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 Such a variety of goods available, one can hardly call it a ‘farmers market’; the term seems utterly out of date here where anything from Kumbucha scoby’s to organic clothing and oriental food to fermented pesto can be sampled and purchased from stallholders who know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.