In the paddocks and foothills at the back end of Te Horo there are unusual relics of the Great Depression.

Greywacke boulders that washed down the Otaki River have been piled into walls and cairns, making parts of the Kapiti Coast town feel a bit like the English countryside. They were cleared from the fields by relief workers in the 1930s for ten shillings a week, and now serve as a reminder of a time when unemployment rates were so high that men were paid to stack rocks to get by.

Eighty-five years on from the Depression, Te Horo is a tiny but growing community of about 640 people. It is a content place, where former judges, company directors and entrepreneurs from Wellington have relocated to retire or for a lifestyle change. The residents talk about catching snapper and kahawai off the coast, and hunting deer in the backblocks behind the town. Residents make their own honey and crafts and sell them in stores beside the highway.

A train line runs through Te Horo but locals say there's no bad side of the tracks. There are no visible signs of struggle, apart from a few rundown houses on the margins of the town. A particularly rough-looking one has a sign at the gate that says "Do not enter. Dogs feeding."


Dairy farms, orchards and vineyards have filled the land, which was cleared of boulders in the 1930s. Tim and Kate Gibbs run Stanford Farm, a 28ha nursery for making grafted vines that are sold to vineyards, mostly in Marlborough. In the quiet season, they grow blackberries, which end up in the frozen section in the supermarket.

On the day we visit the farm, there's a wind coming up off the sea from Te Horo Beach and the sound of the waves is drowning out the noise of State Highway 1 traffic. Young pickers on their morning break are leaning into the shelter belt to light their cigarettes.

The Gibbs moved to Te Horo from Auckland in 1994 because they wanted to raise their kids in a rural setting. "We have never regretted leaving," Kate, a viticulturalist, says. "Our kids have had the country life, gone to country schools, ridden ponies, and just had a fantastic life."

Once a bach retreat for people in the city, Te Horo has grown in the past 30 years and is likely to grow further as State Highway 1 is developed. "Talking to the postie, he says he used to deliver to 1000 people," Tim says. "Now he delivers to 6000. We used to have one postie, now we've got two."

In election year, the biggest concern here is not strictly political. It's the weather. "It's been our worst season ever here," Kate says. They usually have Indian summers, which last until June or July. It's not too hot or cold.

But last summer, there was just too much rain, Kate says. "At the end of January the soil was full of water, no air, roots didn't grow, tops didn't grow either. We tried to pick our blackberries but they didn't have quantity or quality."

The two disagree about whether New Zealand's climate has become more unpredictable. Tim says the disastrous summer was a "seasonal blip" and that it is uncertain how quickly the climate is changing.

"Pretty bloody quickly," Kate says. "This Arctic melt, hottest years on record... It's scary for us. If we lose our winter chill, the production just goes elsewhere.

"There's too much rain, while the East Coast is getting hotter and drier. People will be moving crops all around the country. It's already getting a bit warm up north for kiwifruit."

This is blue territory and the Gibbs have consistently voted National. Kate, however, says she is attracted to Labour leader Jacinda Ardern's "energy and positivity". The dealbreaker is likely to be Labour's plans to charge a royalty on water. Tim, an engineer who specialises in water, says it would be "just one more cost" for farmers.

The most common thing Te Horo residents and businesses say about the election is that they are doing fine and they want "stability". Many of them have only just recovered from the Global Financial Crisis and don't want any further shocks.

"We're a thriving business," says Jackie Wood, who runs Cafe Te Horo, a block back from the highway.

"I can't really see that I want or need any changes. I'm not one of these people who get up in arms about anything. I just go with what it is. We're not in Otara or Porirua or anywhere like that. I just think, you work hard and it always pays off.

"People here are real countrified people and they live by that rule as well."

Her cafe has been the last roadside coffee stop in the town since the Red House Cafe, housed in a century-old building, burned down two years ago. Her specialty is cheese gems.

"They're just a little square type muffin that you split in half and toast with butter," Wood says. "But it just seems to get people. They love them."

She opened the cafe in 2008, just after the New Zealand economy went into recession. "People said 'What are you doing it for?' Sometimes you think, 'Oh, it's getting a bit tough, people are sharing a scone'. But then you get over it."

Business has improved since the Mackays to Peka Peka expressway was completed in February, bringing Wellington a little closer. It is a section of the Wellington Corridor, which is one of National's Roads of National Significance. There are plans to extend the highway to Otaki, which will allow motorists to bypass Te Horo more easily.

"We are not really worried," Wood says. "We are a destination here." She pauses, before adding, "I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't affect us at all."

Te Horo has another cafe in a converted bus near the beach, called Bus Stop. Owner Kirsty Green moved here 10 years ago on a whim, tired of her hospitality job in Wellington.

"I bought a place two blocks back from the beach. I saw it on Tuesday and by Sunday I'd bought it. It was the place I needed to be. I just felt like I needed to here. I didn't know anybody."

Te Horo has some growing pains, Green says. She bought her first property, a 70sq m, two-bedroom place for $270,000 10 years ago, which was expensive at the time. Now even smaller sections go for nearly $400,000.

"There's more people living here now," she says. "Not that there's jetskis on the beach, but there's kids in fast cars."

Aside from fussy food regulations, government decisions rarely affect her, she says. But she occasionally worries about whether her ageing mother will get access to public healthcare.

"My dad was a doctor and he worked in the public service for 40 years; always brought up with a strong belief in the public health system and today it feels like it's a bit dire."

She describes herself as a "Greens-Labour person" but says if National returns to power "it doesn't really affect me".

"I feel so removed from the real world. You just keep on doing what you're doing and mould if there's changes. I don't feel any concern.

"Everything's perfect here, really. When I'm driving north and get above Pukerua Bay and go down that hill, and the Kapiti Island comes up on the horizon, and it's like 'I'm nearly home', it's so spectacular."

Before we leave Te Horo, the Gibbs point out one of their workers, named Tun Tun. He is a refugee from Burma and lives on the property.

Once in a Burmese jail, he was sold to an Indonesian fishing boat as forced labour. He escaped by jumping overboard and swimming 7km to shore. His brother didn't survive the swim. Today he's a world away, quietly clipping away at vines on the Stanford Farm.

"To hear their stories, and now to see how grateful they are to have jobs - it's very motivating to anybody who feels like a grizzle," Tim Gibbs says.

"He's been in camps, in prisons. And for him, the blue skies and the green trees, he thinks he's landed in paradise.

"It makes you appreciate New Zealand and the systems we have in place. You can grumble about politics and that sort of thing, but I tell you what, we've got nothing to grumble about here."