– guided by Jason Ross & Robina McCurdy


After finally tearing ourselves away at the close of the Riverton Permaculture Hui in our minibus and an assortment of personal vans drove for a few hours to spend our first night at the Forest & Bird Lodge, Lenz Reserve, Tautuku,  to connect as a newish 18 people whanau (if you want to take a group somewhere simple, comfortable and affordable, way down South, check it out the Forest Bird Lodges there).

The next morning we ventured into the wild and beautiful Catlins forests and foreshores to have spaciousness before furthering the intense pace of this awesome tour.


After a longish chatty drive to Dunedin, we were warmly invited into Kaikorai Valley’s Arai Te Uru marae by kaitiaki Tania Williams, where we heard about the history of the marae and its pivotal role in the local community.

The marae is next door to Shetland St Community Gardens, which provides an extensive native tree nursery for the Kaikorai Valley Riparian walkway, which is several kilometres of intensive native planting wending its way through the suburbs.

We were then off to Otago Polytechnic’s ‘Living Campus’ - a model for all our tertiary institutions to emulate. It’s a campus-wide permaculture-designed edible landscape, where students can snack their way around the campus gardens.  It was established a decade ago by Michelle Cox, and is maintained these days by horticulture tutor Kim Thomas and team.  It shows elements of sustainable operations that guide us to care for our earth, care for people and share by modelling: food growing, biodiversity, sustainable building materials, energy efficiency, waste and water recycling, and plant material for cultural, artistic and therapeutic purposes. Soon to follow is an innovative on-site student and municipal compost system designed by permaculturalist Finn Boyle (see pictures of design plan below).


 My personal biggest WOW of the tour was Rory Harding (and flatmates) 300 sq mtr George St property in the heart of Dunedin city, an awesome inner city food forest and nursery.  Rory is a fruit tree guild experimenter and researcher, pushing the climatic edge to the hilt in this cool temperate climate, where loquat and sapote come to fruition, due to his mastery of microclimates and application of permaculture principles.

In the evening we received a ‘wake up’ presentation by esteemed local ecologist, Neville Peat about the impact of climate change, particularly on NZ coastal areas. Neville has written a book entitled ‘The Invading Sea – Coastal Hazards and Climate Change in Aotearoa New Zealand. Followed by our warm kaitiaki Tania Williams, who went deeper with her whakapapa and shared stories about the culture around traditional food growing practices.



The next day, we visited Andy & Sue Barrat’s established tree-crops and mixed forestry farm at Karatane, where there was a lot to learn about regarding the level of maintenance required of an abundant property which is managed by one small family.

Followed by Jennie Upton and Murray Grimwood’s innovative self-reliant, appropriate technology homestead, where recycled materials are so practically and creatively utilised. With his lateral thinking, Murray creates ‘elegant solutions using elegant engineering’, with natural flows to heat and circulate air and water, from the super-efficient air-flow fridge to the Pelton-wheel faithfully humming away 24/7, down in the creek.

We ambled through Jason Ross’s ‘Habitate Nursery’ and market garden, with a focus of linear food forest, large scale crop rotation and using biological resources.

We also walked through Waitati village to see all the ‘Open Orchard’ fruit tree plantings there, which entice walking, bicycling, pushchairs residents to munch on juicy fruit as they journey through the settlement. Then to Kate Fitzharris and Jason’s ¼ acre household property, stacked with aesthetic and productive perennial gardens, graced by Jason’s innovative chicken system.

Then dinner out on the town together before saying ‘ka kite ano’ to each other, to maybe meet up again somewhere unknown and unplanned.  We carry sooo much inspiration in our hearts and knowledge in our mind-bellies to take back home. I reckon if you wanted to get together a group to go on such a tour and it was organised enough in advance, it would be worth approaching Jason to run it again. Though he would need to tightly squeeze into his permaculture consultancies, planting, pruning, grafting, educational workshops and family life!


(written by Robina McCurdy, edited by Lillee Star)