Rural butcher Basil Stewart is a bit of a Northland identity.
Stewart, who runs the Ohaeawai Butchery with his wife, Christine, started learning his craft when he was 18 and worked for the former owner Wyn Penney three times at three different locations before taking over the business in 2010.
He has worked for 32 years in the building, which is at the hub of Ohaeawai. The small village is at the junction of State Highway One and State Highway 12 about 11km east of Kaikohe.
The building was built in the early 1940s and its high ceilings and building features are evocative of the period.
Before Covid-19 lockdown last year, Stewart was used to visits from tourists from all over the world.
Now those tourists are gone but have been replaced with campervans filled with travelling Kiwis who stop in on their way around the Northland.
"We're seeing people from all over New Zealand, including a lot of people from the South Island.''
During Covid lockdown, he was one of the few butchers operating in New Zealand as he managed to register with the Ministry for Primary Industries as an essential business.
"I was providing meat for at least four other essential businesses in the area, including two aged care facilities. They were relying on me to get the volume of meat that they needed,'' he said.
"There are also a lot of rural people in our area who rely on me for their meat as they can't travel easily.''
His unusual status came to the attention of the police, and he was visited twice during lockdown. After one visit, he was shut down for half a day until his registration as an essential business could be confirmed.
"We had all the paperwork in order so we had the proof they needed.
"During lockdown, we were flat out with phone orders and only one person was allowed in the shop at a time to pick up and pay for their order. We did deliver to the aged care homes.''
Meat deliveries from Wilson Hellaby in Auckland went smoothly as trucks were allowed through with the essential meat supplies.
Since lockdown, Stewart has continued to adapt his business to the changing times.
"Over in Kerikeri we are supplying meat to businesses looking after a lot of overseas fruit pickers. They seem to go through a lot of meat,'' he said.
Stewart, 63, starts each workday at 5.30am so he can prepare the meat without interruption from customers and phone orders. He works until 5pm five days a week and rarely takes a holiday.
He averages two bodies of beef and 15 to 20 cartons of steak a week as well as about 1200kg of sausages and mince a month.
He also processes one pig a week and three to four lambs a week, which he sources from Hamilton.
"We take a lot of pride in the quality of meat we sell and our customers know this,'' he said.
It takes him about one or two hours to bone out a body.
Stewart said changing trends had prompted him to start trying different flavours in his sausages.
Popular flavours included beer, especially Guinness in winter to make a rich and hearty flavour. Other popular ingredients are smoky bacon and maple as well as blue cheese.
Lamb sausage flavours include Greek feta, olive and garlic.
Stewart said he sometimes does custom flavours for customers buying in quantity and he regards this sort of service as part of being a rural butcher.
Changing trends in meat cuts have led to different offerings.
"Lamb shanks and pork belly wouldn't have been offered 15 or 20 years ago. Now they are very trendy. People are getting into meat cuts for barbecue smokers now as well.''
He has never entered any awards as he doesn't think he needs to.
Some of the local families have been loyal customers for several generations.
"One or two have been with me all the way.''
Stewart said he gets regular visits from logging truck drivers, Corrections staff working at the Northland Region Corrections Facility near Ngawha and people who travel from Whangārei, Russell and Kaitaia.
"I'm noticing that people are tending to go back to the local butcher as they are shy of going back into supermarkets since Covid.''
Stewart said the highlight of being a rural butcher is meeting people and being part of the local community.
"I just love it,'' he said.