Madeline provides Matt the real McKoy

Connie Bethell does magic with Madeline's milk.

The comely mother of two provides as much as 10 litres a day when required, which Connie then efficiently turns into butter, any one of dozens of cheeses and sweet-tasting whey of the sort that proved so distracting to little Miss Muffet.

"I just try to make it easy. Keep things simple," she said handing me a fist of butter churned from cream after just 30 seconds in the kitchen whizz.

MILKING: Matt Rilkoff gets a lesson in handling teats from Connie Bethell.
MILKING: Matt Rilkoff gets a lesson in handling teats from Connie Bethell.

"Mix that with a bit of olive oil and you've got a soft spread for bread."

Along with the butter she gifted me paneer cheese, whey for my chickens, two litres of thick yellow milk, a pot of cottage cheese and a bag of fat purple beans.

Living off the land, as I am trying to do for 12 days, had never seemed so simple.

Connie was an inspiration of the type that made my normal office work seem slightly ridiculous.

"I'll cook these up with the little pig I got yesterday," I said.

"I'll have the cottage cheese with some of my rhubarb.

"Do whatever you want," she said.

Back home in New Plymouth for the past two years Connie spent the previous 26 in Northland's Ahuroa Valley, an "alternative" enclave where she grew and bartered almost everything she needed.

"I was working in Auckland as a hairdresser at the time and I opened the paper and this ad just jumped out at me and I had to go and have a look at the property," she said.

"When I got there I thought this is where I want to be and bought it. My dad thought I was crazy. It was an hour and a 20 minutes from Auckland back then. With the new motorway it's just 35 minutes."

It was in that formerly isolated northern valley that she learnt to grow her own vegetables, bottle her own fruit, brew her own vinegar, make mustard, cheese, butter, soap and cleaning products and everything else everyone used to do before supermarkets came along.

These lessons have been used to turn her 20-acre (8 hectare) New Plymouth property into an almost completely self-contained oasis, though one that doesn't skimp on modern conveniences like a dishwasher, Apple computer and a luxurious deep bath big enough for a horse.

"I wouldn't say I'm a hippie. I've never thought about it like that. It's just living, isn't it? It's just doing what you need to do to have a good life."

Today: Tuna trawling with Herb Spannagl. Tomorrow: Goat hunting with Wolf.

Taranaki Daily News