I once read the editor of a gossip magazine brightly assert that knowing what celebrities are up to creates a relationship with them - and seeing as we're all too busy to know our neighbours and community any more, that fills a social gap in our lives.

It still makes my eyes roll years later.

She wilfully ignored the difference between having some information about somebody who doesn't know you exist and having a genuine two-way interaction with a real person.

My community is full of interesting people doing special things and I find them infinitely more fascinating - and worthy of attention and recognition - than strangers who are famous for sometimes nothing more than being filthy rich and behaving badly.


I'd had enough of living in big cities when I came here in 2010 and Whanganui seemed like the perfect size. It's big enough to have lots to offer and small enough to make people and activities easy to find.

The first group of fine folk I encountered were the inspiring members of the Wanganui Tramping Club, people with decades of experience in the bush and full of knowledge.

To celebrate the club's 75 years of existence, they put in a whole lot of hard work to develop some fantastic tracks through council land at Waitahinga.

On a recent visit we were blessed with clear skies and views of Mt Taranaki and all the mountains of the Central Plateau - priceless.

In the spring of 2010, I began learning about all the organic horticulture happening right here and that Whanganui has one of the best temperate growing climates in the world and some of New Zealand's best soils.

Even better, there's a concentration of people with fantastic horticulture skills and inspiring ideas.

There's David Aislabie, who was then running an organic market garden out at Kai Iwi, deeply knowledgeable and a gifted teacher. Murray Jones is another, a master grafter and orchardist who's had a grafting knife in his hand since he was a wee lad.

There are the good people at the Quaker Settlement, the site of my first gardens and where I learnt about chicken-keeping, planting orchards and making compost.


I soon met Mark Christensen who has the most extraordinary five acres in the middle of Springvale, a man whose generosity is matched only by his humility. We have Mark to thank for the discovery of the high-health Monty's Surprise apple. He's continued to direct original research into heritage food crops, investigating which old varieties have powerful health-giving nutrients.

Mark always deflects praise and talks about his team of volunteers, but he's a lynchpin people gather around. Up and down the country, gardeners and growers know of Whanganui because of Mark and have benefited from the seeds he has painstakingly imported or old varieties he has rediscovered.

Several years ago, I began spending Saturday mornings in a kayak on the awa. Trying to keep up with kids under 10 was a certain challenge to my dignity but the view from the water was worth it. Brian Scott, the volunteer coach at the Wanganui Multisport and Triathlon Club, was there every week, full of patience, humour and advice, keeping all of us in line and mostly upright. The club has created such a positive, wholesome environment for young people.

And how about the Whanganui Science Forum, established by Peter and Ella Grant to host visiting experts on all matter of things scientific? We've already seen some outstanding speakers on a range of important topics.

Just last weekend was the Puanga Pictures film festival, capably co-organised by Helen Marie O'Connell. She's re-established the local Film Society and organises other independent cultural events.

The point is all these people are special but they're not unique. Your circle may not overlap much with mine, but yours will also be rich with people working hard for the common good.

I'm proud to be part of a community where so many people offer their time, attention and skills to enrich the lives of others. Generally they are not rich, and they're not famous. But they are my kind of heroes and I'd choose to hang out with them over celebrities, any day.

-Rachel Rose is a writer, fermenter and gardener