"Independence is a core value in the GridFree community - Karen and Hayden are a fantastic example of this. Karen quit her job, bought a caravan and travelled around New Zealand and the UK for five years on her own. Hayden lived in a house bus for 14 years. Together, they now have a son Reese and live here in this beautiful, tranquil spot in Ruapehu.
G'day Craig, how are ya?
"Yeah good mate, nice spot you've got here."
Thanks, mate. You want to come have a look around?
What are the sacrifices about being off-grid? There are none. I think people that live in town are sacrificing, and I'm not.
'I'm Karen. This is Hayden. We live in Ruapehu, and this is our one hectare of paradise.
I'd been living overseas for six years, decided to come back home. I was working a full time job in Auckland and renting with other tenants and I was getting sick of sharing. I wanted my own space, my own home, but realized I just could not afford a place in Auckland. So I started looking at some options and settled on buying a caravan, getting out of Auckland. Then I'd have my own little space traveling around, try to find where I would want to live, where I could afford to buy a home. Once I got the caravan and settled in, I realized I actually quite enjoyed this lifestyle. I ended up living full time in the caravan for four years, moved around New Zealand and worked from it. During my caravanning years I happened to meet Hayden, who had been living in a bus for 14 years at that stage and we hit it off.
For me, the influence to buy this land happened with the first lockdown when we were in our RV's on someone else's land, and I desperately wanted our own spot to feel more secure. And I was desperately wanting to grow some food. We were looking for somewhere central and Ruapehu is in the middle of everywhere.
"So this is where it all started?"
We, ah, we put the driveway in and then we did this big pad. And then once we got the pad in here, we put the containers down. I needed some power for my business. So the solar came first and we put that up on there.
"And that's the Bach Kit?"
Yeah, that's the Bach kit.
I love looking out the window in the mornings and seeing our land with no other house in the way. Watching the animals move around. I feel like every day the view changes a little bit as the season progresses. We started out here with a big paddock of grass and so for me I look out the window and every single little bit of thing that's on this land, I have done myself. If something goes wrong, you know - it’s fixable. If something goes wrong, it's all my fault!
Ah, a tip for going off-grid is get a good spade because you’ll dig. You will DIG! Trench after trench after trench and then some more trenching. There are more chores than if you live on-grid. There's thinking about the water. There's always thinking about the power because we live in a rural area, we have to take our rubbish bags to the local tip and our recycling. You just got to put in piece by piece every bit of wood, by every bit of wood, and eventually you get there.
So after we lived at the workshop for a while, we made this pad up here.
"And you lived in the caravan?"
Yeah, we lived in the caravan. So this is our medium-term location. So we built the cabin first. Inside there, you know, we've got a bed for the baby, a bed for us, and a lounge and a coffee table. And so that's where we spend most of our time. And then inside the caravan, we've still got the kitchen and the shower and the toilet.
"And you've built the cabin yourself?"
Built the cabin myself. So just in time for the baby to arrive.
"Yeah. It's a good idea to have. The caravan is kind of like the kitchen unit. And then you can separate the two."
And this here too. This here is my brother in law, Andrew. He's come to live with us as well. He bought himself a tiny house, so he's setting himself up, water tank and solar, and quite enjoying the quiet lifestyle.
What I love about having my brother on the land is that he really gets to know
Reese, he really gets to know his nephew and create a great bond. This is a great stepping stone for my brother because he wants to buy land his own. He's been able to adapt from suburbia living off-grid, and it's just eased the progression for him.
Before starting this whole journey, the one thing that's changed for us from the moment that we stepped onto this property to the way I think about it now, is every little piece I do dictates what I do next. And so in the beginning, I started with 'I'm going to plan it all out and have it all set on a plan and work to my plan for the whole area.' But then as I did a little bit I changed my mind and changed my mind and changed my mind. And it was that whole development of each little bit that dictated what I wanted to do next.
"Quite neat you've got a creek here too, right?"
Yeah. So we've got this creek running through the middle. Quite a good resource to have, bit slow. But I'm not about to start expecting that I'm going to, you know, generate kilowatts of power out of it. But we've got an alternate water system which takes the pressure off your rainwater. We have the backup source
for our water blasting and gardening and washing and things like that. And so our utilizing of the rainwater for our showers and cooking and and potable water is not that intense because we have a stream as well.
Locals in the area had warned us about the expense of power and had suggested to us to go solar. Well, I put the kit together with the instructions, but I found that all the components were so simple to put together anyway that it made life really easy.
When we bought the first Bach Kit. It was just me and Hayden with a baby on the way. Since then, it's expanded to Hayden's son, Jack, and my brother has moved to the land. So we've found that the four panel Bach Kit just not quite enough for the five of us. So that's why my brother has bought his own Bach Kit, with the idea of buying some land one day, and he can take everything with him
and set up.
I have found solar has given me the freedom to caravan and live wherever I want. You don't have to pay a bill and rely on anybody else. It's been a really nice experience being aware of my power use and my water use eventually
using less power just becomes normal and you can't understand people living in
cities why they use so much.
"So this is the mansion?"
We chose it for the view.
"Yeah, it's not bad aye?"
So after we built the cabin we then looked at what we're going to do for the house. But I thought about whether we wanted to use the cabin and make it consented and then add a little bit to it to make the house. But we found that the extra cost of going to building a proper house was not actually going to be that much difference. And our main saving is the fact that I get to do it myself. And so even though I'm not a builder in New Zealand, you can build your own house
if you're the property owner, right. And you don't need a builder to come and do it and sign it off.
So we save ourselves, you know, just as much as the material costs in, in the labour of actually building it. And so we looked at it and decided that was a better road to go down.
"And so did you get architectural plans?"
To make it easy we went to the architect and we talked about, you know, what my skill level was and that, you know what I was comfortable building. And then he sort of drew the plans. Yeah.
"And did you have building experience before that?"
So I did have building experience, you know, I've done the cabins. Um, when I've left school, I was a builder's labourer, so I learned a little bit, you know, there.
We had a child last winter and it came with its own challenges. Ah, turning up with a newborn, with just this cabin and a caravan in the middle of winter, it does get quite cold in Ruapehu in winter. 'It was easy, Karen did all the work.'
I found some of the challenges were we didn't have this awning at the start, so if it was raining, we'd open the door and rain would be coming in and we'd have to put our puffer jacket on to go to the kitchen or to the bathroom. Yeah, there were some moments where I was wondering what we were doing. The two biggest issues were to do with the water and the power, number one was being the shower for me, I love having a good shower. So we've now had three
versions of a shower trying to get the right ideal one.
We ran out of water mid summer, so we definitely need to upgrade or increase our tank size and be a little more careful during next summer, and with power during winter there is a lot of cloud in this area. So I think during winter we have to be a bit more careful with power usage.
'I don't understand what you mean by sacrificing, because I don't sacrifice the stars that are nice and bright because I don't live in the city, and I don't sacrifice my neighbours being so close and I don't sacrifice having all that noise around me. So I think it's quite the opposite.'
Hayden just loves living on the land and tinkering away with everything. What's suburbia? Yeah. It's that horrible thing with a whole bunch of houses that are like, ugh, I can't understand it. I couldn't go back to Suburbia after this, no. I'm proud of the fact that we did this and we had a baby. I'm going to find it interesting that I grew up with power on the tap, but my son Reese won't, and so he will be living the lifestyle from the moment he was born. New generation of Off-Gridder!
The next step with our journey is to finish building our home and I want to start growing food from the land with fruit trees and vegetables and getting more chickens and a couple of sheep, yeah, and a dog and cat.
So I'll just pull out my list of stuff that we've got to do and it's probably about twice as long that. I don't think it'll ever finish. I think it'll always be. It's a project and it's a life project, and if you think that you're going to finish it, I think you're sadly mistaken. And that's what it's all about. It's a journey, not a destination.
We have a pretty simple lifestyle, really. We don't do it a lot. I go to work every so often and we look after the kids. This lifestyle has given me freedom. It's given me freedom to try YouTubing. It's given me freedom to pick my graphic design jobs a little bit more and how much I want to work, how much I need to work. I think in my early days there was always a focus on where my workplace was, and now that's changed. And it's no longer a focus of where my workplace is, it's a focus of where I live, and that's a whole different mentality living. I'm not worried about my job or anything it's, it's more about I chose myself first and where I want to live. And then I work at everything else.
It’s given us the freedom to have family time. To build our own home. I don't know, I was just born to do this.
Keen to start your off-grid lifestyle? Check out the Bach Kit.