Living car-less in Auckland

Opanuku Pipeline Campground

It turns out I’ve been car-less for over three years now. Don’t get me wrong, aside from the eight month bike adventure, I’ve had the use of a mate’s car (almost) whenever needed. But I haven’t owned one. I haven’t commuted in a car, I haven’t needlessly blocked up a car park trying to turn a giant car around and I haven’t run over anyone’s toes with a car. Just some of the things I don’t miss there.

I’m not anti-automobile, aside from their emissions. I can’t support the part of vehicles that literally pipes poisonous gas into the air and chokes school children. No matter how many wallies Amazon chuck on the internet to tell me that choking school children is a necessary cost to which the benefits far outweigh, I’ll never succumb to the exhaust pipe’s tantalising ways. I’m just not that way inclined.

However, I do see the benefit of the little metal pods. When driven respectfully and treated as a privilege, cars help us go many times our normal daily walking range. Far away ends of the country can be accessed in a matter of hours; a journey that would have once taken weeks. When adequately equipped and driven in the right direction, they can save lives. And I’m not going to deny that I made use of several vehicles during my monster bike ride. When the bike inevitably broke down, old el motorist was there to ferry me to the nearest bike shop and back. I’d still be out there somewhere if they hadn’t.

The truth, though, is a lot of us don’t need one. We’ve become accustomed to them, convinced we need one. Our very dependence on them drives us towards a deeper dependence on them, as inactivity leads to poor fitness which leads to poor health and heightened auto-dependency, the circle continues. Break the chain, if you can, when you can.

It’s actually not as difficult as you might think, either. Firstly, try to patiently walk yourself through the mindful removal of yourself from the driver’s seat. Think of your body and consider all it was capable of before we began down the evolutionary path of motoring. Then try to envisage what your strengths might be, if sagging into a springy seat for a few hours after work wasn’t how you travelled; climbing, running, swimming? Our muscles long to be used. Reconnect with yourself, appreciate your body and start dropping in little actions to show it.

While out walking the streets, I often notice the long lines of slow-moving vehicles. Cars are ideal for people who love queuing. Do people love queuing, though? Honestly? I find it funny when motorists complain about an “empty cycle lane”, while failing to see the greater problems a “full road” creates. The cyclists on the cycle lane have arrived already. Try distancing yourself from your habitual tendencies and see if there’s ‘another way’. Perhaps there’s a short journey you often make that you could sub-in a new form of transport for?

It’s unrealistic to suggest everyone gets rid of their car and to expect it happens overnight, but I believe a shift towards more thoughtful motoring is possible. A culture that considers driving as a privilege, not a right, stands to gain more collectively. Thinking outside the box before taking a journey can enlighten and result in some surprising and memorable adventures. You also see more, absorb more and learn more when travelling below 100km/h.

On my car-less journey, I’ve been on some incredible adventures in New Zealand, both in Auckland and beyond. Auckland’s Regional Parks are accessible by public transport, bike and on foot. And some of the national coach services allow you to travel in far greater luxury than your 1990 Speedwagon. From short camping treks in the Waitakere Ranges to a weekend cycle trip to Shakespear Regional Park and a full blown mini-break in Russell, it’s public and clean and healthy transport for the win.

We’re all at different points in our addiction, but as humans, we can all appreciate similar things. Saving money, better health, less stress, hassle-free parking, improved time-management and discovering new local spots are just some of the benefits you’ll stumble across once you begin the weaning process. Start planning that one kilometre walk that you’d normally drive today.

Five Home Heating Alternatives

The main source of heat in our home is a wet-back log burner in the living room. It’s fantastic at its job when loaded with tea tree logs and a load of dried pine cones. The fact that it is wet-back, means we save on our electrical water heating costs as well.

Recently, however, the log burner was out of service for several days while we waited for a chimney sweep to visit. This occurred during a really cold spell in Auckland and I am forced to admit we plugged the small, pretty hopeless electric heater in. Its inefficiency meant we wanted to keep its use to an absolute minimum (rightly so, as, even after the minimal use we gave it, it still added $40 to our electricity bill!), so I came up with the following five home heating alternatives:

Vacuuming - an excellent home heat source

1. Do the vacuuming
By far the best, this one. You’re going to do it anyway, so it might as well be when you’re cold. Have you ever noticed how much heat those things pump out? Plus, almost as a bonus, you get your carpets all nice and dust-free!

Cakes can heat homes

2. Bake a cake
In my experience, ovens are pretty good at making heat. I’m not saying try to preheat it with the door open, but you won’t be disappointed with the heat that huge chunk of metal sat in your kitchen gives off with a pan of cake mixture inside. You can even boil the kettle and enjoy the cake once the work is all done!

Baths warm houses

3. Have a bath
Treat yourself to a nice, hot (warning: not too hot!) bath. When you’re done, leave the water in it until cold. It will help!

Exercise to heat the house

4. Exercise!
Now is the time to follow the government’s advice and do some exercise. 1000 press ups or sit ups ought to do it, but beginners can start at ten and see how these warm them. Hopefully you’ll be eager for more by the end!

Insulation retains warmth

5. Insulate things
Although home insulation is a great idea, I’m talking about other things here. Like yourself. Try investing in a fleece or some possum-wool socks and wearing those around the house. Put an extra blanket on your bed. Or maybe an extra duvet…

So there you go. Next time you are stuck for some heat in the home, give these a try and you’ll be sure to survive the winter. And become stronger for it too. And a better person.

Our Free ‘EcoMatters Sustainable Home Check’…

Yesterday afternoon, NZ time, a guy came round to our house, asked me a load of questions, complimented our toilets, tried the shower, asked me some more questions, gave us a load of free lightbulbs and then drove off!

Now, I realise that this may sound like an account of a dream I had yesterday afternoon, while slumped out on the cosy lounge suite, but I promise you: it definitely happened!

The visit was down to EcoMatters Environment Trust, a charitable trust based in Waitakere, West Auckland that aims to aid those wanting live a more sustainable lifestyle. We first heard about the offer of a free Sustainable Home Check at the monthly market here in Swanson (coincidently on our first weekend in Swanson, as ‘Westies’!). An project called ‘ Sustainable Ranui – Swanson’ had a stall and introduced us to their ideas and offered us the free visit.

The visit was most impressive. Our advisor began by asking questions about our property, before moving on to questions based on our water and energy usage habits. He then began the practical tests, such as measuring how much water our shower passed in a minute, the temperature of our fridge and freezer, checking our water thermostat setting and our home insulation.

The whole process represented extremely good value for money, seeing as it cost nothing, and to then receive a number of freebies, such as re-usable shopping bags, an water aerator for a tap and some low-energy lightbulbs was extremely useful (haters, take note, these are NOTHING like the original energy saving bulbs. They have been vastly improved since you last ‘used’ them. There is definitely no need to ring up Newstalk ZB when the Prime Minister is on and waste his precious air time with stupid questions like “Are you going to make us all use energy saving lightbulbs?” like one lady recently did!).

The whole process helped slam home to me that New Zealand is definitely a world leader when it comes to environmental and community initiatives. I would urge anybody who qualifies (Waitakere City residents, I believe) for a free home sustainability check to book one in right away. It will cost you nothing and will save you more.