Yurt Life

Britsh ex­pats now liv­ing in a yurt in Waikato

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Lindy Davis. Pho­tog­ra­phy Mar­i­jke de Jong

Sum­mer is fi­nally here, and for many fam­i­lies the ideal hol­i­day in­volves a tent in the great out­doors, along­side na­ture. But for one fam­ily from Eng­land, a huge call from the wild en­ticed them to com­pletely aban­don life in the city and live off-grid in ru­ral New Zealand.

Lucy AitkenRead and her hus­band Tim had, quite sim­ply, had enough of liv­ing life on the tread­mill. So with two young chil­dren in tow, they packed their be­long­ings to take a walk on the wild side.

“It sounds a bit of a cliché, to leave our com­fort­able Vic­to­rian ter­raced house in South Lon­don to go live in a yurt [cir­cu­lar Mon­go­lian tent tra­di­tion­ally cov­ered with skins or felt] in the mid­dle of nowhere. Although we were al­ready to­tally com­mit­ted to lov­ing the earth and tread­ing gen­tly, we felt we were miss­ing a cer­tain wild­ness in our life.”

Lucy says there are vi­tal parts of na­ture that can’t be ex­pe­ri­enced in a big city, where most of their time was spent ei­ther in­doors or com­mut­ing to work.

Hav­ing made the de­ci­sion to live life more sim­ply, they re­searched sev­eral places and set­tled on New Zealand.

“We ar­rived full of dreams and cer­tain that be­fore long, we’d snap up our own per­fect bit of land. We had a list of fea­tures it needed to have, like spring water, na­tive bush, pad­docks for farm­ing and a vi­brant lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

To get a feel for the land, they worked as WWOOFers for around six months (Will­ing Work­ers on Or­ganic Farms) and learned about large-scale gardening.

They spent their spare time vis­it­ing var­i­ous parts of the Coro­man­del that ap­peared to have what they wanted, but noth­ing par­tic­u­larly res­onated.

A for­tu­itous in­vite to a New Year’s Eve party paid off, thanks to a rec­om­men­da­tion about a piece of land in Karanga­hake.

“We walked on to this land at the foot of Mount Karanga­hake in Waikino, and it was like a choir of an­gels ap­peared in the sky and sang, ‘THIS IS THE ONE!’ We just knew deep in­side that this was the spot.”

The fam­ily is spoilt for choice when it comes to ac­tiv­i­ties. Their farm is ide­ally lo­cated near the Karanga­hake Win­dows Walk through Waitawheta Gorge, and just 15 min­utes to the Hau­raki Rail Trail.

They de­cided ‘home’ would be in the form of a yurt; given the move from Lon­don to Waikato, Lucy felt it would suit their no­madic life­style. Their Amer­i­can­made Pa­cific Yurt, crafted from wood and can­vas, ar­rived flat-packed and took al­most two days for Tim to put to­gether. Friends as­sisted with the foun­da­tions and cut­ting the can­vas to in­stall dou­ble-glazed win­dows. They also built ad­di­tional deck­ing space to in­crease the lounge area. Lucy grad­u­ally trans­formed the in­te­rior, adding bunk beds for the kids and var­i­ous floor and wall fur­nish­ings found in op­por­tu­nity shops and home­ware stores.

Lucy and Tim love their yurt life­style, say­ing it of­fers them a sim­pler, health­ier ex­is­tence. Lucy adds the round­ness of the struc­ture makes it feel sa­cred, and she has a deeper sense of con­nec­tiv­ity to na­ture. “It’s not so far from the hunter-gath­erer

“We walked on to this land at the foot of Mount Karanga­hake in Waikino, and we just knew deep in­side that this was the spot.”

life we once led a thou­sand years ago.”

Elec­tric­ity is largely gen­er­ated through so­lar power, mak­ing them much more at­tuned to sea­sonal changes. Sum­mer is all about bush walks, swim­ming in the wa­ter­falls, late-evening pic­nics and spon­ta­neous mu­sic con­certs by the river. The win­ter lends it­self to day­time hikes, with evenings read­ing books by the fire and play­ing card games.

They built a wood-fired oven be­cause Tim loves cook­ing and bak­ing with their younger daugh­ter Juno, 4.

“We also de­signed an amaz­ing mud kitchen for her last birth­day, com­plete with sink and run­ning water tapped from the stream. Juno makes clay cakes if there aren’t any edi­ble ones around.”

Older daugh­ter Ra­mona, 7, is an ad­ven­turer and en­joys ex­plor­ing the neigh­bour­ing Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion land. She col­lects in­ter­est­ing bones that she un­cov­ers along the way, while Juno has a sharp eye for sparkling quartz crys­tals. They have nick­named them­selves Bone Finder and Crys­tal Hunter.

“I see yurts as be­ing part of the tiny house move­ment, of­fer­ing an im­por­tant al­ter­na­tive to the ex­clu­sive world of the huge mort­gage. It’s re­ally tragic that own­ing a home these days is so pro­hib­i­tive and in a sense, the tiny house move­ment is try­ing to ad­dress that is­sue,” Lucy adds.

She feels not hav­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing a house gives her more time with her chil­dren, af­ford­ing them a more cre­ative and ad­ven­tur­ous life­style.

“Ev­ery morn­ing I wake up and see the sun ooz­ing in through the can­vas and feel the fresh air on my face. I just think, ‘ Wow!’ We are liv­ing a sim­ple, mag­i­cal way of life.”

An av­er­age day sees them look­ing after the newly planted or­chard, tend­ing to their ducks and chick­ens, col­lect­ing eggs, and mov­ing the High­land cat­tle to dif­fer­ent graz­ing pas­tures.

The chil­dren are ‘un­schooled’, which means they are ed­u­cated on im­por­tant as­pects of life out­side the class­room. Tim is a teacher by trade, but Lucy says they pre­fer the con­cept of fos­ter­ing their chil­drens’ cre­ative urges through ex­po­sure to things in which they show an in­ter­est.

“Our girls were keen on the idea of plant­ing flow­ers but didn’t un­der­stand the process. We took them to the garden shop and bought some seeds. It in­volved them re­search­ing what would grow well in the area and un­der­stand­ing the whole process from scratch. It was such a joy to watch Ra­mona writ­ing out the la­bels for the plants and do­ing some­thing she re­ally wanted to, rather than some­one else telling her it was a good idea.”

Daily ac­tiv­i­ties with the girls in­clude paint­ing, sing­ing, gardening, sewing, bak­ing or mak­ing their own fer­mented sauer­kraut and kim­chi. The cou­ple will some­times set a chal­lenge to for­age for one new in­gre­di­ent for their breakfast smoothie, such as kopakopa, clover, gorse flow­ers or to­tara berries from their farm.

“I want to raise kids who trust them­selves and have a deep con­nec­tion to na­ture, who can work through con­flict, un­der­stand all facets of well­be­ing and who know they can do any­thing they put their mind to. I’m just not con­vinced the cur­rent school sys­tem is up to it.”

Be­ing in touch with the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings helps keep Lucy’s cre­ative juices bub­bling. Her third book, Thirty

Days of Rewil­d­ing, is de­signed to help fam­i­lies re-con­nect with na­ture. The cou­ple hope the ad­di­tion of a smaller yurt, now wel­com­ing Airbnb guests, will give other peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to fully em­brace the won­der that na­ture brings.

“I wake up and see the sun ooz­ing in through the can­vas and feel the fresh air on my face. I just think, ‘ Wow!’ We are liv­ing a sim­ple, mag­i­cal way of life.”

The fam­ily now lives a sim­pler life, more con­nected with na­ture and the sea­sons – it nur­tures Lucy’s cre­ativ­ity, and teaches her daugh­ters to be in­quis­i­tive and brave.

An av­er­age day in this fam­ily’s slice of par­adise can in­volve for­ag­ing for a new breakfast in­gre­di­ent, tend­ing to the an­i­mals and go­ing for walks.

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