Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime talks to reporter Jenny Ling about her new house and living the dream in the Far North.
Willow-Jean Prime is used to challenging convention.
She made headlines when she breastfed her baby daughter Heeni in Parliament's debating chamber and raised the issue of period poverty with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at a swish event at Government House.
So maybe it's no surprise the Labour MP's latest project, building an off-grid rammed earth house for her whānau in Pakaraka in the Far North, is unconventional too.
Willow-Jean and her husband Dion are in the final stages of building their 250sq m whare with a wrap-around veranda and carport that sits on a hill with views of Motatau and Hikurangi maunga from the kitchen window.
"For us we are building our forever home and an inter-generational home," Willow-Jean said.
"When we learned the benefits of a rammed earth house, in terms of being warm, dry, enduring, and low maintenance ... I couldn't think of anything better to provide shelter for our whānau. We had an opportunity to lead by example and challenge the conventional."
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Willow-Jean and Dion were living in Wellington when they decided in 2009 to move home to Northland to raise a family. Their stay at Willow-Jean's parents' place was only meant to be for a few years.
Eight years later they approached a neighbour to buy paddocks out the back of the family home, having decided they wanted to live together to support each other at different stages in life.
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"We knew we wanted to start a family and wanted our children to have that contact daily with my parents and extended whānau in the area," Willow-Jean said.
"And to have our parents live with us when they got older and for the kids to stay at home longer."
They also had a vision to have enough land so they could be self-sufficient.
They began researching rammed earth homes after first looking at conventional homes and shed conversions.
It was a conversation with community housing advocates Rueben Taipari and his partner Heeni Hoterene that sold them on the rammed earth idea.
Taipari and Hoterene, who live in an earth home in Ahipara, set up Te Ahikaaroa Trust in 2014 to help Māori occupy their land and build sustainable housing as a solution to the affordable housing crisis.
"We went to Ahipara to check out their house in 2016," Willow-Jean said.
"We asked if we could stay at their home to see what it was like to live in. We spent our wedding anniversary there - one night in there and we were sold. It was amazing, and after that, whatever hang-ups I might have had, they all went."
The Prime home has two master bedrooms which both come with ensuites and third double bedroom for daughters Hihana, 4, and Heeni, 2.
The couple enlisted local contractor Heremaia Hepi to project manage and build their single-storey rammed earth house, which are known for being warm, dry and energy efficient.
Rammed earth walls "breathe" so they counteract humidity, which means they are also cool in summer.
The earth walls are made from crushed brown rock from a Whangarei quarry and mixed on site with 12.5 per cent concrete.
Wanting to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible, they designed the house with double glazing to keep in the warmth, and large windows and doors let in more sunlight.
The house is totally off-grid with 16 solar panels, gas for cooking, and a wetback fire which heats hot water in winter.
There is also a dual hot water system which can be switched over to solar in summer, and two rainwater tanks along with bore water for the troughs and to irrigate the fruit trees.
"It's a third cheaper than building with timber," Willow-Jean said.
"There are no ongoing costs to maintain it; we don't have to paint the outside. This house will still be standing in a couple of hundred years."
The property also overlooks Ngahuha pā, and Pouērua pā is nearby.
It's a special place to live, Willow-Jean reckons, just five minutes from Moerewa, where she was brought up, and on shared family land also home to her mum Adrienne and sister Season-Mary Downs, a lawyer.
Between the two properties they have 17 acres with more than a dozen cattle, a small flock of sheep, donkeys Sparkle and Daisy, miniature ponies Butterfly and Tina, two dogs, two cats and chickens.
At the heart of it all is Whanaungatanga, the traditional Māori concept of family connections and shared experiences which provide a sense of belonging.
They share meat they've raised, and fresh produce they have grown in well-established vegetable gardens.
More than 100 fruit and nut trees produce swathes of walnuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia, avocados, feijoas, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, cherry, citrus, bananas, olives, apples and persimmons.
Their beehives produce 60 litres of honey each year, and there's a tunnel of blackberries and blueberries.
It's a lot to maintain, but the key is sharing the workload with regular working bees.
"If we all share part of the job it makes it so much better and we all benefit."
Willow-Jean and Season-Mary are also busy running two social enterprises including a partnership with My Cup NZ which gives free menstrual cups to women and girls in Northland who can't afford them.
Since September 2017, the initiative has given out more than 2500 menstrual cups to women and girls in Kawakawa, Moerewa, Kaikohe and Kaeo.
The sisters, along with family friend Chelsea Terei, also run Tukau Legacy, a clothing line whose proceeds help children's education, community initiatives, and cultural development.
It's been two years since Willow-Jean and Dion, a teacher at Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa, started the build.
It's taken longer than expected because of "campaigns, babies and a new job in Parliament", Willow-Jean said.
Sadly, Willow-Jean's dad Barry Downs died in September 2018 after battling cancer.
With only a small amount of interior work left to do, they aim to be in by the end of summer.
Willow-Jean is looking forward to the slower pace her lifestyle block offers, which includes making slow roasted food in the outdoor pizza oven, and picking fresh watercress from the nearby stream.
"Life is hectic so when I come home, I just want to hang out at home," she said.
"The idea is bliss and such a contrast to what it's like for the rest of the week. It's special to be able to enjoy that, the good life."