The final leg of our road trip is chock-a-block with inspiring people, sustainable initiatives, natural beauty, and meeting new and old friends.

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Dunedin – Whangarei (NZL)

“This feels like driving in a car commercial!”, Ivar beams while steering our campervan along a winding road that affords stunning views of the Southern Alps. We are on the way to Mount Cook/Aoraki, New Zealand’s highest mountain. The road is almost empty and the landscape keeps changing. “I can get used to this type of traveling” he jokes, knowing full well that he will never give up Lucipara 2. But for now, both of us enjoy the ease and comfort of traveling over land. In the late afternoon, we stop at a freedom campsite on the shores of Lake Pukaki. Our view is a postcard, almost unreal. The lake has ice-blue glacial water and is bordered by snow-covered mountain peaks, with Mount Cook towering high above its neighbours. Ever-changing clouds, the fading light and rising moon offer views that keep us mesmerized long into the night.

The next morning, we drive along the lake to the base of Mount Cook. A hiking trail takes us through bush and over suspension bridges across glacial rivers to a lake. From here, we get a fantastic view of majestic Mount Cook. At the far end of the lake, we can just make out the remnants of a glacier. Like elsewhere on earth, here too glacial ice is melting at a rapid rate. Only when we look at the peaks that surround us we can still admire ice and snow. The contrast of the white masses against the blue sky takes our breath away. The beauty of the place and its obvious fragility remind us that we all must do more to conserve our planet’s pristine nature.

An Old Acquaintance

Back on the South Island’s east coast we head for Banks Peninsula, once formed by three volcanos. As we drive towards the bay of Akaroa, we spot a classic white sailing yacht with two masts. “Could it be…?” Ivar ponders. Through the lens of our camera at maximum zoom he gets a better view. “The distinctive banana-shaped hull, the wooden masts, the bow-sprit, the blue sail covers, it’s definitely her!”, Ivar asserts. We’re looking at SY Duende, our friends Bram and Vivian’s old boat. They sailed it from the Netherlands to New Zealand over the course of six eventful years. When they decided to stay in Auckland, they sold the boat. She looks a bit lonely at anchor, possibly waiting for a reunion with Lucipara 2?

Rewilding in Action

Akaroa is much more than SY Duende’s new homeport. It’s a friendly village, with a freedom campsite that we gratefully use. The town is renowned for having a French vibe from the many French immigrants who settled here. No matter how hard we try, we don’t pick-up a strong French ambiance, other than a bakery selling croissants, a few French street names, and some historic displays at the local museum. Instead, our attention is soon drawn to a rewilding project nearby. The entire Banks peninsula was once cleared to create pastures and sheep farms. Only 0.6% of the original vegetation survived the deforestation mayhem. Thanks to the efforts of conservationist Hugh Wilson, a large piece of land has now been rewilded. Curious to see how that looks, we visit Hinewai. Unfortunately, we don’t get to meet Hugh, but we can roam freely through the private nature reserve. The contrast with the surrounding pastures makes it obvious how much has been achieved in more than 30 years. A series of pictures confirms that the land has changed beyond recognition. With interest we read the information panels about the various species of native plants and animals that have returned. The resilience of nature not only amazes us, it gives us reason to be hopeful. The world desperately needs more people like Hugh, who has made this project a success with his passion and energy.

Lost Carbon

Unfortunately the onslaught of New Zealand’s forests not only took place on the Banks peninsula: A shocking 70 percent of the country’s native bush suffered a similar fate. As a result, flora and fauna have lost much of their living space. It also means that staggering amounts of carbon storage capacity in trees and the soil has been removed. The effects are still visible today, as we pass one pasture after another on our way to Christchurch. The grasslands are mostly feeding cows for the meat and dairy industry. But pastures are poor in biodiversity and store hardly any carbon. What’s more, cows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Research has shown that global deforestation – combined with methane emissions – contributes a substantial 20 percent to the climate crisis.

To add to the problem, irrigation and synthetic fertilizers have intensified dairy and meat production in the last few decades. Gigantic sprinklers keep the grass green. But in naturally dry areas, like much of the South Island, irrigation leads to groundwater levels continuously dropping. Fertilizer has multiple drawbacks. It is a finite additive with a long, polluting supply chain. It ends up in waterways, which leads to pollution and algae growth. As we drive through Canterbury’s farmland, we wonder whether there are farming methods that reverse these trends. Can farming be done without depleting natural resources, while also helping to store carbon and increase biodiversity?

Regenerative Farming

To find an answer, we visit Streamside Organics. It is a commercial farm just outside Christchurch that seven years ago started as grassland. Now it is an outlier among the area’s many pastoral fields. Co-founder Dominique shows us around. “We grow all vegetables organically, so we don’t use agricultural poisons”, she says. “We prevent soil depletion by alternating crops. In addition, we always cover some of our sections with legumes and wildflowers. Legumes replenish the nitrogen reserves in the soil so we don’t need synthetic fertilizers, and wildflowers attract all kinds of insects. We spray our crops with compost-tea, a liquid that we brew from healthy compost and that contains lots of nutrients and microbes.” This all results in a healthy soil, which, as an additional benefit, can absorb more carbon.

Their approach works. The earth is teeming with life, the flowers are full of bees and other insects, and the vegetables grow prolifically. Dominique’s colleagues are busy harvesting them. Fresh celery, broccoli, carrots, potatoes, and radishes pass us in yellow crates on their way to the shed to be packed into veggie boxes. Members of Streamside Organics buy directly from them, ensuring that Dominique and her colleagues receive a fair price for their produce. Yet their harvest is so plentiful that they also supply supermarkets in Christchurch, proving that these “regenerative farming” techniques can be successful on a large scale. Read more about more examples of generative farming in a dedicated sustainable solution item.

On Shaky Ground

After so much nature and countryside, it’s time to visit the South Island’s largest city, Christchurch. It became world news on 22 February 2011 when it was hit by a powerful earthquake. To better understand the background of the disaster and its aftermath, we visit QuakeCity, a fascinating museum. Fully captivated, we wander around for hours. Now, more than 10 years later, the earthquake’s devastating effects are still visible in the city. Some historic buildings are reinforced with metal parts, while others like the cathedral are still being repaired. There are also a striking number of brand new buildings, as well as empty lots.

One of these empty spaces is occupied by Cultivate, a community garden that does more than grow seasonal, organic veggies for the neighbourhood. It also has a social mission: providing training and employment opportunities for youngsters. By learning skills, they become more self-confident, which helps them grow in life. It’s one of the wonderful initiatives that we described in a separate sustainable solution article about urban gardening.

Warm with Wool

When we pass a gigantic billboard that promotes merino wool, we both get a flashback to Sinterklaas 2012. “My first present!” laughs Floris. Ivar gave Floris thermal underwear made of merino wool as a gift when he first met him. It had to convince him to sail to Terschelling in winter. Now, years later, we find ourselves at the source of Floris’s beloved undergarments. But how sustainable is merino wool?

We put our question to Tim Loftus, sales and marketing manager at New Zealand Merino, the country’s largest supplier. “Merino wool is naturally renewable and biodegradable, so that’s a huge advantage over synthetic fibres”, he says. We agree, but are not yet satisfied. “How sustainable is sheep farming is” Floris asks. “Merino sheep do particularly well in the rugged highlands. That means that very little productive land is needed” answers Tim. “In addition, we work together with our sheep farmers to produce merino wool in a more animal and nature-friendly way.” That sounds like music to our ears. “In any case, the clothing lasts a long time. I’m still wearing mine”, Floris smiles.

Using Natural Materials

While we love merino wool for its natural qualities, it still travels from New Zealand to cheaper production locations overseas. We wonder what is done locally with natural materials like wool. Rekindle is an organisation that specialises in just that. They run “resourceful skills workshops” in Christchurch’s Arts Centre. Participants learn how to make utensils such as baskets, coasters, cutlery, clothing and furniture from natural materials such as wool, harakeke, and wood. “Instead of buying stuff, we try to encourage ingenuity and self-reliance,” explains manager Hannah Wilson. “What could be more fun than crafting something yourself from local and natural materials?”

To see Rekindle in action, we attend the workshop “making slippers”. Step-by-step, workshop leader Simone Bensdorp explains to the participants how to make slippers from bales of New Zealand wool. By the the end of the afternoon, the participants are putting the finishing touches to their slippers. They not only take home warm slippers, but also a new skill. They have learned how to use wool to make something themselves. We will soon feature Rekindle together with other inspiring examples of using natural materials in a separate sustainable solution article.

Complying with Local Rules

From Christchurch we pursue a northbound route. In the coastal town of Kaikoura, we find the last of only six freedom camping spots bordering the beach. Following a walk along the rugged coast, we marvel at the ocean from the back of our campervan until a car arrives with a “Camping Ambassador” sticker on the door. A friendly but determined lady reminds all campers that we have to vacate the campsite by 7:00 o’ clock the next morning. We nod acquiescently, unsure about the enforcement of this rule. At that very moment, another campervan arrives with six jolly holidaymakers. They park next to us, which the Camping Ambassadors points out is not an official camping site. Despite their pleadings (“auntie, please let us stay”), she insists they find a different spot. “I reckon she takes her job quite seriously”, Floris quips, so we set our alarm for 6:45 a.m. By the time we are up, all our neighbours have already left the campsite. We decide to make the best of our early start and go for a morning hike. Our destination: the top of Mount Fyffe, the mountain rising steeply behind the town. It is quite the climb but the views from the top are very rewarding. The rugged, mountainous hinterland is at our fingertips, while we can also taste the ocean 1600m below us. This is where the mountains almost reach the sea, of which we are also reminded on the drive to Blenheim. The road hugs the steep coast and, in some places, is built as a terrace over the sea. Soon after the road cuts through the mountains, we reach Blenheim. Still sweaty from our hike, we head to the local swimming pool for a refreshing dip and shower. It’s a perfect way to enhance our freedom-camp experience.

Meeting New Friends

“You should really meet our friends Bonnie and Maarten. We still miss them”, Ivar’s sister-in-law Ruth insists. They were Ruth’s colleagues once but decided to relocate to New Zealand and pursue their careers as medical doctors here after falling in love with the country. They happen to be in the middle of moving house, so we invite them for a Dutch pancake dinner at our campsite. Unsurprisingly, they can’t stop talking about the dream house they’ve just bought in nearby Rarangi. “We need to see it! Let us help you move!”, we offer enthusiastically. The next day we move our campervan to the driveway of their spectacular, beachfront house. We help with cleaning and unloading, but also find time to hike together along the beach and in the nearby forest. We also participate in the house-warming celebrations with their friends and new neighbours. In the evenings, we cook meals together and share hopes, dreams and life’s choices. After a few days it feels like we’ve known each other for years.

Welcome Back to Wellington

We feel sad to have to say goodbye to our newest friends but the ferry we booked a while ago won’t wait. So we drive back to Picton in the early morning. Unlike last time, the ferry trip is uneventful, thanks to calm seas. “Welcome back to Wellington”, Isabelle and Marc say in unison when we stay with them that evening. After meeting them during our previous visit to Wellington, they invited us to stay at their house, an offer we’re happy to accept. The next day we give a presentation about our journey at Sustainability Trust, the social enterprise that supports sustainable living, which we visited earlier. Their entire venue turns out to be sold out! We’re very grateful to be able to inspire so many people with the successful sustainable solutions we encountered while sailing to New Zealand. Among the audience is Victoria, a radio host who spontaneously invites us to give an interview on Wellington radio the next day. An opportunity we can’t refuse, obviously!

Closing The Cycle

Our friends at Sustainability Trust also give us tip about a sustainability initiative in Wellington. Next to a hospital parking lot we visit Kaicycle, a large garden filled with vegetable beds and fruit trees. There is even a greenhouse where seeds and seedlings are grown until they are big enough to move outside. Managers Rory and Sheldon explain that this is municipal land: “It used to be a somewhat neglected park. Construction is not allowed here because there are pipelines underground. We were given permission to turn it into an urban garden, so now it is a little farm in the middle of town”, Rory says proudly.

What is special about Kaicycle is that they collect food scraps from households to compost on their site. When it is ready, the compost is used for the vegetable beds. Volunteers help with all aspects of gardening. It helps Kaicycle to run the mini-farm while the volunteers learn skills to garden better. Kaicycle follows a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model. That means that the harvest is sold to members. Each week, they can collect a box of seasonal vegetables for a fixed amount. The way they garden – organically, with composting and the help of volunteers – as well as the way they sell their produce based on the CSA model stem from the same philosophy. “Our objective is to be circular and close the food cycle”, Sheldon says. “Hence our name: kai means food in Maori and cycle stands for the circular model we follow.” Check out more urban gardening stories in our sustainable solution article.

Going Dutch

Not far from Wellington, we don’t believe our eyes. Is that a real Dutch windmill? We are in Foxton, a place where many Dutch immigrants have settled. To commemorate that history, a replica of a windmill has been built here. It houses a store that sells typical Dutch products. Ivar cannot resist the temptation and buys a pack of speculaas cookies. There is also a Dutch museum in the adjacent community centre. It tells the story of Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer who put New Zealand on the European map in 1642. Another story is about the immigration wave of Dutch people after World War II. We learn curious facts, like the story of a race to fly from Europe to New Zealand in 1953. Dutch airline company KLM won the race, with on board brides who were on their way to join their fiancés, who had gone to New Zealand by boat. They flew from London to Christchurch in 50 hours with 7 stops, an unprecedented achievement in aviation at the time. The Dutch influenced Kiwi society quite a bit, bringing with them Frisian cows, coffee culture, cycling, and sandwich meats, of all things.

A Dutch windmill!

River and Mountain with Rights

During the first leg of our road trip on the North Island, we visited Te Urewera. We learned why and how this became the first natural entity in the world to have been granted legal personality. Since then, two more natural phenomena in New Zealand have become legal entities: the Whanganui River and Mount Taranaki. As they are not far from Wellington, we decide to take a look there, too.

The Whanganui River is shrouded in Māori tradition. According to legend, the river started as a teardrop from sky god Ranginui, while its path was created when Ranginui’s son Taranaki made his way from the North Island’s central mountains to the coast. The local tribes regard the river as a sacred being of which they are part. “I am the river and the river is me”, is a proverb of the Whanganui iwi (tribe). They rely on the river for spiritual, cultural, and physical sustenance. Yet the river and its surroundings are threatened by pollution, commercial forestry, industrial agriculture, and construction.

Mount Taranaki is only an hour’s drive from the river mouth. The volcano is a perfect cone and stands tall in the middle of flatland. The local iwi revere the mountain for its high spiritual value. The hike to the summit, 2,500 meters above sea-level, is one of the most challenging we ever did. To respect the sacred peak, we take in the stunning view from a small platform close to it. We learn that introduced goats, weasels, stoats, possums, and rats all cause a decline in native plants and birds, thereby destroying the ecological vitality of the mountain.

At the Whanganui River and Mount Taranaki, the local iwi are taking measures to restore nature and prevent further degradation. The legal recognition of the river and mountain allows them to better fulfil their important role as kaitiaki, or guardians. In both cases, like at Te Urewera, a trustee board made up of iwi and government representatives has been set up with the task of looking after the river’s and mountain’s interests. It means that there are now distinct bodies with clear mandates to protect and restore natural ecosystems. The local iwi finally have the tools and authority to fulfil their roles as kaitiaki. What’s perhaps even more important, is that the Māori worldview in which all things in nature are connected and need our respect and guardianship, has been confirmed a second and third time in New Zealand.

We will soon publish the full story on rights for nature in a separate sustainable solution article.

Auckland Sailing Adventures

When we drive back to Auckland, we happily check in again with Bram, Vivian and their daughter Flora. We can’t stop talking about our road trip adventures and they recognize our enthusiasm. “We have lived here for seven years now and there is still so much to discover in this beautiful country”, Vivian chimes in. “At the same time, we don’t have to go far to enjoy some of our past-time”, Bram winks. He alludes to the beach that is not far from their house. SY Duende may have been sold, but they still sail, as we witness the next morning. Bram recently got his hands on a sailing dinghy for Flora, who has regularly practiced at the local sailing club and seems to have inherited the sailing gene from her parents. With the boat on a small trailer we walk a few blocks to the beach, raise the mast and hoist the sail. After Bram shows everyone how it’s done, Ivar squeezes into the small boat with Flora. The wind is quite strong and it has been a while since he last sailed in a dinghy, but he soon gets into the groove again. Thoughts of him sailing as a young boy cross his mind. Who knows what sailing adventures Flora await, he ponders.

Beer from Bread and Bread from Beer

We are also thrilled to spend time with our friends Kerry and Daan. They take us on a daytrip to the nearby Rangitoto Island, where we climb to the top of the extinct volcano that gave the island its name and shape. Back at their apartment, Ivar is offered a beer. “I’m sure you’ll find this interesting”, Kerry smiles. “Citizen beer, made with bread”, Ivar reads on the label. “Awesome! And it tastes really good too.” We contact the beer brand’s co-founder Donald Shepherd, who shares Citizen’s story with us. “We are a collective of chefs, brewers, bakers, and innovators who focus on up-cycling food. We’re committed to reducing food- and resource waste”, Donald explains. He describes how Citizen’s beers are brewed with unsold bread. It replaces about a quarter of the malted barley in each brew. And it doesn’t stop there: the leftovers of the brewing process are used again as the main ingredient in traditionally baked sourdough bread. Talk about circular food! Check out more food rescue stories in a separate sustainable solution article.

Back on Board

Back to the marina, Luci is patiently waiting for us at the pontoon. After two months on the road, it feels good to be back on board. She actually feels very spacious compared to our campervan, Vanlife proved to be a pressure cooker for us. Never before have we seen so much of a country, met so many inspiring people, and documented so much material for new sustainable solutions in such a short amount of time. Our heads are full and we can’t wait to get started to create new blogs and vlogs. But there is not a lot of time to reflect on that. A big job awaits: boat maintenance!

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