It may not provide a lucrative income, but the seaweed pickers south of Ahipara wouldn't trade their lifestyle for anything.

Living in tiny, ramshackle huts on the shore, a small Maori community spend their days collecting agar seaweed off the rocks and selling it for up to $2.50 a kg.

They're certainly not in it for the money - they've worked out that they make an average of 50c an hour over a year.


John Lee, aged 74, who built his hut on ancestral land belonging to the Tipene family about 27 years ago, lives at the beach year-round.

He makes the 50-minute drive up the beach and around the rocks at the southern end of Shipwreck Bay only to see his doctor in Kaitaia, to keep a check on "a few ailments creeping in".

Over the summer, his front garden fills with tables and deck chairs to accommodate his extended family who holiday at the spot.

His hut, like the others, is powered by a generator and gas. There are no phone lines or cellphone coverage.

He says the original community lived off the sea or off the bush, according to the season. The perks of his job still include plenty of fresh seafood, including crayfish.

Mr Lee says only a few of the authentic seaweed pickers remain, 80 years after the good old days, when harvesting made 10 pence (about 8c) a pound.

But plenty of the fast-growing seaweed can still be gathered from the rocks, sorted, dried and packaged into bales.

From Ahipara, it is sent to a processing factory in Gisborne where it is used as a culture for growing pine seedlings.

Mr Lee says the family does not make a living from harvesting seaweed.

"We can't make a living from this. We are here for land.

"We are out for our inheritance, not the wealth. This is not a place where you make money. Our land means more to us than anything else."

He admits to having the odd run-in with the Department of Conservation over the years, but says they seem to have "backed off".

He has no intention of shifting into town.

"I love it out here. I've got nobody bothering me."