New Zealand brings new perspective

Riding the green wave

Thirty three and newly single, I decided to quit my coveted job as senior surf manager on the small Island of jersey and travel to New Zealand. As you do. 

I’d always dreamt of heading there, and as my passion for the environment has grown over the years, so too has my desire to visit this land renowned for its natural beauty.  I knew it would be a place to learn, grow, surf epic waves, immerse myself in the nature and hopefully heal my heart.  I decided to volunteer on environmental projects and gain qualifications in permaculture to take another small step towards my vision of setting up a self sustainable surf and yoga centre.

Raglan has it all

My first port of call was Raglan, the mecca of New Zealand point breaks.  I’d already contacted Phil, cofounder of Solscape, who agreed to take me on as a “Wwoofer” - a volunteer who works for their accommodation and food.  Solscape was built upon the three permaculture pillars - earth care, people care, fair share.  Phil and his partner Bernadette wanted to create an environmentallyconscious hub for travellers and 13 years later it is exactly that - a yoga studio, vegetarian cafe, surf centre and a range of energy efficient accommodation from tipis to earth domes to recycled train carriages.

Their recycling system is world class, with 75% of rubbish diverted from landfill- this is supported by Raglan’s Xtreme Zero Waste which tackles the whole towns waste management system.. that’s 178,833kg of rubbish every month recycled, reused or composted.  This is also a permaculture principle “produce no waste” put into practice; and shows that with dedication to identifying and sorting our waste as well as being more aware of packaging, our throw-away consumer habits can be rectified.  Landfill’s are the biggest culprit of soil and air pollution and pollution is just waste without a use!  

Not only is Xtreme Zero waste an invaluable tool for the community by providing kerbside collection, they deliver educational programmes, community mentoring and workshops and help natural habitat restoration by planting trees and implementing pest control.

Phil is also a renowned environmental activist, starting up Kiwi Against Seabed Mining (KASM), an organisation to directly oppose drilling for oil off the coast of his beloved Raglan.

Raglan’s environmental stewards are not just fond of the sea, they live and breathe it.  On the days when the points were pumping, Phil was nowhere to be found at Solscape!

After weeks of settling into the rhythm of Raglan life - which is relaxed to say the least - surfing Manu Bay (a perfectly positioned point break at the bottom of Solscape’s Hill) and practicing new styles of yoga it was time for me to head South.  I had signed up for Anahata retreats Permaculture Design Course specifically for the extra element of ashram style Satyananda yoga it was offering and was looking forward to some intensive learning. 

My introduction to Permaculture

Anahata Yoga Centre is situated at the top of Takaka mountain, which is in fact a limestone mountain range framing Golden Bay and known for its crystal clear spring water; Pupu springs has a visibility of 63m!  The permaculture course consisted of daily lectures, practical workshops, group projects, yoga and meditation, and had drawn together International students from various backgrounds - from yoga teachers to Maori looking to provide for their family.  Every 3 days we would do a havan - a fire ceremony ritual with chanting to cleanse the whole area and help new, pure energy flood in - connecting to the spiritual realm was a huge part of the course.  We would also learn several words a day in Maori, my favourite being: “Kaitiaki” meaning caretaker of the land. 

One of the most interesting points I learnt was about soil and how we tend to strip it of it’s nutrients by planting mono-crops, inadequate irrigation and sun damage.  We had the chance to take our own soil samples and evaluate the data collected - such as the pH level, number of worms and the colouration; which indicates how much clay or sand is present.  It was like being in school again!  With each day the permaculture principles would be more and more engrained in us and it’s these principles that provide the framework for creating new models of living, with a responsible approach to resources - whether its the sun, food, water, shelter, waste management, community living, urban development and wildlife management. 

Everything is understood to be energy - which is and can be constantly recycled and transformed, if we honour and work with the natural cycles of nature.  This also mirrors the yogic system, and it was a personal discovery that with the help of morning hatha yoga, afternoon yoga nidra, organic veggie food, early nights and no distractions like iPhones or internet, all the new information I was learning was easily retained and I found I had more energy than ever before.

Sustainability is a word thrown around a lot these days but my Permaculture Design Course allowed me to see the possibilities behind our current environmental issues with renewed hope, simply by going back to basics - “earth care, people care, fair share”.  There is a huge, global permaculture network, which is steadily growing and this can have a huge positive impact on the state of humanity as well as natural habitats, including the ocean.

Orca are out there

Back in 2013, I gave a talk at WhaleFest in Brighton and ran into Dr. Ingrid Visser, the lead voice on wild Orca.  She casually mentioned “come see me in New Zealand” so I just had to get in touch and see if her offer still stood.  Dr. Visser singlehandedly runs the Orca Research Institute, has been featured in many documentaries such as “the woman who swims with orca” and is also cofounder of the Free Morgan Foundation.  Orca are her life and she has dedicated 20 years to researching them.  I spent 10 days with Ingrid, watching how she operates this incredible project and helping out as much as possible.  Most Orca sighting come from members of the public who call the Orca hotline, it’s then her call if she races out in her boat to find the Orca and collect her data.  Before I arrived there were unfortunately 2 deaths of juvenile orca and Ingrid explained about the agricultural run off, due to farmers using pesticides affecting the food chain and being a major contributor to heavy metals in Orca blood stream. 

During my time, we didn’t spot any orca in the area, despite many hotline calls regarding sightings in the South Island.  The team there had been working hard on a video campaign to raise awareness on Morgan the Orca who is held captive at Loro Parque in Tenerife.  Learning about Morgan as well as wild orca through Ingrid really crystallised my view that Orca do not belong in captivity, these are wild, illusive animals and it is a privilege to see them.

Back in Raglan, a few days later I actually have that privilidge! A pod of 5 cruise into Raglan harbour, where they feed on the Rays.  Word gets to me quickly so I’m on the lookout and feel absolutely blessed to catch them heading South past Manu Bay to Whale Bay, it’s a feeling I will never ever tire of and gave me a glimpse into why Ingrid does what she does.

Surf communities helping surf breaks

My final eco experience was with Raglan based Oceanography firm eCoast.  After connecting with Director Ed Atkin (who is originally from my neck of the woods in the Midlands) at the Global Wave Conference, he was open to me helping with a new project aiming to collect data at seven surf breaks around New Zealand, to help support coastal protection policies.  These guys manage the science behind the stats and put in a serious amount of time and dedication - except they too are also nowhere to be found when there’s a swell, they’re out there doing research in the surf of course.  eCoast will be launching this project in February and will not only be using instruments and cameras to collect information, will be conversing with local communities to find out as much as they can about these important surf spots.  Ed had to shoot off unexpectedly to the Seychelles which halts our progress, but meant I was able to spend more time in the surf as well as taking new friends out at Ngarui beach to help them with their surfing skills.

The mountain and the waves

The group of girls I met had to be one of the best things about my New Zealand trip, we had all met volunteering at Solscape and forged strong friendships fast.  We decided to do a hike up Mount Kaiori to celebrate our time together, the mountain that overlooks all the surf breaks and in Maori legend is said to be a jilted Princess who, upon discovering that love was lost, lay down and rests.  When everyone put their phones away and started walking meditatively, our natural instinct for storytelling arose.  We shared our hopes and fears as we came back down the mountain and let our footsteps dissipate any negative energy.  My favourite story from that day was hearing about the young boy in a yoga class - instead of saying Namaste when it finished he said “no mistakes”!  I felt that this could apply to so much in our lives and acknowledged how we sometimes let the fear of failure hold us back.  A relationship gone wrong or a massive wipe out, what if there really are no mistakes? Just continual lessons and opportunities for learning and appreciating what you DO have.  I couldn’t really see this clearly before I got to New Zealand, but I am stoked to say that this country has taught me many things, especially that.  When you have clean, fresh spring water, an undeveloped coastline, wonderful people around you and freedom to surf as much as you physically can, well, there’s SO much to be grateful for.

During my last week in Raglan, Phil helped me set up a screening of The TransparentSea Movie, a documentary following the Surfers for Cetaceans campaign I had joined back in 2011.   Over 100 people turned up for the screening, despite us hardly advertising.  It was heartwarming to see so many faces and I spoke about how valuable rallying together is, especially with Phil about to take on another battle against the oil companies with KASM.  It was the perfect way to inspire the local community and remind them that the fight to protect their coastline is not over.  Permaculture principles can also be used in a social context and this a perfect example of “Integrate rather than segregate”; how bringing our voices together means we have so much more power - “Each one of us can make a difference but together we can make change.”

A new perspective

There’s something going on in New Zealand, and I think it is an authenticity that comes with being truly connected to the land.  I went to this country identifying myself as a surfer, as an ocean person but through my journey into permaculture I now feel a lot more grounded and more knowledgeable of the Earth I walk on every single day.  Learning practical skills like how to grow my own food and build my own house are truly invaluable and the realisation that what we do on land impacts so much of what happens in the ocean really hit me. 

Green is not only the colour of nature, but it is the colour of the heart chakra.  So did New Zealand heal my heart?  It did, but in the most unexpected way - it allowed my heart to evolve and find a new perspective on love; that loving yourself fully is way more sustainable than looking for it in relationships or happy endings.  Filling yourself up with love from the inside - whatever makes you feel love and for me it’s surfing, yoga and the outdoors - is the key and sometimes you have to go through the ache, the falling and the failing to learn that there really are no mistakes, it was all meant to be.