Social media taking lifestyle to a new audience

Some lifestyle block owners are documenting their journey via Instagram as they look to become self-sufficient, realise a side-line income or simply keep a personal record.

The photo and video-sharing app Instagram has around one billion monthly active users world-wide, with the platform widely used to promote businesses, allow influencers to reach an audience, and unite people with common interests.

For those considering a tree change, there’s inspiration, honesty, trials and tribulations to be found on Instagram grids – and a debunking of the “life sentence block” belief.

Country checked in with three lifestyle block owners to find out what motivated them to purchase their property – and then share it with the world.

Pukekos and curly leaf

For just over four years, Steph Rathbun, Ash Stevens and their two daughters have called a six-hectare lifestyle block in Tasman, “home”.

They share the land they fortuitously spotted for sale while out cycling, with their horse, two miniature ponies, 13 sheep, a cat and a dog, along with a further 10 privately-owned horses and a few ponies that graze there.

Steph said the original dream was for a small block to keep a few goats, develop a vegetable garden, and enjoy a semi-rural lifestyle.

This property has much greater scale than envisioned, and who knew pukekos were so super-noisy and destructive? But Steph and Ash are cleverly creating the good life.

“The property was already set up as a horse grazing facility, so we will continue and extend this,” said Steph.

“We haven’t got goats yet as putting in goat-proof fencing here would be a huge job, but the veggie garden just keeps on expanding.”

Running a horse-grazing facility has its challenges, as does dealing with maintenance, paddock management and weeds. However, Steph said they’ve learnt to prioritise and have a “when we get around to it” list.

“Lots of people told us ‘you’re buying a life sentence block’, but luckily it doesn’t feel like this to us.”

“Watching our girls with their lambs and ponies and having so much space to run around in and get muddy, is priceless.

“The quiet of rural living beats the noise of the city any day, and there is something very special about rural neighbours.”

Steph uses Instagram to track progress, share successes and failures, and get inspiration from others.

“There are so many people ready and willing to give you advice and empathise with failures, and I’ve had a few of those!

“The Instagram community actually saved our peach tree that had curly leaf, after two local garden centres said, ‘chop it down immediately’.

“Thanks to advice from two very knowledgeable followers on Instagram, the tree is now healthier than it has been in years.”

See what Steph and Ash are up to @lifestyle_block_mum

Renovations and blooms

Having grown up on a lifestyle block and buying her first house in the suburbs, Jacqui Whelan’s goal was to get “back to the middle of nowhere” with lots of animals and no visible neighbours.

She got just that – plus “one hell of a project” – when she purchased a dilapidated house on a gorse and blackberry-riddled 6.8-hectare hill and bush block, on Paekakariki Hill Road north of Wellington.

Just over two years later, and Jacqui has resiliently battled bitter southerly winds and a pesky wild goat population to create a home and garden for her two young sons and a menagerie of dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, a goat and a rabbit.

“The whole property had been totally neglected for 30 years, so the first 18 months were entirely spent working on the house.

“Since lockdown, I have chipped away at the garden as I’d like to be as self-sufficient as possible, but I also love flowers and wanted to have a go at creating a beautiful cut-flower garden.”

Jacqui said it’s been a really slow process and she’s worked on building up soil condition using sustainable and regenerative practices without any chemicals.

Connecting with growers on Instagram gave Jacqui the confidence to start growing cut flowers as an additional income stream and strengthened her belief in the importance of supporting local initiatives.

“When you support local flower growers, you are generally buying chemical-free flowers that are safe to have in your home and that haven’t travelled halfway around the world to get here,” she said.

Through her Instagram account, Jacqui now sells cheerful, colourful bunches of hand-tied seasonal flowers and has connected with a whole new audience.

“It’s good for people to see that it’s not all sundresses and floaty hats while you wander through lush fields.

“It takes a lot of time and hard work to produce beautiful blooms and I have big plans for next season.”

Check out Jacqui’s flowers @hillroadblooms

Bike jumps and outdoor baths

Grace O’Sullivan and partner Michael Scrimshaw bought their four-hectare bare-land block in North Canterbury in January 2020 after an 18-month search for a property with privacy, peace and space for them to ultimately live and pursue their hobbies.

It needed to be within easy reach of Christchurch where they both work, be perfect for their two dogs and have some elevation for keen mountain biker Michael to build bike jumps.

Their gently rolling block with views towards Banks Peninsula in one direction, and the Canterbury foothills in the other, is about 35 minutes from Christchurch via the new Northern Corridor Motorway.

Both employed in the broader construction sector, the couple has designed a new home and they’re self-managing the build.

An impressive slab is now down, a water tank is in place and they have plans for significant tree plantings, with tongue-in-cheek claims they’ll be carbon negative by the time they’re finished.

“We both love the outdoors and having a project, and we currently have a little caravan plus an outdoor bath on the property so we can spend the weekends there,” said Grace.

“Although we don’t live full-time at the property yet and we’re light on facilities, we’re already banking memories.

“We got engaged in the bottom paddock last year, and hosted a group of friends for New Year’s Eve when we borrowed a generator, hired a portaloo and built an outdoor shower.”

Grace said after copying and pasting progress reports across multiple messaging apps to keep family and friends updated, they decided an Instagram account would be simpler.

“We have a few friends looking to pursue a similar lifestyle and figure there might be others interested in following along with our progress too and we’ve really enjoyed interacting with other couples and families doing rural builds in New Zealand.”

Follow Grace and Michael’s progress @lifesentenceblock

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