Thursday, 15 February 2018

Choosing our Homestead and 5 Years of Preparation

At the start of 2012 when we decided that we would move back to New Zealand from Australia we started scouring the internet for land.  As I mentioned in my last couple of posts the geographic region that we chose to homestead in was one where we were within a 30 minute drive from family, but also major centres of employment as we are not close to retirement age or in a financial situation where we could retire early.  We wanted enough land to be fairly self sufficient without it being a full time job straight away so we looked for land between 5 and 15 acres in size.

We were definitely working with a budget in mind, as at the time we also had a mortgage on our homestead in Australia, and we knew we wanted to build a new house so we looked at bare land.  We spent a number of months just looking online at the properties that came up for sale, the ones that remained for sale and the ones that sold quickly.  The region we were looking in was fortunately one of the cheapest areas of the North Island.  Once we had seen a few that meet our requirements we travelled from Australia to look in person.

When visiting potential sites we took a number of things with us: 

A spade to check soil type, water logging, topsoil depth and visual biology.  We want to be able to grow a lot of fruit and vegetable and raise animals for meat so knowing if you a looking at a property with good soil or poor soil gives you an idea of how much work might be required before you achieve this goal.  Soil can be improved but it takes time and effort, so knowing what you are dealing with from the beginning might help you make a decision.

A camera to take photos in all directions from the centre of the property and you will never remember what can be seen in every direction and when you look back at photos you might see things you hadn't noticed.

A 50 m tape measure to measure distance from power and water supply to potential house sites.  We did not need to worry about water as it was always planned that we would have water tanks installed.

A note book to record findings and note things like access to adjoining properties, quality of boundary fencing and physical sensations like smell,wind and noise.  

Some properties you will rule out quickly but in others you might see potential.  It is quite important to spend some time standing quietly on potential properties each time you visit (which should be at different times of the day) and listen to the noises around you.  How much traffic noise is there?  Is there manufacturing going on nearby? Are the neighbours dogs barking continuously?  Can you see and hear the neighbours?  These are things easily over looked that might infringe on your imagined lifestyle.

Looking south from our North West corner

Looking East from our North West corner

Hubby with measuring tape in hand

We finally found a property that suited many of our needs and was within our budget.  The location was good, the size (5.5 acres) was good, the houses around us were newish (built in the last 10 years) which can help improve the value of the area, it was down a country road, mostly flat with a very slight slope and tree-less (which can can be both positive - blank canvas to work with, and negative - the cost of trees).
The soil was way better than what we had in Australia and pretty good on New Zealand standards with at least 30cm of topsoil.  The property had been used for growing maize then re grassed so we knew this meant chemical fertilisers had been used and likely herbicides (although soil tests would give us more information), however we also knew we would not be relocating for a few years and the land would therefore be able to heal itself.  It has now bee more than 5 years which means we could start the process of applying for organic certification but we are not sure if we will go down this path yet.

Once we owned the property we started preparing for our eventual move by planting a windbreak on our western boundary.  We get very Strong winds from this direction and sometimes salt spray blows in from the ocean even though it is more than 10 km away but as you can see in the photos below trees in the area can attest to the power of the wind.

 We mowed a 4m wide strip and fenced it off.  Then the planting began.

We planted about 100 trees the first trip back to New Zealand, all self seeded natives that my mum propagated for us.  And after planting all the trees out we went on to fill those same pots with more seedlings.

Every time we visited New Zealand which was about every 6 months we would plant more trees, replace any that didn't survive and propagate new ones.  Slowly but surely we planted out our entire 200m boundary.

Getting the windbreak established was a priority and 5 years on the trees are mostly growing well and about 1.5 metres tall.

As you can see from the above photo we did more than just plant trees in 5 years we also built a shed and undertook a range of other activities but more about that later.  
The way we are designing our property is based on my permaculture knowledge.  I don't claim to be an expert and it is something I continue to learn about and practise, but I try to make decisions based on what I have learnt about permaculture.
The main thing that the 5 years allowed us to do was to get to know our property through observation (number 1 of the permaculture principlesand in a way it forced to take thing slowly making small changes over time which is permaculture principle number 9.
During this time there were many times we wanted to push forward and do things. But living in another country meant we couldn't, which at the time was frustrating as we are both doers and like to be busy.  
As we move forward now the time we have had to observe and think things through I am sure will be a blessing because we are now at the point of making big decisions and putting permanent things like our new house in place which obviously cannot be undone.

I am trying to move past the fear that there are things I haven't considered that will create problems down the line. I am not going to become paralysed by it because I think there is a risk of doing nothing for the fear of getting it wrong, and I keep reminding myself that nothing is a problem just an opportunity to be creative with a solution. 

Have you ever had that feeling when undertaking a project?
Have you ever built a new house or started from scratch somewhere new?
What are your tips for keeping up the forward momentum?


  1. Looks like you've got everything covered and are strategic in your planning. All very exciting for you.

  2. After seeing The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I started fantasizing about visiting New Zealand. The country literally became the best place to be. Forget about France or Switzerland. That one right there on your photos is the best. You’re lucky to own a farm there and visit at least twice a year. A homestead in such a paradise is more than a dream come true for me.

    Keneth Parish @ Lion Land Marketing

  3. WOW! that looks amazing! Had a lot of work but it was worth it.

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