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Wendyl Nissen's piece of paradise

Our green goddess is quitting the city – and the hair dye – and relishing a quiet, basic life in the far north.

By Alice O'Connell
A world away from her former hectic life, the Weekly's own Green Goddess, Wendyl Nissen, has found her slice of heaven in the Far North. Her new Hokianga home is quiet, peaceful and remote, with barely a soul to talk to – and it's exactly what she's been longing for.
This seclusion is completely ideal for the "new" Wendyl, who admits she's sick and tired of hearing herself speak.
"Honestly, I've spent the last 30 years just bloody talking!" she exclaims. "As a journalist, I talked and talked; in broadcasting, I talked on the radio too much and then, when I was producing television, I was bossing people around all the time. And you know what? I really like not talking now. For the next 30 years, I just want to be quiet. I want to be an introvert."
It's not that she doesn't like people any more, or that she'll be giving up work, she insists. It's more that she just can't really be bothered with all the pesky talking.
So it's here, overlooking the picturesque Hokianga Harbour, nestled in the native bush, with fantails and tui all around, that Wendyl (52), and her husband Paul (57), have chosen to make their home for this next quieter chapter in their lives.
'Honestly, I've spent the last 30 years just bloody talking. For the next 30 years, I want to be quiet'
It's been Wendyl's dream to live a green, "off-the-grid" existence, as far away from the city as possible. With four of their children grown up, it seemed the right time for the pair to make a break. So, after selling their rambling family home in a buoyant Auckland market, they were able to buy a small townhouse in the city and look further afield for property.
Keeping a place in the city was essential to provide a solid home for their youngest, Pearl (16), while she finishes school, as well as provide a base for when work draws them back to town.
It also means they can be close to their Auckland-based children – Wendyl's son Daniel (28) and daughter Hannah (26) and Paul's daughter Alex (29). His son, Grammy-winner Joel (31), recently relocated to Los Angeles with his wife Gemma and two daughters, Lila (6) and Emmie (3) – something that's been tough for Wendyl. Still, the loving grandmother says she's enjoying Skyping when Lila isn't distracted reading Harry Potter! "She's definitely a mini-Paul – she loves reading," says Wendyl.
On her hunt for their perfect new home, she first fell in love with a huge old Downton Abbey-style building, complete with a church, in the Hawke's Bay. But after taking her longtime friend Lady Deborah Holmes to see it – who promptly told Wendyl she was mad – she realised it perhaps wasn't "the one" and widened her search.
The former high-powered magazine editor is relishing a simple existence, far away from the life she once led.
"We like the Hokianga, don't we?" she called out to Paul, as she trawled through online listings one afternoon. And before long, they found themselves standing in the living room Wendyl is in now, looking out at the view. After downing a few drinks at the nearby pub, Paul turned to Wendyl and said, "My God, you found it."
So now, Wendyl, Paul and their dog Rosie spend four nights every fortnight in the Hokianga, splitting their time between the two houses. Next year, when Pearl has finished school, they'll live there full-time. "That's the plan, anyway," Wendyl says, mindful that it's very much her dream that takes them north. For her, Hokianga is already home and their townhouse is more "like staying in a hotel".
Paul, on the other hand, still sees himself as an Aucklander. "For example, all our best art is in the townhouse, so I'll say, 'Hey, how come we haven't got it up here?' And Paul will say, 'Uh, cos I want to live with it?' So, yeah, there's going to be a bit of an adjustment..." Yet she's optimistic. "I think he's going to be okay," she says.
Wendyl says her needs these days are quite simple and she's better at compromising.
"If there's a bed, a bath and a book, I'm happy." And her new slice of Hokianga paradise has all that and more. There's a fireplace, a kitchen with a spacious pantry for Wendyl's concoctions, a long bath ("with rainwater heated by solar panels, so I can feel extra smug!"), a sunroom for reading or napping and a deck where they spend most of their time. In winter, they rug up until it's too cold to last another second, and in summer they've been known to sleep there, especially after a few gin and tonics.
Wendyl and her husband Paul at Kerre McIvor's wedding last year.
There's a basement, with room to put beds in if the kids or grandkids come to stay, but currently it stores the kayaks – not that she's been out for a spin yet, "but we could!" she insists, laughing. "We may even get a dinghy and potter about the harbour together."
Adjacent, there's a small cottage where guests can stay – she expects her parents will eventually move into it. And as much as she loves the peace of her new haven, she says she'll be happy to share and have them nearby. The old adage that as time passes, you inevitably turn into your parents certainly appears to be coming true for Wendyl, who has noticed she has more in common with her father than she ever realised.
"He and I are in heaven when we're here – I love wandering around the property with him, talking about little projects. I really do adore him. My dad's a very quiet person, and I think that gene is perhaps coming out now as I get older."
Not that the idea of ageing is bothering Wendyl. When they bought the house, she decided it was time to stop dyeing her hair – a decision that left half her friends horrified, worried that "Nana Nissen" was taking things too far. But now, Wendyl doesn't think it's much of a big deal at all.
"Going grey is just part of a natural ageing process which I'm happy to participate in, rather than fight to the death! I think more women should embrace it as a part of who they are – I really don't care if someone looks at me and thinks, 'Yuck, old!', because I am!"
Wendyl has replaced high heels for gumboots to chill with Rosie the dog.
As always, Paul is encouraging. "He hates the idea of people trying to look younger than they are when it is very obvious. He helped me decide that enough was enough and he has been very supportive – as have my kids. Every week, one of them tells me how good I look, and I've had hundreds of emails of support from newsletter readers, many of whom have taken the leap with me."
Wendyl's newsletter goes out to 12,000 subscribers, who have followed her green journey and supported her Auckland store, newly rebranded as Wendyl's.
It hasn't always been easy, committing herself to a green life, but it's what people now expect from her, and since slowing down, it's a lifestyle she's relishing. She admits it would be a whole lot easier to blitz her new garden with weedkiller, but she can't let herself do it.
"I'm inventing all these mad killers out of salt and whatnot and they're not working properly yet! I have to think, well, if you're going to be organic, you have to accept that things are going to take a long time. But you know what, I've hopefully got another 30 years in me, so it's fine."
And as for the green business itself, Wendyl recently took a step back, letting her son Daniel take the reins. "I loved the idea that it would be this beautiful family business, but it was never profitable," she confides. "It wasn't until Daniel said, 'Are we ever going to make any money out of this, or what?' that it started turning around. We even turned our first profit last month. He's absolutely passionate about it. We love working together, although he's starting to boss me around," she says with a smile.
It was Daniel who pushed for her latest book, Wendyl's Recipes for a Cleaner Life, to be published this December. He thought Wendyl's could do with a catalogue-style book, with all her recipes in one place.
Wendyl is enjoying a slower pace of life.
"I said, 'What? Just the recipes? You don't want anything about me?'" Wendyl says, laughing. "He said, 'No! You're only to write an intro – 200 words and that's it – no more from you.' So bossy! But I bet this will be my best-selling book, all because of Daniel." It's being published by the company she and Paul own, which last year released her first foray into fiction, The Road to Midnight. Although, Wendyl says, we shouldn't expect another novel any time soon. "I really just did that to see if I could do it. It's done now." Perhaps not done forever, though, because as she sits staring out from her deck, Wendyl says she can picture herself "perhaps as a 70- something woman sitting here in my slippers typing out romance or crime novels."
She also imagines she'll still be making sourdough, as she does most days – or the odd cake if visitors are coming – and staying fit by tending her garden.
Listening to this grey-haired woman talk about baking bread and enjoying long baths, it's hard to recall the fiery business-woman who penned Bitch and Famous, chronicling her days as a feared and revered magazine editor in the cut-throat days of the industry. Now, Wendyl can barely remember that time or the woman she was. "It's like when they went to war," she says, deadpan. "I'm serious! I don't remember any of it. I was such a bitch – I was just so different to how I am now."
She admits it's an extreme reaction to her former life, but she's glad the industry has moved on from those dramatic days. She now relishes the Weekly – particularly her column which she writes from up north, with enthusiasm, every week.
But what of her husband Paul, who fell in love with the"bitchy" Wendyl during those crazy years – the woman she no longer recognises? "I know!" she laughs. "He's adjusted. He's come along on the – I hate this word – journey.
"It was meeting Paul that got me down to earth. He was the first one who stood up to me andgently said, 'Are you really going to do that? Do you really feel okay about that?' He's the most moral man, with such a good heart. So I think as much as I've changed, it's probably his fault.
"And you know what? I think if you really love someone, you want them to be happy, and I haven't asked him to change that much!"
Besides, Paul's overdue for a rest too, she says. They're both exhausted, having lived big lives, big careers and together have a "crazy family" where something is always happening.
"It's time to slow down," Wendyl says, because now, her idea of bliss is driving with Paul over the final stretch to their new home, then pulling the gate behind them. "Because that's it. I know no-one is going to come and interrupt us – it's just us."

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