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Living Off the Grid: Whānau going back to their whenua to get on the property ladder

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

Amidst the cost-of-living crisis, a family of three with connections to Tūwharetoa has returned to their whenua to live the off-grid lifestyle, reliving the way of life of their tipuna - almost.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ on Air

Amidst the cost of living crisis, a family of three with connections to Tuwharetoa has returned to their whenua to live the off grid lifestyle, reliving the way of life of their tipuna - almost.

Living off the grid has become a compelling lifestyle choice for thousands of New Zealanders, with GridFree Solar for those seeking to live independently from the main power grid.

Rob Moke, 45, and wife Shantelle, 41, moved back to Kaitieke, Aotearoa, in 2018 where they have been repairing the old family whare on their own whenua, walking in their ancestors’ footsteps in a modernised lifestyle.

“There’s not many people who can walk upon their whenua that their tipuna once walked on,” Rob Moke says.

“Every footstep that we take is also a footstep that our grandfather, great-grandfather, and their whānau all took, so we were fortunate enough to have that.”

Moke is content with the way of life and only has rates and food to worry about. Solar powers the home.

“A lot of our Māori people and old ones used to live this way of life; well, back then, it wasn’t a lifestyle for them; it was just the way that they lived.”

Moke explains his whānau had concerns about their daughter Dylan being brought up in such an isolating lifestyle.

“My uncle’s wife was concerned with our daughter being so young; he didn’t want our daughter to be isolated like they were back then.

“We explained to them that with us having solar providing power for Wi-Fi, she wouldn’t be isolated like they were and would be accessing the world at her fingertips.”

This all began as a dream for the Moke family in 2017, when they travelled to Brisbane to spend time with their whānau.

They returned and went to Shantelle’s whānau land, where there was no power, and no running water.

On their way up from spending time with Shantelle’s family, they stopped in Putāruru.

“We looked at each other, and that’s when we decided to move back and do the place up.”

When they returned in 2018, they stayed in Taupō so they could go back to their whenua every weekend and work on making it liveable.

“We used gas as well as an open fire to do our cooking; that’s part of the GridFree lifestyle that we were using.”

The old whare is one of the old railway homes, with a working wharepaku and an older water tank holding between 1500 and 2500 litres of water.

“We used to fill out the system with a bucket.

“In the first year, I used to bathe down at the river and that was freezing.”

While setting up the old family home, the Moke family saw an advertisement for a free solar system installation from GridFree.

“We saw advertisements for a GridFree store prize and applied the first time.”

The following year, they applied again through an online video submission, where they won.

“So having the bach kit was definitely a life changer, keeping us in contact with the right people. Words just can’t express that.”

Moke and his whānau want to strengthen the foundation so that their daughter and the next generation can live comfortably after they die.

“We have two containers 3 metres apart that we hope to convert into a home for our daughter.”

“The inspiring thing about coming back here was the whenua and the whare. The whare, that’s like the ūkaipō (source of life). It’s like the womb of the whenua.

“It’s where you’re warmed, it’s where you’re sheltered, and it’s where you feel most comfortable. And that’s that house to my wife.

“We can stay in touch by plugging in, charging, and having Wi-Fi. Having a way to contact my wife and daughter if anything happens down here is life-changing.”

GridFree, a family-owned business, was born out of Craig Simpson’s own challenges in obtaining power for his cabin in 2018.

Faced with exorbitant quotes, Simpson, along with his son Ethan and colleague Zed, developed an affordable off-grid solar solution.

GridFree not only provides solar kits and detailed instructions but also nurtures a community where off-gridders can connect and seek support.

“What started as a personal challenge turned into a mission to make off-grid living accessible. We are thrilled to empower others like the Webb whānau to embrace an alternative lifestyle and demonstrate the possibilities of self-sufficiency,” said Craig Simpson.

As the off-grid movement continues to grow, GridFree remains committed to educating, supporting, and connecting individuals pursuing a lifestyle outside the mainstream.

Hero Image: Solar up and powering along. Rob Moke is living the dream on the whenua.

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