Where: Atawhai, New Zealand
Project: Permaculture, eco-engineering, eco-construction, biodynamics
Nestled in the hilltops of Atawhai lays Mark’s 57 acre property, Ngawiwi Farm. Native bush fills the grounds, intertwined with invasive species that need to be cleared in order to implement Mark’s vision of conserving the Maori land. His mission is to restore the land to what it once was, thousands of years ago, before the “white man” came. Mark settled down at Ngawiwi Farm three years ago. His land includes a sheep farm, a chicken coup and native plants, in addition to three loving dogs. As Mark says, “there’s a lifetime of work” for him on the property.
Having volunteered and traveled around the world, as well as having a variety of careers from education to the video game industry, Mark is incredibly cultured and knowledgeable. Some fun facts we learned from him include:
- Before Aotearoa (New Zealand) was colonized, there were only birds – no mammals, thus each bird played a role in the ecosystem, similar to lands with mammals.
- The differences between indigenous (originated here, native), endemic (grows here, and is only found here) and introduced (purposefully brought over/transplanted) species.
- Biodynamics: the study of physical motion and living systems, also a method of organic farming that incorporates certain astrological and spiritual principles.
Aerial view of Ngawiwi Farm
Before and after bushwhacking the driveway
During our stay, each day began with feeding the hens and gathering fresh eggs. We then brushed and prepared the eggs for the neighborhood honesty box where people from the community could drop a donation in exchange for fresh eggs. Every day called for a different task, from bushwhacking to propagating native trees to taking care of the sheep. We also were responsible for:
- Making our own fertilizer with sheep manure, sand and potting soil
- Restoring plants by picking and replanting 160 Kahikatea tree seedlings (endemic, New Zealand’s tallest forest tree) and 12 Kawakawa trees (endemic, a Maori medical plant), both of which are native, while bushwhacking invasive weeds that are not
- Eco-construction: using the existing landscape to build walkways, steps, etc.
- Eco-engineering: using the wood from fallen trees to eco-construct a propagation system for natural dispersal of seeds
- Digging trenches for proper irrigation and drainage for the plants to thrive
Our experience with Mark at Ngawiwi Farm was nothing short of extraordinary. We learned the challenges of conservation on a colonized land and that you won’t always reap the benefits of your work in your lifetime. The Kahikatea trees we replanted won’t be fully grown until a few hundred years, and this is part of what makes Mark such a remarkable and selfless human being. The work he does is not for himself, but for future generations to flourish on the native bush as it once was. We gained an immense amount of knowledge and our departure was bittersweet – we were eager to stay and learn more. Mark, being the compassionate person, vowed to us that if and when anything happens, we will always have Ngawiwi Farm as a safe zone. Should the zombie apocalypse infest our world, you can bet we would travel to Mark’s sanctuary in a heartbeat.
New Zealand has been a dream and couldn’t be more perfect to kick off our trip with EARTHLY projects. Next up – Australia! Stay tuned for more of our adventures.
Check out more photos below!