What a week I’ve had. It’s been my Christmas present.
41 years ago, when I was 15, five mates and I went to Great Barrier Island for a week. It was a very big thing. My first holiday away from parents or school. We had tents. We hitchhiked. We drank beer. We bought Stones Green Ginger Wine from the bottle shop in Tryphena. No-one asked us how old we were.
The island was rugged and we bush crashed it. We climbed Mount Hobson, we went to the hot springs, we swam at Awana.
I’ve always wanted to go back but never had. I don’t know why. It’s 60ks from Auckland. A short flight or a five hour boat trip, yet many New Zealanders think it’s just a bit too hard. We happily jet around the world to mysterious locations and ignore the one right on our doorstep.
So my family gave me a mini break in Barrier this week and it was amazing.
The island is assuming its Maori name, Aotea, more and more. The roads are partly paved. But the unpaved ones are still as treacherous as the ones I remember. The beaches are still beautiful. The mountains soar. The bush is regenerating nicely and it’s thickening up. With last weeks heat it felt like going to Tahiti or Rarotonga.
Yes there are more baches now and the wealthy have colonised the former hippy wild spots like Medlands. But make no mistake: Aotea Great Barrier is like New Zealand used to be. It is paradise. But that’s not to say the place has no problems.
It’s off the grid. There is no reticulated water. You need to collect and treat your own. There is no power. You need to make and save your own. I think all greenies need to live this way to get some idea of the realities.
First, the water. It’s been a very dry year on the Barrier and tanks are running dry. Where we were staying is fed by a stream which is a trickle and the catchment pool had sprung a leak so we were very frugal. If it’s brown flush it down if it’s yellow let it mellow.
A friend in Tryphena, who’s had a place there for 25 years, was also worried about the water and the future so he’s considering putting in a second tank. Not an easy or cheap job. He’d have to helicopter it in.
But with the big dry and the regenerating bush there’s more and more concerns about fire. The last big one was in 2013 around Claris, and the Australian bush fires are starting to spook some locals. The houses are built deep in bush that seems to be getting drier and drier with every passing year. So our friend is also designing a watering system in the eaves of the house to keep it safe in the event of a big one. Call it climate change, call it whatever, it is what it is.
Power there is interesting. Living on solar power as I did meant no TV, which was lovely. It meant one light over a couch at night, which was also lovely. We had a dishwasher but there was not enough power to run it.
The upshot of all this is that to maintain power security everyone has a generator. Old diesel ones. Modern petrol ones. Burning the fossil fuels. Belching the smoke.
Meanwhile, power is so precious you don’t see electric vehicles on Barriers roads. You do see big old diesel four wheel drives.
The island life reminded me that humans have created this world through energy. That the moment we stopped being monkeys was the moment we gained mastery over fire. That everything we take for granted that ensures our comfortable lives is based on energy.
And if you don’t have hydropower, or solar, or wind or geothermal, then you burn fossil fuels. India burns coal from its massive deposits down its eastern flanks. The Middle east burns oil.
Living an environmentally concerned lifestyle on the Barrier this week reminded me that we still have an enormous way to go to achieve a sustainable way of living.