Gisborne, New Zealand: Living Your Dream

Written by Harold McNeill on January 31st, 2012. Posted in Travelogue


 

While in Rotorua, Lynn and I decided to “scoot” over to Gisborne to pay a quick visit to the McKenzie family. The mom, Carmelle, is sister of our niece, Meryl Yochim who lives in Gold Canyon, AZ with her family.

“Scooting” over to Gisborne or anywhere in NZ for that matter is not that simple for in NZ the rule of “two kilometers forward, one kilometer sideways” applies to the most scenic routes and the “Waioeke Gorge” is no exception.

While the Gorge road is only some 50 to 60 kms in length, it only covers about 30 kms as the “crow flies”. Lynn loves the switchbacks, particularly when she is seated on the drop side of the road. The only two alternative roads to Gisborne were the Northern coastal route and the Southern mountain route – either of which would have very scenic but would have taken hours longer.

Photo: Parts of the road that do not wander along a cliff face are contained within a green curtain of vegetation.

As we moved out of Waioeke, we entered gently rolling hills – home to many sheep and cattle farms. The countryside slowly wound down to lush fertile flatland enroute to Ormond and Gisborne. Here we found row upon row of grapes, citrus and other field crops interspersed with fields reserved for grazing cattle and sheep. The fields were bordered by trees planted and pruned as windbreaks to protect the grape vines and fruit trees from wind damage.

Along the way, we stopped to watch a farmer corral a swarm of worker bees that had fled the farm with a new Queen. Men will be men in Kingdoms the world over. After he had scooped most of the swarm off the fence post, we were told how a young “Queen” had killed the old “Queen” and taken off with all the worker bees to establish a new hive. With his bees in hand, the young man directed us a short distance back down the road to the McKenzie farm, not far from his own acreage.

Following the road back, we realized it was the very place we had stopped earlier to photograph an orange grove. Facing the road is a beautiful nineteenth century farmhouse surrounded by citrus trees covered with ripening oranges. We had jumped the fence earlier to taste one and wondered if the owner’s had spotted us and called it in!

The setting was truly beautiful with spring flowers coming into bloom, ripening oranges as far as the eye could see and, in the distance, the rolling green hills winding their way to the mountains of the Waioke Gorge. Gray and white clouds mixed with a late afternoon haze completed this idyllic scene.

We were greeted by Carmelle’s husband, Bill, who welcomed us to the family “plantation”. Although Bill did not refer to it as a “plantation”, when Lynn and I first viewed this stately home, we both commented on how fitting that would be. As we waited for the rest of the family to arrive, we chatted with Bill about the family and the story of their relocation from the Northern Alberta community of High Level to New Zealand.

Carmelle was on her daily school run and other activities which makes up a good part of her daily routine. Carmelle found it a great help when their eldest daughter, Erin, got her driver’s licence; however, we learned that extra help will soon be gone as Erin will be leaving to begin nursing training in Napier. Carmelle and Bill will then have to wait for Alison, Rayna and Brent to get their licences so they can help out with the driving and errands.

As the story of the move by this young family to New Zealand from Canada just over four years earlier continues, it is as fascinating as it is inspiring. In 2006, the family was well established in the Northern Alberta community of High Level, the area where Carmelle grew up. After Carmelle graduated, she went to the University of Alberta where she completed her Pharmacological Degree and later opened her own Pharmacy in High Level.

Her husband Bill, on the other hand, was born in New Zealand and had immigrated to Canada over 35 years earlier. In Canada, he had a hankering to fly and not long after earned his commercial pilot’s licence. Over the 30 years leading up to 2006, his flying career took him to British Columbia (float planes in Campbell River), Africa for a period of time flying for an oil company in Nigeria and finally to Edmonton, Alberta, where he was flying a Dash 8 for a Regional Airline. Most recently, he commuted between High Level and Edmonton.

At the time of the move to NZ, the kids ranged in age from 5 to 15. Oh, not to forget an important point – in High Level the family also owned and operated a 1600 acre farm just outside town. I guess many would consider this combination of careers, family, friends and farming within one of the most prosperous Provinces in Canada to be considered a very successful life that left little to want.

However, as Lynn and I have discovered in our travels, many people, at various stages in their lives, develop an “itch” they just cannot scratch and this “itch” drives them to seek out new life adventures. Now, believe me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with staying put as we have also found an equal number of folks who have lived for many generations in the same location and have carved out lives suited to their particular interests. We know that each person, couple or family must determine the path they wish to follow.

In the case of the McKenzie family, the irresistible call of those two tiny Islands in the South Pacific where Bill was born became stronger as Bill grew older. After considerable family discussions, the decision was made to search for opportunities in that distant land – some 13000 kilometers South East from Edmonton, Alberta and a mere 4000 km from the shores of Antarctica.

Following this decision, the family became fully engaged in the search and it was not long before Bill and Carmelle were logged in on a long distance telephone “bidding” process for a Citrus farm near Ormond (about 15 km West of Gisborne). We have since learned that in NZ, the auctioning of businesses, farms and residential properties is a common practice within the real estate world. Carmelle vividly recalls that when they hung up the phone after becoming the successful bidders, they were “both in a state of shock”.

While both understood they still had an opportunity to back away from the deal, in their minds the die was cast and the process of making the move began in earnest. While neither Bill nor Carmelle had experience in operating a citrus farm, they both relished the adventure and it was clear from their past they were more than capable of meeting the challenge of learning a new business.

The McKenzie story reminded Lynn and I of a theatre production and later TV show that became popular in Canada, the “Letters from Winfield Farms” series. I think we could certainly adapt the McKenzie Family experience to an equally successful story perhaps calling it – “Letters from a Citrus Farm in Ormond”. One day, time permitting, perhaps we could collaborate with the McKenzies on just such a story.

Four years later after leaving Canada, the McKenzie family is living a comfortable life and has most aspects of citrus farming business under firm control. They have many plans for future development and the kids are thriving both in school and in the community. We suspect Carmelle still misses the closeness of her family in Canada and the US but they are all totally committed to their new life. Air transport being what it is in this day and age must help and I bet lots of family and friends have (or will) made their way to Ormond (see the AZ Yochim postings on Facebook).

Carmelle told us that she had been thinking of returning to her pharmaceutical profession. However, living in the country with four kids in school and the demands of establishing their new life as citrus farmers has meant those plans had to be put on hold, at least for the short term.

For Bill, although he has had a lot to deal with on the farm he has now taken up a “spare” time avocation as a “trapper”. Now, sit back and think about that for just a minute. This man, an accomplished pilot living in the rugged northlands of Canada – a country that has venerated bush pilots, trappers, loggers and fishermen for well over a century – has moved to a country with no predators and become a “trapper”.

How then did this “little” sideline come about? Well, several decades back someone (some Kiwi’s blame an Aussie – of course!) introduced the Possum to New Zealand. Others believe the Possum may have been introduced to control some other “pest”. Unfortunately, whatever the origin, the Possum had no natural enemies in New Zealand and as a result, over the past several decades, the population has grown exponentially.

The Possum now threatens the very survival of numerous species of plants, animals and birds (through eating the eggs) and is on the NZ “most wanted” list. Most likely nothing further would have happened had not some enterprising New Zealand sheep farmer found that possum fur could be very successfully interwoven with Murino wool and bang, a whole new industry developed. The discovery came just in the nick of time as it revived the flagging wool industry and, at the same time, gave a commercial reason to hunt Possum.

At $105 per kilogram for Possum fur, many have taken on government leased trap lines. Bill, along with many others, has engaged in a profitable sideline that has the potential to assist in saving other native species.

As we chatted iinto the evening, Bill related another interesting fact about the purchase of this particular farm. Some time after moving in, one of Bill’s siblings (I believe it may have been a sister) was over to visit and while there she told Bill and Carmelle that she had visited this very house when she was a little girl. As it turned out, and completely unknown to Bill and Carmelle, Bill’s Grandparents at one time owned and lived on the farm immediately to the south. Is that not just an amazing coincidence?

One final story about the family. We did not have much time with the young people but Brent took some time to show me some of his skateboard tricks that he has been practicing (I suspect he must have been spending some time with one of his cousins). He also introduced me to the pet dog, Donny, and cat, Miley. We did some running around with the dog chasing us and Brent took me out to show me a “fort” he has been building (Fort Ormond I guess) back in the wilds of the south orange grove.

Well this young fellow has certainly been busy and is building himself a whole settlement in the middle of the orchard. He has been staying overnight with friends and Carmelle told us Brent could wile away a whole weekend banging up boards. In our short time together I noted Brent’s vivid imagination and I suspect one day Lynn and I might meet him on the Enchanted Island (see story Part 7 The Enchanted Island).

While we didn’t have a whole lot of time to visit, Lynn and I did get a chance to pick some citrus (oranges, grapefruit and tangerines). We took a bag along to spread the word among others who we would be visiting along the way on our “Buy New Zealand” tour.

It was really neat to meet another family that decided to take on new life challenge and doubly so when that family had already developed a very comfortable life style. I think it is a good lesson for all that we should never accept the status quo as the only path we might follow. Who knows what opportunities will arise once we decide to step outside the safety of our comfort zone.

Ormond, NZ
2009

Lynn and Bill

 

Harold and Carmelle

Typical Field of Sheep

 

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Comments

  • Mike Fedorowich

    September 1, 2023 |

    I have gone through the above noted text and have found it quite informative.
    I am a former member with several law enforcement agencies from across Canada.
    I worked in the First Nations service under the authority of the RCMP with the over sight of the OPP. My law enforcement service was conducted under the authority of the Nishnawbe – Aski Police Service in North West Ontario the Louis Bull Police Sevice in Hobbema AB, the Kitasoo Xaixais Police Service in Northern in side passage on Swindle Island, the Lac Suel Police Service North West Ontario and the Vancouver Transit Authority Sky Train Police Service. I’m presently dealing with an RCMP member for falsifying a report against me for a road rage event. Court case is finished and the charge was dropped but I have an on going complaint with the member and have forwarded to the WATCH DOGS IN OTTAWA FOR the RCMP review and consideration. I believe the said officer is in violation of his oath of office and should be held accountable for falsifying his RTCC all the while dragging me through the court system here in Nanaimo. RCMP continue to stonewall the appeal but Ottawa and the crowns office are still looking into the matter. if your able and find the time or the interest in this very brief introduction, I would very much like to speak with you and would be grateful to hear any wisdom that may come across from your end. I served with First Nations Police Services for ten years in isolation and six years with Transit Police out of New West Minster. I do value and appreciate any time you could spare to chat for a bit on this particular subject matter. Respectfully with out anger but an open mind, Mike Fedorowich Nanaimo BC 250 667 0060

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.