Being able to stay at Tane's Rest for several days at a time is now driving demands for greater support beyond water availability and the most pressing is the need for a composting toilet.
To build our new loo we have followed the principles of the humanure compositing toilet. This requires liquid and solid waste to be separated and the solid waste to be covered with a biodegradable material as it accumulates. Our near neighbour Steve operates a portable sawmill so we have a generous supply of dry untreated sawdust that is a perfect cover material.
We have built a large plywood box that fits two 30 litre buckets and has two hinging toilet seats with covers. The liquid waste bucket remains unlined, however the solid waste bucket is lined with two bags, an inner compostable liner and an outer disposable liner. The strong outer liner allows the bucket contents to be safely carried to a burial pit where the inner liner and its contents can be dumped cleanly without any spillages. The outer liner is then landfilled.
The objectionable odours that emanate from traditional longdrop toilets is due to the amalgamation of liquid and solid waste where the nitrogenous liquid waste is able to react with the biological components of the solid waste. Preventing this from happening means our privy remains pleasantly odour free, even on hot summer days, and Steve's macrocarpa sawdust has the bonus of its natural fragrance.
Currently our composting toilet is discretely positioned outside behind a wood stack with a beach umbrella for both shade and rain cover. Ultimately it will move under cover in an open air ensuite that we plan to build near the caravan to reduce the walk to answer nature's call.
The answer to increasing our living space is a deck to create an outside room extending the length of the caravan and projecting out from under the overhanging rain roof.
With Major Sprite now safely installed we have secure accommodation but only 10 square metres of living space. Thankfully Marie spotted a great decking system heavily discounted at Bunnings so we swooped. This has precut decking frames that screw together to form large timber decking tiles. They are each 1,100mm square and can be laid in any pattern you choose.
We have enough frames for a deck that is 5.5m long x 4.4m wide with extra 1.1m x 2.2m wings on each end to provide easy access onto and off the deck, a total of 24 frames and almost 30 square metres of outside living space. Being precut, we have been able to assemble the frames in Auckland and have also precut 288 decking boards so 12 can be nailed onto each frame, before trailering the entire deck to Tane's Rest for assembly.
After some serious digging time we have re-excavated the bench we dug out to level the caravan site and have extended it as an area of flat ground beside the caravan on which the deck will sit. The excess dirt has been spread in front of the caravan to create a raised flat area large enough to pitch a tent should people come to stay. This way we have created two shovelfuls of benefit for each shovelful of dirt we have moved.
We have sat the deck frames on large treated wooden blocks that have been leveled before the frames were nailed together and nailed down to the blocks. The frame arrangement has allowed one to become a raised step at the door of the caravan and the three posts supporting the rain roof pass through the deck frames without collision.
Now we have the task of finishing nailing down the decking boards and that requires 2,304 nails to be marked, drilled, driven and punched.
With Major Sprite now on site we are spared both the task of setting up camp each time we visit Tane's Rest and travelling to and from Tolaga Bay each day for our work programme.
Being on site 24 hours a day also allows us to do more, especially tasks that take more than one day, like settling fire to Marie's enormous pile of heaped up pine branches and wood debris that she has systematically cleared from where our living space now stands.
To beat the start of the summer controlled fire season we returned to Tane's Rest with a fire permit in hand to remove the massive heap with probably the oldest land management tool known to humans. Once the fire was lit in the morning it burned all day before dying down to flickering flames after nightfall. By the second morning the giant pile of ash and embers was a smoldering hotbed that continued to smoke and flame up all day.
It wasn't until the third day that the fire could be said to be out and by then it had consumed everything leaving nothing but fine grey ash. Never having set fire to such a large pile of timber before it was a salutary lesson in the potentially destructive power of fire in a production forest setting and the need to carefully manage burn-offs to prevent huge losses. It was also good practice for when we burn-off even bigger piles, as we will need to do.
Our return to Tane's Rest also revealed half empty water tanks that should have been full.
Our inspection showed that on all the tanks the same fitting had failed and was leaking water drip by drip. The failure occurred where two different types of pipe had been joined using a screwed fitting wound into a threaded socket that tuned out to have a tapered thread. Just like driving a wedge the tapered fitting had split open the socket, a tricky repair when the socket was glued onto its pipe.
Using a rasp and some heat we found that the wall of the cracked socket could be thinned out and then split away from the pipe without damage. Gluing on a new socket and replacing the tapered thread fitting with a parallel threaded fitting solved the problem while some late spring rain successfully refilled the tanks before summer.
Thank goodness the problem showed itself before summer, and thank goodness for YouTube that seems to have a video showing you how to fix anything.
During September we transported to Tane's Rest our newly refurbished caravan, a 15 foot Sprite Major we have named "Major Sprite", and we have spent our first night on the property.
In fact, because Tane's Rest has never had any buildings on it we may actually be the first people to ever spend a civilised night on the property.
Just as we moved "The Major" to Auckland on a trailer so we have moved it from Auckland on a trailer. However, we have changed our normal route as the thought of towing both the trailer and the caravan over the Kaimai Ranges to Tauranga, especially up the steep climb on the western side of the ranges, was too daunting.
The alternative of traveling through the Karangahake Gorge with its twisting turns and rocky cliffs also wasn't appealing. Instead we traveled through Rotorua to get into the Bay of Plenty via the more gentle climb up onto the Mamaku Plateau before descending down past Kawerau to Awakeri Springs.
However the topography of the eastern North Island still has the challenge of traversing the Waioeka Gorge from Opotiki to gain access to Poverty Bay. To avoid this would have meant a much longer trip south to Taupo then to Napier before heading north to Gisborne via Wairoa, a journey that also includes some challenging climbs, so the Waioeka George looked the lesser of two evils.
It is shorter but steeper, and true to form we encountered rain in the gorge. In fact it rained so heavily it was a challenge to see other vehicles on the road but stopping was not an option in case another driver couldn't see us.
In addition to the tow vehicle we took our trusty 4WD Toyota Rav4 with us as we knew it would be impossible to manoeuvre the caravan on the soft and wet winter ground conditions at Tanes Rest with our 2WD ute. After a carefully choreographed ballet to unload the caravan on a level section of our driveway and switch tow vehicles we were able to ease "Major Sprite" under the rain roof and into its new home without getting anything bogged down in the soft muddy ground.
Unfortunately our stay was just one night as we needed to return the trailer to Auckland, however our homeward journey was very satisfying having completed the task of delivering our home away from home some 540km from Auckland to Tolaga Bay, this trip without incident. And in the spirit of sustainability and to save some gas we loaded the Rav4 onto the trailer for the return trip to Auckland.
We shall return to Tane's Rest very shortly and look forward to putting our new accommodation to the test, ready for our second summer in paradise.
As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the proof of the rain harvesting is in the drinking.
During the past weekend we made an overnight trip to Tane's Rest to deliver Major Sprite onto the property. To our pleasant surprise, and some relief, we found our three water tanks brimming with 2,500 litres of fresh and clean water and no obvious leaks. The overflow pipe was also full indicating the plumbing is working as designed.
The potable water tank outlet has great pressure so we will have no problem supplying water into the caravan. We may even have to use a pressure reducing valve.
There is one small glitch in the system. The slow release outlet valve for the first flush diverter is not adequately draining the first flush storage chamber, which is remaining full, so we need to find and fit an alternative. Nevertheless, the diverter is doing its job as when we emptied the chamber it had a surprising amount of sludge in it that thankfully is not in the tanks.
Our rain harvesting system works a treat - PHEW !!
Our project website has gone live today after completing the writing of the story to date and illustrating this with some photos. We intend to add more photos as time goes by and will update and expand the site as a record of the overall project.
The About pages introduce you to us, to Tāne's Rest, and our philosophy for the project. There is also a short history of the property and the beginnings of the project and an introduction to Aldo Leopold's famous book, "A Sand County Almanac", which has been the inspiration for this blog. We thoroughly recommend this classic to everyone who is interested in sustainable land management
If you would like to stay up to date with An Uawa County Almanac you can subscribe to our RSS feed just below the Uawa County map on the right of this page.
The Milestones section is just that, a record of the key milestones along our journey. We have prepared these pages both as a record of the progress we have made but also as a resource for others who may be on the same trip. So far we have focused on the first steps of Fencing, Water, Shelter and Energy to establish ourselves on the property. These will be updated, enlarged and expanded as we make progress into the future.
We hope that readers will stay in touch either by visiting the site from time to time, or by using our Contact page. We also welcome comments on any of our blog posts.
With the flurry of activity to purchase Tāne's Rest and the push to make the most of the summer and autumn weather we now understand what we have to do to make the property ecologically sustainable. Now we must turn our thoughts to how we might make the project financially sustainable.
Our pine trees are the obvious source of revenue, but as they are only three years old, harvesting income is a long way in the future. The first rotation of pines were also planted before the 1989 cutoff date for the emissions trading scheme therefore we do not qualify for carbon credits.
Our plantation area is considered a pre-1989 forest so if the trees were not replanted after harvesting a deforestation levy would have had to be paid. Instead we must keep this area covered in forest and get no credit for doing so even though the trees will absorb tonnes of carbon dioxide over their life.
Clear felling is the traditional method of harvesting plantation forests in New Zealand and it is ecologically devastating. The trees stabilise the land and gradually develop an understorey of native plants that support many species of wildlife. Then just as things are looking great the whole lot is obliterated. On steep country this means storms generate slips, sediment and pine debris washes into rivers and weeds like gorse and pampas grass quickly colonise the disturbed ground.
We have resolved to never clear fell the forest again.
There is another way. Using a continuous cover, closed canopy forest model, as practised very successfully in Britain and Europe, we will log our forest on a sustainable yield basis. By moving to a low volume, high value harvesting plan, we believe that what we produce will be more valuable and will avoid clear felling.
This is our direction. We have logging infrastructure in place with tracks, benches and a loading site. We are reasonable close to a port, we have logging expertise close at hand and when our trees are grown we will be able to harvest to the best log prices. We will have to invest wisely in silviculture and forest management with the aim being to produce the highest value timber that we can, and we will have to maintain the infrastructure.
It is a pity we can't get carbon credits so because we can't be bigger we just have to be smarter.
It has taken three and a half weeks and the tail end of yet another tropical cyclone, the third this year, to fill our tanks from empty, or so we hope.
The following 10 days were devoid of any heavy rain before the arrival of Cyclone Donna, which began life near Vanuatu and became a Category 5 storm and the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere in May with winds approaching 300 km/hr at their peak.
Its path southwards past New Zealand, thankfully downgraded to a Tropical Low, once again drenched the east coast of the country and Tolaga Bay recorded over 73mm of rain on the 12th and 13th of May.
This level of rainfall should have yielded a further 1,800 litres of water to completely fill our tanks. Rainfall intensities during the storm easily exceeded 5mm/hr meaning water would have begun filling our potable water tank. We need less than 25mm of rain in excess of 5mm/hr to totally fill our supply of drinking water.
Theory is one thing, practice is another and we will not know for sure how our rain harvesting system has performed until we next visit Tane's Rest. We could have been defeated by wind blown debris clogging the guttering to stop water getting to the tanks, or our tanks may indeed have filled but will be empty by the time we return if I did not sufficiently tighten a fitting, or worse still cracked a pipe while installing it.
Without water available when we installed the system we could not test it so our bounty of harvested water may be being lost drip by drip as I write this post.
Maybe we will take water with us on our next trip, just in case.
Easter has been our autumn visit to Tāne's Rest as this year Easter is late and combines nicely with ANZAC Day just after the following weekend. However because Easter is in the second half of April the weather is now deeply autumnal with cool days and the first cold nights.
Our visit was spent installing our rain harvesting and water storage system.
The summer drought on the East Cape has mercifully broken and green has returned to the palette of colours that paint the Tolaga Bay landscape. However, over the last month the rainfall pendulum has swung to the other extreme with the remnants of two tropical cyclones having made landfall in the Bay of Plenty and pushing over the East Coast hill country to the East Cape.
The first of these, in early April, was Cyclone Debbie that flooded Edgecumbe after the Rangitaiki River burst through a stopbank and caused dreadful damage. The second was Cyclone Cook that brought a combination of rain and high winds to Tolaga Bay, which might have been OK on its own, but Cook arrived just a week after Debbie had drenched the area and there had not been sufficient time for the soil to dry out.
Our little valley faces almost due east and would have been catching the wind like a wide-mouth funnel and just as with water in a funnel the wind piled up in the valley as it could not get out quickly enough. The wind at ground level would have been trapped by the winds screaming over the ridges and with nowhere to go it simply went round and round between the walls of the valley just as water does as it rushes to a plughole.
These twisting winds, combined with the saturated soil has meant that many of our pines on the lower slopes of the valley have been twisted like a corkscrew and then blown over when the soft waterlogged soil could no longer hold them up.
Our pine trees are nearly three years old so some are nearly two metres tall. Unfortunately for other growers in the area the wind and rain have also knocked over trees that are over 10 metres tall so now their plantation has been transformed from neat rows of soldiers standing to attention to a rabble of drunken sailors lurching at all angles. Our hearts go out to those foresters because at least we have a chance to straighten up many of our trees and heel the soil back around their trunks.
Cyclones and plantation timber trees definitely do not mix, especially when the cyclones hit with a double punch and we still have the rest of winter ahead of us. This is a timely reminder of the impacts of weather in the countryside and just as the drought caused challenges for others over the summer so we will face our challenges over the coming winter.
Others have been been worse affected but no-one on the Cape has faced the devastation wrought in Edgecumbe. We will be thankful our damage is only some lop sided pine trees that can thinned in years to come.
It is a short 540 km from Auckland to Tāne's Rest but a long way from the congestion of Auckland to the wide open spaces of Tolaga Bay where on a fine day the sky is blue and the sea is bluer. Along the way the trip is a kaleidoscopic tour of the eastern North Island.
Beginning in the urban landscape of Auckland, perched on an isthmus between two beautiful harbours and built on a field of over 50 different volcanoes our journey starts in a unique location. Traveling south the motorways quickly have us over the Bombay Hills and into the broad expanses of the northern Waikato basin.
To avoid the traffic congestion of holidaymakers rushing to the Coromandel Peninsula we head south to Ohinewai before turning east to Tahuna, a detour that takes us along the Waikato River flowing to the sea from Lake Taupo, then we skirt around the southern shore of Lake Waikare, one in a necklace of lakes spread across this landscape.
From Matamata we head further east to climb the Kaimai Range with spectacular views back across the Waikato before crossing into the Bay of Plenty and descending into Tauranga, another city built on the shores of a large harbour. The journey south from Tauranga is quickened by the new expressway and we quickly pass through the gentle landscape and the kiwifruit capital of the world around Te Puke.
At Pukehina, the road drops suddenly to the coast and the drive to Matata is alongside beautiful sandy beaches under arching pohutukawa trees clinging to the coastal cliffs, a tantalising taste of what much of the coast may once have looked like. On a clear day we can see White Island and its steaming volcanic crater on the horizon.
Matata is halfway.
It is also the beginning of the eastern Bay of Plenty, an area of bounty that was one of the first settled after humans arrived in Aotearoa. Here we turn inland to bypass Whakatane by heading through Edgecumbe to Taneatua, the gateway to the Urewera and its national park.
The Waimana George is stunning with its native forest and rushing waters of the Waimana River on its way to join the Whakatane River. Rounding the Ohiwa Harbour we see the southernmost extent of mangroves growing as a stunted dwarf forest on the mudflats, a far cry from their five metre tall brothers in Auckland.
From Opotiki the road climbs the long and winding path of the Waioeka Gorge, which isn't a gorge at all but nevertheless has spectacular rugged scenery with impossibly steep country clothed in native forest. At the top of the gorge is Matawai and the beginning of the Gisborne District. We are looking forward to seeing this area blanketed in snow on one of our winter trips to the East Cape.
From here the road begins the long descent towards Poverty Bay through some beautiful and big rolling hill county. The Poverty Bay alluvial flats are a sign that Gisborne is close from where it is only 65km to Tane's Rest.
The drive from Gisborne northwards along SH35 passes Wainui Beach, one of New Zealand's best surf beaches. Leaving the city behind for the last time the road visits a string of glorious beaches one after another where you can swim, surf, collect shellfish and even feed stingrays all from the roadside.
Turning inland the road follows coastal valleys through big hill country stations and climbs over the hills between them before arriving in Tolaga Bay with its huge river flats and the village as an outpost of civilisation.
Mangatuna is a quick 12km drive north towards Tokomaru Bay where Tane's Rest is cradled in the first folds of the East Coast hill country on the inland edge of the flats and where it is seven hours since we left Auckland.
This year, news bulletins have been strangely silent about predictions for an El Nino or La Nina summer but this has not stopped the East Cape being locked in the grip of a drought that some locals are describing as the worst in living memory.
Around Tolaga Bay, except for the pine forests and tee tree the hills have long since lost their green carpet of grass, the vegetation has gone past being brown and under the searing sun appears yellow against an electric blue sky. Gisborne has recorded 36 degrees in the shade.
Friends that grow horticultural crops alongside the Mangaheia River have been searching for water to irrigate their crops but with no substantial rain since September the river's normally strong flow is now a trickle. Worse is that the river flow has been so low for so long that the high tide has forced salt water up the river channel so that where their land meets the river the water has the salinity of 50% seawater. At the house the river is 30% seawater and yet that point is at least eight kilometers upstream from the mouth of the river at the beach.
They can do nothing more than hope for rain. The government says that drought relief is still two weeks away.
Against this backdrop of natural challenges we have laboured to build by hand our roof to shelter Major Sprite. There is much satisfaction to be gained from beginning with a heap of timber, a stack of roofing and bags of fasteners and ending up with a structure that says we have arrived and are here to stay, will protect our bedroom and collect our water when eventually the rain does return. Marie has cleared the pine debris off a huge area around our living space and heaped it up for burning when we can get a fire permit.
It has also been a great opportunity to spend time with Zane before he moves away from home to begin university in Wellington, a path Grant followed 38 years ago. His labour will also turn into some weekly spending money as he embarks on the next exciting stage of his life.
Over half of our property is clothed in recovering native forest after being farmed in the early part of the 20th century. However the long term viability of this native habitat is being compromised by massive exotic pines and their wilding seedlings left over from when they were planted along long overgrown fence lines.
The native wildlife that is present is also being compromised by invasive mammals who prey on eggs, chicks and adult birds, lizards and even insects that live in the forest.
Tāne is widely known as the Maori god of the forests and birds.
We have named our property Tāne's Rest as here is one place that he can have a break from the demands of being the guardian and protector of Aotearoa's remaining native forest as we have made the commitment to do his job for him and work to restore our small piece of forest. In doing so we aim to leave it better than we found it and we hope to encourage others to do the same.
We are planning to develop tools and knowledge that will make the task easier for those who come after us and we will record and share the story of our journey in this blog and on the pages of our website.
Welcome to Tāne's Rest. Please visit us again and feel free to leave us a comment.
We are underway with our project to build a sustainable off grid lifestyle as a counterpoint to our city lives - the lifestyle we want to have versus the lifestyle we have to have.
After Christmas in Auckland we left the house in the care of Hannah and Zane so they could continue their summer jobs to finance their university studies and have spent a week at Tāne's Rest to get the ball rolling.
Taking a trailer load of fencing timber and posts with associated paraphernalia we have built and erected a set of gates to begin our fencing programme. These are the first post holes that Grant has dug since he was a student working to finance his own university studies by spending summer fencing in the Marlborough Sounds.
Time with a chainsaw has also established Marie's first orderly firewood stack and made a small dent in the piles of log offcuts. It is clear that we will also need to incorporate a wood fired pizza oven in our plans as this will allow us to cook outside, to eat delicious food and to put at least some of the wood debris to a productive use. We also have the spot for an oven worked out as we have begun to level the site for our caravan.
It is a New Year and a new beginning, both for Tane's Rest and our family as we look towards a more sustainable future.
As of December 12, a small piece of Tolaga Bay is ours and with the summer ahead we need to make plans so we hit the road again for the drive to the East Cape and a weekend to get to know our new neck of the woods.
To establish our home away from home we first needed to select a site so after much wandering and looking and comparing we settled on a raised area that looks south across the cultivated Uawa River flats to the dry hills near the coast. This is close to the stream channel but showed no sign of being flooded, it keeps the sun until late in the afternoon and is close to the last remaining stand of Pukatea and Kahikatea trees that once would have densely forested the moist river flats.
We need to build a roof to provide shelter for our caravan and to collect our water so obviously our tanks also need to be here but with no electricity our water system needs to be powered by gravity alone. We will add solar power and solar water heating at a later date. However, along with shelter and water the other pressing necessity is a suitable facility for the inevitable daily ablutions so we need to research and build a working composting toilet, a task for which failure is not an option.
Our overpowering sense is that we now own a piece of land that is distressed. With piles of logging debris, a choked stream channel, slumping logging tracks and the native forest fighting against wilding pines we have decided to name our new property Tane's Rest to signal a change of direction, a new dawn and the beginning of a journey away from exploitation towards sustainability.
With the ink dry on our agreement to purchase the property, the fastest way we can establish a permanent base at our city escape is to move a caravan on site and once again Trade Me has answered our call.
We have found a 15 foot Sprite Major caravan that is in need of some repair and renovation and sleeps four people. Sited at Goat Island, it used to live at a campsite somewhere on the Coromandel Peninsula. We have now relocated it back to Auckland using a massive flatdeck trailer in the hope of avoiding any chance of a mechanical failure stranding us on the road home.
We could not predict that the caravan would be fine, the hire trailer would be fine but that our trusty ute would breakdown after the radiator was struck by a rock from a passing vehicle and overheated when it lost the cooling water. Nevertheless, with perseverance we got Major Sprite home after organising an alternate tow vehicle then repeating the trip to recover the ute on the flatdeck trailer before our hire period expired.
It is truly amazing what can be accomplished in 24 hours when you commit all of it to the task at hand, complete with twists and turns that you did not expect.
After a year of searching for a rural property with native forest, countless daily searches on Trade Me and numerous phone calls to vendors we were considering a trip to the Wairarapa to visit a property that had native beech and planted pines when a new listing appeared that looked more promising than all the others.
Located near Tolaga Bay the owner was very happy that we visited at our leisure so on a Friday night we headed for the East Cape with an overnight stop in Matata. Tolaga Bay is an area we are familiar with having camped for family summer holidays at several of the beautiful beaches around the Cape and Marie has spent time in the Bay working on one of her research projects.
The Bay was named by Captain Cook in 1769 when he stopped at the nearby Cooks Cove soon after arriving in New Zealand. Today it is probably best known for its historic wharf that is the longest in New Zealand.
The drive to Gisborne through the Waioeka Gorge and across the Poverty Bay plains and then northwards to Tolaga Bay is spectacular and quickly reminds you that you have left the city far behind.
The property was easy to locate. It was the one with piles of log debris cast into giant heaps and broken puriri trees where the felled pine trees had smashed their graceful arching limbs. We climbed a long steep spurline through the replanted pine plantation and entered the native forest to find a quiet calmness and an inviting path that spanned the distance between two pylons from one side of the property to the other carrying the power lines north to Tokomaru Bay.
The views over the Tolaga Bay flats to the hills beyond were mesmerising and after finding our very own waterfall we knew we had found our place that comes both with its challenges and everything we have been searching for.
This blog is the ongoing story of our piece of paradise on the East Cape we have named Tāne's Rest. Visit our About pages to read more about our project, and feel free to leave a comment on any of our posts.
Uawa County existed for 45 years from 1 December 1918 to 1 April 1964 before merging with Cook County. Click on the map to download a copy.