My first stop in New Zealand was the Otamatea Eco-Village, just two hours north of Auckland. They define themselves as “a community using organic principles to meet our needs and care for the native eco-system.” It’s a group of 15 families living on a river peninsula leading out to the Tasman Sea. Each family is responsible for building and maintaining their home, food production, and livelihood, but they also own a share in the remaining 175 acres of the village. They use this land to restore native habitats as well as raise beef-cattle. The cattle goes toward feeding the village and providing an income for community expenses such as road maintenance. Each week there is a community meeting to discuss projects and issues and vote on items of concern. It’s also an opportunity to share a meal with one’s neighbors.
I stayed in the castle on “The Farside” and got to know the other village members at a community potluck. They were all from diverse backgrounds but shared a common concern for people and the environment. The mix included the practical butcher, precise architects, laid-back artists, entrepreneurial optimists, meditative massage therapists, cheerful gardeners, retreating city people, and some recluses. Many of the members have been there since its beginning in 1997, pushing the average age from 40 to retirement. Besides New Zealanders there were also people from the Netherlands, Germany, and China. It was a joy to be able to stroll the one lane road and meet people along the way. The best part of this was being invited back to tour their homes and gardens. Creativity, ingenuity, and beauty abound in this place.
It was easy to be wooed by the model and surrounds, but it didn’t take long before I got to hear of the downsides of village life. With so many people involved in the share of the land and cattle, legal disputes had already surfaced. It can be hard to maintain an original vision for a place when members are free to move and sell their property to anyone with the money and desire to live there. Members have power to vote on village decisions, making each project into a political game. Personal disputes either have to be dealt with or endured for a very long time.
Otamatea taught me that no matter how idyllic the idea might be, an eco-village doesn’t let you escape from society. If anything, it forces you to accept the people you don’t like and learn how to live together.
For more details about the eco-village, take a look at their website! It’s complete with pictures, biographies, interesting tidbits, and information about how to arrange a visit.