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A North Island, New Zealand, Permaculture Tour

Earth dome accommodation

We spent 6 weeks in New Zealand recently and during that time tried to visit as many Permaculture projects as we could find and fit in. Our base was Hamilton because my dad lives there. A day trip to Raglan introduced us to Solscape — eco friendly accommodation, retreat, and education in a stunning location. Afterwards was a quick visit to the local rubbish dump to see in action — waste materials can be used again in some way.

Our first trip was two weeks heading Southwest, down to Wellington and up the East coast and back around to Hamilton. Our first stop was three nights at Korito Education located near the bottom of Mount Taranaki, New Plymouth. Dee Turner is a passionate educator and gardener on a reasonably mature 10-acre Permaculture site. During our stay here, we visited Bena and Daniel at Puriri Farmlet and talked about their full time consulting business called Greenbridge, as well as had a look around their property and re-located house renovation. Later, we met Kama who works at Greenbridge as well as lives in and nurtures community in her street. Community efforts include a council approved walkway along a nearby stream with food tree plantings. We also visited Katikarā Eco Community in the Pouakai range which is looking for new members to help its resurrection from a period of decline.

Dee’s kitchen garden and view towards New Plymouth

Our next night at Avonstour near Stratford was an eye-opener about rare breed animals. John Earney explained how animals bred for mass production of wool, meat, milk, eggs, etc., are inherently weak (and thus need chemical support in medication and fertilisers) whereas animals bred taking into account their living environment can be strong and need no chemicals whatsoever. He also told us how animals really can do work; his example was in preparation and return of the land used for a crop of hemp with no machines used.

One of the many different rare breed animals at Avonstour

Wanganui had two delights to offer; Nelson and Dani of Ecothrifty and Mark Christensen’s (member of Tree Crops Association) 5 acre property with lots of heritage fruit trees. Ecothrifty is a blog detailing the eco-friendly renovation of an old wooden building and its accompanying urban permaculture garden example as well posts about all things sustainable. It was pleasing to see their dedication to community and how their garden reaches across two neighboring properties as well.

Backyard permaculture garden

Heritage fruit trees

We found the Makino Food Forest in Fielding online, however Rob wasn’t taking visitors at the time. So, we visited a pair of sisters who had started rescuing a neglected 10-acre property just out of Levin. A range of unusual mature trees and many different fruit trees showed testament to its previous botanical owner.

Tim from met us at Innermost community garden in Mount Victoria, Wellington on a Sunday after lunch. We then joined a Food Forest Design workshop impromptu with James who does regular educational workshops in the leased building. It was great to see Permaculture so near the heart of the capital.

Kotare Village and Koanga Institute (Bob Corker and Kay Baxter, North of Wairoa) was our next permaculture project. Everybody was so friendly that we gladly accepted an invitation to camp overnight. This was an excellent place to see practical Permaculture in action on a new-ish site (3 years in development); rocket stoves, urban demo gardens, seed saving, fruit trees, beehives, interns, animal husbandry, and so on.

Modeled urban typical backyard garden

Beehive in urban garden

The Village Educational Gardens based at Tairawhiti Environment Centre in the heart of the Ballance Street Village, Gisborne, provides educational training space and programs for improving environment consciousness and action. They also have another nice library collection.

Our second leg of the tour went North from Hamilton visiting EarthTalk in Waiuku first — where we found a Kay Baxter-designed 21 year old property in abundance and Earthcare (covenanted forest regeneration) well in progress.

Kitchen garden

Banana circle

Otamatea ecovillage, Oneriri Road, consists of six or so properties on a peninsular in stunning surroundings. We talked for hours with Marijke and Rob about their timbercrete block and recycled wood dream house and life in an ecovillage from conception until present (~16 years).

Timbercrete house

In nearby Kaiwaka, Biogas Yoshi’s ecohouse had put into practice some of Mollison’s building concepts. Biogas from human and kitchen waste, greywater treatment, renewable energy, solar chimney and pipes out from the basement to facilitate hot air in or hot air out depending on the season.

Antara retreat aims to guide / help rehabilitate young adults in strife by offering a variety of different courses and workshops in a permaculture setting.

Piddlingmountain just out of Kaeo introduced us to Andy and his octagonal WWOOFer built house on about 10 acres. Andy’s tale of 1000 cucumbers from three plants is testament to his organic farmer background.

Brynderwyn on State Highway 1 is where Kohatu Toa Eco village is and where the Koanga Institute used to be. I was very interested to see Scott and Helen’s paper earth brick house as I thought it might have been similar to papercrete that I had worked with in Taiwan. It turned out the blocks were made with no cement, only 1/3 each of clay, sawdust, and ground waste paper. The wall was then plastered with a similar mix with cow manure added. Quite a different, but pleasing end result.

After a couple of bird sanctuary visits and a day back in Hamilton we headed for a National Park. After walking across Tongariro Mountain we stayed a night at Awhi Farm in Turangi. Again, it was nice to observe practical Permaculture in action with a multicultural mix of WWOOFers involved. It was interesting to see a cordwood building as well as a sandbag ground floor building with pressed earth tile/brick second floor dome. There was minimal fossil fuel use (gas for some cooking), compost toilets, veggie gardens everywhere, fruit trees, chickens, pigs, and so on, and involvement with local community with workshops, etc., and a newly established farmers’ market.

Sandbag ground floor

Accommodation and potato field

Lastly, just up the road from Hamilton in a town called Ngaruawahia, we visited Gubb’s Earthship. Brian talked and showed us the 5 year project to build a family home using as many waste materials as possible and a budget of no more than $30,000. This earthship was the first to be built in New Zealand and was approved by the local council. Again, it was really cool to see this in real life rather than on YouTube or in a magazine! I admired the 6m3 mulch hot water shower that lasts about 10 months, using chippings from the local power company tree trimmers (delivered for free), and taking 10 mins to reheat water between showers. Incredible.

Mulch hot water system

Inside earthship

Key tips:

Cattle love flax and it gives them minerals — every farm could and should plant a line along each paddock.

Rhubarb leaves boiled for 20 mins (outside only — the fumes are toxic), cooled, and sprayed on to weeds will kill them, but toxicity only lasts 2 hours. Spray in evening after bees are in bed.

Donkeys eat all weeds in paddocks and therefore remineralise soil with their droppings — no need for chemical sprays and fertilisers. Should every farm have a couple of donkeys?

Dylan Graves

Dylan Graves got hooked on Permaculture while living abroad in Taipei in the late 2000s. He integrated it into his IT teaching and then changed lifestyles by moving to rural Australia in mid 2013 where he and partner Evita continue to develop Sugarloaf Permaculture. Our homestead where we put all aspects of Permaculture into action, including hosting work exchangers, running a Permaculture Group, and doing much volunteer work.


  1. good read, sounds like you learnt a lot mate. If i were intending to travel around NZL from farm to farm could you advise me on some prior planning tips and great locations? Please and thanking you

  2. Thanks Dylan – what a great permaculture tour! … and the one place you didn’t mention is the Sustainable Backyard in Hamilton Gardens – a rare example of permaculture design within a public gardens setting. Bees, worm bins, chooks, adobe pizza oven and fruit trees galore. When I first moved to Hamilton, this is where I discovered that permaculture is alive and well in this neck of the woods.

  3. Thanks for the comments. @daniel Yes, we learnt a lot and were really inspired. As for tips; use our info!! It was quite difficult to find these places and I know we missed many – unfortunately most are not listed on the Permaculture Map on the WPN and there is no centralised collection of who is doing what, even on the NZ Permaculture site. What this means is that you have to do a bit of reading around on the internet, get the organic magazines and read them cover to cover noting down interesting contacts – try look them up on and give them a call. Otherwise once you start your tour, word of mouth is how we discovered who to visit (although sometimes we found out who we had missed too). Next tip is to be persistent, one email to someone is often not enough to get a response (permies are busy!) – email a second or third time, and/or call. Make sure your email explains who you are and what your intentions are. Many a time, once someone realised our interest, they would share for hours!! Contact me through our website if you need any more finer detail on where we went – i have a spreadsheet I could share.
    @Alice Bulmer – yes, we went to the Hamilton Gardens and saw the permaculture garden there TWICE! Somehow forgot to include it in our tour itinerary. Worth a look, as is the rest of the gardens; we loved the large walled herb gardens with espaliered fruit trees as well as the Maori demonstration food gardens. Are there other demonstration sites and gardens in and around Hamilton worth visiting? please do list for everyone :)

    1. Would love your spreadsheet…planning our trip in May around permie places. Looking to write about some for Grass Roots and The owner builder magazines.

  4. Can you tell me, does the rhubarb weed killer work as a systemic, or does it only kill off the leafy material?

  5. not sure as I have not tried it myself yet and cannot quite remember – I guess it kills the plant,otherwise it would just be a defoliant – you could email Dee at and ask as she will definitely know, post the answer back here please, best regards

  6. Wow thanks for the post. Its exactly what i was looking for. The kids grandparents are also in Hamilton so it will be my home base as well. Could you shoot me your spread sheet too please? I’ll be doing a similiar journey next February.

  7. Hi Dylan- I am from the U.S. and looking to do a similar tour but can only go away in August. Will the winter temperatures during that time still allow for a valuable tour? Thanks.

  8. I’m prince from Kenya kakuma refugees camp I’m administrator of YEDA YOUTHS EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION.
    We are very happy to see and look how permaculture continue growing globaly.

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