter. But many vineyards strive to achieve a certain caché that drives consumers like me away. I’d rather feel welcomed than part of some exclusive club. Goldie does that perfectly.
The gate was unlocked, but it still felt like we were breaking the rules.
“There aren’t any signs saying ‘Private Property’, so I guess we can just let ourselves in?” I said to Christina.
“This is the right spot?”
“I think so.”
It turned out that we were indeed in the right spot, the right spot in many ways. We’d just entered Stony Batter Historic Preserve on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland, New Zealand. We felt so privileged to go bouldering in one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen, it seemed illegal.
Boulders dotted the green pasture as if they had rained down from the heavens that afternoon. There were panoramic views to the sea, with waves crashing on rock outcroppings and peninsulas hundreds of feet below. Clouds rolled over jagged volcanic islands in the distance while tiny sailboats bobbed miles away as they drifted from island to island. It was enough to bring even the hairiest of men to tears.
I’ll be honest – the climbing was good, not great. But it didn’t matter. Anyone complaining about sending average problems in this kind of setting needs to reexamine their priorities. That’s not to say the climbing was bad – several problems on the Thumb Boulder and in the Zoo Area were great fun. But they were the exception rather than the norm. Check out this guide for in-depth directions and problem descriptions. Many thanks to the authors of that document.
Access of this kind shouldn’t be taken for granted. In another part of Waiheke Island, what’s said to be the most romantic beach in New Zealand has been shuttered from public overland access. Reasoning depends on who you ask, but some say that a native tree species that had been introduced to the property surrounding the beach was threatened. Stony Batter, where we’re climbing in a field populated by sheep and cows on a site rich with World War II history, could easily suffer a similar fate. And would it be wrong?
If indeed those trees were being threatened then it was right to limit damage. Humans make enough of an impact on the natural world. If we see an opportunity to curb the damage, we should seize it.
The same story can be told at any climbing area. Sections of the Gunks are perpetually closed due to nesting birds. Rumney State Park is home to a rare type of fern, limiting access to a main sport climbing wall. And this is exactly how it should be.
It takes buy-in on every level for access to remain open. City officials must see the benefit, property owners must take pity, and climbers must follow the rules. Oh, and it helps to put your money where your mouth is by donating to the Access Fund.