Kiwis living off the grid say nature will provide all you need video

Murray Wilson/Stuff.co.nz

Liz Brook who is living of the grid

Living self-sufficiently and off grid is to live a life embracing Mother Nature and all she has to offer. It might not always be easy but as this group of Kiwis living the off-grid life say, all you need is the sun, the rain the wind and, occasionally, a torch.  

MOTHER NATURE PROVIDES

Dean Lee and his partner Dianne Penwarden quit the mines of Western Australia for the good life in the Marlborough Sounds.

For 10 years I used to eat breakfast with 200 other blokes while I was mining in Western Australia. Living remotely was just a pipe dream for a long time.

I bought some land in Crail Bay in the Marlborough Sounds five years back and moved onto it with my partner Dianne18 months ago.

We both worked hard to pay off our mortgages and be semi-retired out here.

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Dean Lee and Dianne Penwarden at their Crail Bay property.
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Dean Lee and Dianne Penwarden at their Crail Bay property.

 
I used to come pig hunting down here in the 1990s and always said I'd like to come and live here. At 53 I've finally made it.

We have 30 acres and run some cattle on the land. Our closest town is Blenheim 2½ hours away by car. We're lucky if we see one car a day pass by our place.

Dean Lee and Dianne Penwarden bask in the tranquillity of their remote Marlborough home.
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Dean Lee and Dianne Penwarden bask in the tranquillity of their remote Marlborough home.

We don't get many visitors this far from town. But we love the quiet pace. Every morning we wake up to a choir of bellbirds and tui.

We started out living in a converted container on the land when we moved out here and we extend into our new house as we build it bit by bit.

The house is designed to be north facing for maximum sun. Our 15 solar panels and 24 batteries give us all the energy we need.

We have an eco-friendly fridge and freezer designed to run on solar power, a gas oven and a barbecue. Our water is gravity fed from a spring up in the hills above our land. We keep a big vegetable garden, hunt for wild deer and boar, and fish in the bay. We killed a cattle beast in the New Year. That'll keep us going for a good while.

Most of what we need comes from Mother Nature.

Going off grid was a pretty easy decision. It would have cost us $50,000 to get hooked up to the grid from here. That was about what it cost us to set up our alternative energy system.

And we just reckon, why buy power off a big company when you have the sun? Even on a cloudy day down here it charges our batteries.

There are not any downsides to living this way. Occasionally a storm might bring a tree down on the road but then we'll just chuck the chainsaw in the back of the ute and chop it up for firewood.

We're thinking of getting a boat which will allow us to get to Havelock in 40 minutes. For the meantime, we only bother going into town every two or three weeks for supplies.

We live a life of peace and quiet in a beautiful spot, living that pipe dream of mine.

A PLACE I BELONG TO

Liz Brook cleans her solar panels every three months.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ.

Liz Brook cleans her solar panels every three months.

Liz Brook, a former Dominion photographer, lives off-grid on a farm in Feilding.

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I chose to live using alternative energy because I suppose I've always been a bit "off grid" myself.

On a trip to the United States in the early 1980s I saw an amazing house that was totally self-sufficient which really inspired me to do the same one day.

That house was in Beverly Hills and had all the bells and whistles.

Liz Brook maintains her power house, the batteries which store her solar-sourced electricity.
Murray Wilson

Liz Brook maintains her power house, the batteries which store her solar-sourced electricity.

My dream house was a little more modest. In 1988 I bought a small 69-hectare farm near Feilding in the Manawatu. I still had an idea that I would be on the grid, but would mostly run the house on alternative power. As it turned out it was going to cost more than $15,000 to run the electricity to the house, so the decision was made. I would go totally off grid.

Luckily I came across a solar power idealist in Palmerston North who was about to move to Auckland, and was willing to sell his equipment to me for a very good rate.

There was no house on the farm, so over the next nine years I had it built stage by stage as money came in. I literally camped in a woolshed on the property until the house was finished.

My alternative energy is run on 12 solar panels, a small marine wind turbine and 12 deep-cycle batteries. I use "sky juice" for my water supply. Basically, everything is powered by the sun, the wind and the rain.

I have an extra low energy fridge made in Denmark, and a low energy washing machine. I use a wood fired stove for cooking. I usually get someone else to cut my firewood but when push comes to shove I'll do it myself. There are plenty of trees on the property that provide fuel.

I have a composting toilet, and there are two long drop toilets in the garden.

I can truly say my house is warm in winter and cool in summer.

The cost to power my house on alternative energy over the years has been minimal. I have no real idea, but every now and again I have to spend money on new batteries, or a new inverter, but really it is a lot less than paying a monthly electricity account. Some of my friends are paying upwards of $600 a month. That would just cripple me financially.

People thought I was a bit mad to live off grid, but with frequent power cuts up here and the cost of electricity from the grid, I'd say I'm not the one who's mad.

I do have to maintain my equipment to keep it all working. I clean my solar panels every three months and I have to make sure I top up my batteries.

In the early days I was not so organised. I'd be sitting there watching TV and suddenly the lights would go out and I'd have to reach for the torch.

I am hyper-aware of the need to conserve energy. I even turn off my fridge at night in the winter. I have to educate my friends who come to stay to turn off lights and other equipment when they leave a room.

I'm 75 now and lease much of my land to a farmer who has more energy and strength than I do, but I am still reasonably self-sufficient growing my own vegetables all year round, and I farm a few sheep and goat for meat.

There are days when I think about alternatives to living here. Trouble is, when I arrived this place was just a paddock. Now it's a home, a lovely garden and a place I feel I belong.

Polly Greeks with her children Vita, left, and Zen, at their off grid home in the Far North.
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Polly Greeks with her children Vita, left, and Zen, at their off grid home in the Far North.

HARD TIMES, HAPPY PLACE

An off grid home ensconced in remote bush in the Far North is a work in progress for writer Polly Greeks and her husband James McLean.

We were pretty clueless when we packed up all our possessions, drove north and embarked on our so-called Great Land Adventure. We had a vague notion that it would be nice to live in nature, grow some vegetables and enjoy night skies untainted by city lights, but we didn't really know what we were in for. That was a good thing.

James bought the land on a whim in 2002 -15ha of native bush in the Far North, flanked by Department of Conservation reserves, criss-crossed with tumbling streams and utterly lacking in amenities.

When we arrived at the end of 2010, the first thing we had to build was a road so we could actually access the place. Once that was done, we dragged an old caravan onto our future house-site and set up camp.

Before we figured out how to set up a gravity-fed water tank from the stream, we used to trudge down to the water daily with the wheelbarrow and lug it back up. Clothes were washed by hand until we discovered the Kaitaia Laundromat, an hour's drive away. We took bucket baths, read by candle-light, and kept up to date with the world via a transistor radio.

With winter approaching, we decided to construct a roof. Our builder said it would take him six weeks to erect but then he went off on some Grand Designs bent and spent the next year working on giant macrocarpa trusses. Eventually we parted ways but his legacy remains in the dimensions of our home – a 5 metre high stud and 7m-wide rooms.

Polly Greeks' off grid home in the Far North.
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Polly Greeks' off grid home in the Far North.

That first year on the land was definitely the hardest. It seemed to rain for months on end.

The streams all flooded and regularly cut off our access, and mould fuzzed across every surface in the caravan. Sometimes, washing dishes in our outdoor kitchen, I cried in the rain.

Luckily though, James and I had spent the previous year teaching in Northern Iraq, and whenever things seemed dire, we took comfort in the fact we'd rather be here than back over there.

Jenny and Geoff Doring at their off-grid home near Carterton.
LOREN DOUGAN/FAIRFAX NZ

Jenny and Geoff Doring at their off-grid home near Carterton.

Our first child Vita, now four, spent her first six months living in the caravan with us. Then she and I retreated into a rented cottage for the second winter while James finished building our first room. It's made of mudbrick, with recycled doors, windows and slate flooring. The mezzanine floor where we co-sleep is constructed from giant bamboo off our land. Since then, we've added a bathroom and kitchen, and we're building the lounge this summer.

We operated an outdoor kitchen for 4½ years, so finally moving indoors to cook was cause for great celebration - no more possums raiding the fruit bowl! The indoor hot shower runs off a gas califont and we also have an outdoor fire bath. Our toilet's a composting one.

We don't have a fridge. We have a generator which the washing machine and power tools run off, but long term we hope to install a hydro-power system. For now, a sole solar panel enables us to charge phones, laptops and lamps. Connecting to the grid is out of the question for us – we're too remote.

There are lots of other households around us who are all off-grid. Our neighbours have lived there for nearly 30 years and are about 80-percent self-sufficient. They're our gardening gurus. We still do a weekly grocery shop, but most fresh produce now comes from our garden. We've also planted more than 50 fruit trees.

We've added another child to the family – Zen, who's now one. Vita tells us she would rather live by the sea, but we're delighted to see our two children growing up in the bush. Hopefully they emerge as creative beings with a sense of connection to the natural world.

Socially and culturally, we've taken a hit by leaving the city but our slice of wilderness nourishes us in so many other ways. Every time we come home we sort-of expand into the peace of it. 

ALL MOD CONS

Jenny Doring, retired credit analyst, 69, lives in a metal-clad wood home in the Wairarapa.

My father helped design the Karapiro Power Station on the Waikato River so I think he'd be pretty amused to know his daughter was living off grid.

We have been using alternative energy for 20 years now.

My husband Geoff and I raised our family of four children in Johnsonville and when they all left the nest we got a section out here on the Waiohine Gorge Road near Carterton and set about building a house designed to be off grid.

Geoff had originally enquired about the cost of hooking up to the local grid. When we discovered it would set us back $20,000 we looked at alternative energy options and realised we could buy off grid systems for the same amount and avoid ever paying a power bill.

We started coming to the house at weekends, but every time we got back to the city we would always ask ourselves why we were coming back to the rat race when life out here, living self-sufficiently, was so rewarding. So in 1995 we moved out lock stock and barrel.

The kids thought we were a bit strange at first, but now they accept our new life.

When we built the house we had to take into account where the sun rose so we would get all day sun to power our solar panels. We began with two but we now have 12. We have a wind generator, a gas oven, a dozen deep-cycle batteries and a wood burner that is connected to the water cylinder. We burn gorse wood from our own land and we use water from the sky. We waste nothing, using our grey water on the vegetable garden.

When you walk into our house you wouldn't think we were living any differently to someone on the grid. We have a microwave, a big flat-screened TV, fridge-freezer, all those electrical norms but they all run on green energy.

Our friends asked if they could come and stay with us at the turn of the millennium because they thought they'd all lose power. We knew we'd have no worries whatever happened when the clock struck 12.

We never run out of power. We are completely independent of the power companies and we never have to think about a power bill.

 - Stuff

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