The smell of hot whitebait sammies wafted through the air, and the sound of the amplified banjo met the ears of residents and visitors at Motueka’s weekly market. Such a variety of goods available, one can hardly call it a ‘farmers market’; the term seems utterly out of date here where anything from Kumbucha scoby’s to organic clothing and oriental food to fermented pesto can be sampled and purchased from stallholders who know their own products and have a clear passion for their trade.
As I walk through the town, traditionally known for being an agricultural town and gateway to the enormous Abel Tasman National Park, I feel there’s a lot more to this place than meets the eye. I spent just five weeks living a short drive from the centre, and I have been both inspired and fascinated by the people that live in the Nelson region. Being a huge producing area for fruits and veggies, Motueka increases its population during the harvest months, normally being a town of 7,593 (2013 Census), this grows as Papua New Guineans, Europeans and South Americans come for picking time, drawing in a new energy to the thriving economy here.
Besides being an area boasting delicious fresh food and wine making, there are also a great many artists in the area; just a short drive along the Motueka highway and signs to galleries and craft cafés can be seen, showcasing art from pottery to paintings, wood carving and textiles and much more besides. I’ve met small communities grouping together to form organic wholesale co-operatives, creating learning workshops on unusual skills and for the first time I even saw a ‘Koha campsite’! What an encouraging and spirit warming place it has been to spend time.
Motueka, translated from the Maori, means ‘island of bush with Weka birds’ which in my experience is an appropriate name; every morning on the smallholding where I was HelpXing, I’d feed the horses their hay and throw out some kibble for the chickens when- out of nowhere- Weka birds and their young chicks would swoop in and try to get a feed! Such flighty little creatures, these birds have a soft set of feathers and can be seen all over the area; just beautiful, and so, I’m glad to say, are the people here.
Statistics and fact from: http://www.motuekaonline.org.nz/about-motueka.html
I arrived here in the pouring rain. White-grey clouds hung in damp swathes half way up pine trees, and I squinted ahead through the spattered windscreen wondering where the hell I was going, or if I was even in the right place. My journey to the south island, starting from a little suburb in Wellington had gone without a hitch so far, the most pleasurable part being a north-west drive along route 63, vineyards either side with a long straight highway ahead. I had the whole road to myself and enjoyed singing along to my Waterboys Live album.
As I drove along the unsealed road, feeling uncertain of the exact address, I saw four very wet horses in a field to my right. My hosts said she had horses, so this could be the place. Turning into the driveway I wondered if I was too early, but coming to a halt on the asphalt driveway I could see my host across the grass shutting the gate to a field. I wrestled with my rain mac and stepped out of the car, suddenly aware that I’m wearing fishnet tights, a summer dress and Doc Martins and being struck with the thought that I look like a real townie… what was I thinking when I put this on this morning when heading to work on a farm?
Walking towards the concerned looking woman I outstretched my hand “Hi I’m Bryony, nice to meet you.” We shared a sodden handshake “Janice. Welcome to Motueka. Have you seen my dog?” She looked around frantically “I don’t know if he went with my husband or if he’s gone off, roaming around.” Janice seemed very concerned and quite preoccupied in searching for her absent pet. “Here I’ll show you the cottage and you can get settled” She had a strong east coast American accent and stood at around five feet tall. Her shoes were not made for such a downpour and I could see they were wet through. I pulled my backpack from the passenger seat and followed her around the back of the huge garage to a little one roomed cottage with a deck that looked out towards the paddock with horses. Janice showed me the separation toilet system which is similar to a compost loo, explained the shower workings and the solar electricity use and left me to unpack my things.
Whenever I arrive at a new place, almost by default, I flick the kettle on and have a brew. It’s my way of making a place feel more like my home and musing over where I need to put things. I tested both beds and browsed the bookshelf which was full of travel books and non-fiction about sustainable living and wild plants of Alaska.
Sometime later I came into the house which felt somewhat warmer than the cottage, with the smell of slow cooked chicken and potatoes bubbling in the crock pot. Janice and I talked about her French ancestors in Quebec, learning French, my time as a chalet host in the Alps, and her friends who own a vineyard near here. “I did a whole day of grape picking with them yesterday” She told me “it can be really quite medative, and it’s so good to get to know people in the local community”.
I listened while she told me about her campaigns and petitions to ban the use of 1080; a deadly poison being dropped in rivers and woodland very close to their land. “They call it conservation, to kill off non-native animals and plants. But when you kill off what you don’t want, you also kill what you do want. It’s obscene. Complete eradication of life.” I mused on this for a while, and thought about my cousins work, a company contracted by DOC to pull out and tag non-native plant life. Do they use spray and chemicals I wonder? How many years does it stick around in the soil?
“Here’s a red I uncorked earlier” Janice took an unlabelled bottle from the sideboard and filled two small glasses of wine. I felt cold, my feet were damp on the floorboards and the window was open, I could have done with another cup of tea but when we chinked glasses and I tried the wine I was pleasantly surprised by its warm fruity flavour. “This was payment for yesterday’s picking” she smiled, and her dark brown eyes became warm and soft with the dusk light in the dining area. Janice and I played a game called Quirkle at the table, matching little wooden tiles with symbols and colours. She did well to explain it to me, my brain had become quite addled after a long journey and new surroundings and I tried as best I could to not completely muck up the symmetry of the game. Later, her step-son and husband Barry arrived home from a trip into town and they had Kai, the pet Labrador! Needless to say, Janice was thrilled to see him. I went to bed shortly after dinner and washing up, feeling quite tired from the journey.
The next morning I woke to the sound of the river, high with all the rainfall from the previous day, gushing vigorously over black rock. It was a cool dawn and the sun had just begun to rise over the high hills which were not visible when I arrived. I opened the door and the view took my breath away. I was struck by the beauty of being nestled in a steep valley of dark green fields, native bush and with patches of pine trees higher up. It reminded me of arriving in Morzine in the French alps; the first time I’d seen a real alpine town, there was snow settling on the higher pines and blowing into town.
Pulling on my chequered shirt, I thought about poo picking the paddocks, the sound of horses munching on hay, what I might eat for breakfast, and a steaming cup of tea.
There was something retro and comical about going out the the video store to pick movies. I turned off the rice and hauled myself into the back of the car barefoot and weary.
The window was down and I let my head rest against the door, warm evening air blowing into my face as we made the decent into Lower Hutt.
Under the bright light of the film rental store I felt the pressure of picking a film for other people to watch, I looked around to see other Friday nighters in their lounging pants, ready to veg out to a film and popcorn.
In the end we grabbed a selection that looked vaguely appealing, our minds considering the hot curry on the stove at home a far more satiating image.
Coming out onto the street, the sky emulated candyfloss drifting above rolling hills of bush, ferns opened up like flowers to the sun, creepers and flax amongst them creating a rich green ensemble.
A warm dusk drive up into Wellington’s peaks was enough to refresh the senses and ready my appetite.
A dull light slowly pervades through my curtainless window, a gentle awakening. I tug on my cotton shirt and heave open the badly hung door to my bedroom, barefeet slapping against the wooden floorboards through the kitchen.
Sliding open the glass door to the deck, I see the sun has not yet broken over Ruahine on the southernmost tip of the island, the sky made up of endless swathes of milky blue and warm pink hues. I hear the waves breaking gently onto the beach and witness fishermen keen to get their boats into the water, backing their trailers down the boat ramp and wading knee deep into the drifts. Thinking of a box of cold beers and a bucket of fresh snapper.
I stretch my arms above, stand on my tip toes, yawn loudly. Morning world.
The cicadas slowly wake as the sun creeps up, casting hot orange light onto damp, dense bush. Tuis can be heard rustling among ferns, singing their most unusual song.
Metal on metal as I slam the kettle onto the gas stove, thought of hot coffee on my mind. I fill the large cast iron pan from the tap outside, the days water, only seven mosquito larvae today.
My cousin emerges, he’s been reading for an hour in bed, stomps along the deck to go round the back for a mimi. The house shudders.
The kettle boils, whistles, screams. It’s desperate to be poured. I relieve it, gladly, and the morning rolls away into endless cups of steaming tea and watching cars drop down into the bay. People living their lives, unaware of being witnessed by the bush dwellers. The smell of warm ocean and wet ferns breezes through the open windows, tugs at the cobwebs and blows through the clothes that have been forgotten about on the line for days.
You know the kind of blokes you sometimes meet, the ones who talk about how they’re going to travel to loads of different places, all the great meals they can make, they post loads of pictures on Facebook and Instagram of how the surf’s looking today and how much they like drinking beer… well my cousin is like, the complete opposite of that.
When he’s not jumping off the roof of the social club in a Dracula cape and fangs (Halloween & Rugby cup final) or running gladly into the ocean with swim shorts ripped from seam to seam he’ll either be preparing for the next grand cycle trip (as it appears the length of the South Island was just too easy) or sitting in the pub sipping on a cold ginger beer and downloading torrents on his laptop.
I had the pleasure of sharing his dads/ my uncles crumbling bush bach with him all summer on a small sub-tropical island,there were good times, there were bad times, but always Hone’s unusual wit and endless “would you rather” scenarios kept us both going.
One evening when we returned from an evening at Muay-Thai kickboxing training we opened the sliding door of the house to be met with the most heinous stench. Hone, who has almost no sense of smell, narrowed his eyes and said “something smells weird” and I retorted “no shit, something has died” we rifled around looking for the culprit but soon gave up as were were too tired and went to bed. The next morning the smell was worse, and it was coming from the kitchen. Hone propositioned; “If you can find it with your superior sense of smell Bry, then I’ll deal with it” it seemed like a fair deal to me and I started to lift up old bowls and look round the back of the range. I eventually tugged back a huge cast iron pot from underneath the out-of-use wood stove and my nostrils were met with a plume of rotted rodent vapours. Flies were disturbed by the sudden movement around the bloated fat rat corpse and I fled in horror quoting Withnail and I; “Get back! The whole scene’s gone rotten!”. Reluctantly and dutifully Hone picked up the trap which hadn’t even been baited and disposed of the festering carcass over the edge of the deck, throwing the bastard back into the rugged bush from whence it came, not before I got a photo of course
Aside from the fact he is hardy and generally pretty hilarious, he is undoubtedly the most active person I know. In just one day we climbed Mt. Hobson in sixty minutes (the DOC sign suggested it takes three and a half hours to the summit) although I think Hon could have done it faster, as he ran most of it in his big black boots, backpack full of squashed lime-pickle sandwiches and orange juice in tow. As if the climb wasn’t enough we went body surfing at Palmers beach AND THEN he still had enough energy for touch rugby at the sports club. A typical day for the ‘Meater Eater’ as he’s known by his fellow rugby players.
There sure is no one like Hone. I don’t know anyone else that tops every meal with hot fresh chillis, or will hitch for a ride holding a book in one hand and his thumb out with the other, nor do I know any other twentyfour year olds who have physics themed posters stuck up on their bedroom wall with electrical tape, or who would pick a new years bobbing around in hot pools amongst the glow worms and volcanic mud over a party. It’s Hon all over, and I must say I’m starting to miss the old boy.