Current Affairs

The woman who sold all her possessions to live in the NZ bush

The intrepid adventurer and her husband live off the land.

By Ciara Pratt

There’s going off-grid and then there’s Miriam Lancewood.

Living a simple, nomadic life in the Taranaki bush and staying in DoC huts or a tent, everything Miriam has in the world can fit in a backpack – and she couldn’t be happier. However, it does make organising an interview with her rather tricky.

On one of her missions out of the native bush to top up supplies and send a few emails from communal computers, the Weekly sat down with the Dutch adventurer to talk about a life few would even contemplate, but what she defiantly calls “free, random and spontaneous”.

For Miriam (33), simplifying her life and living off the land with her now-husband Peter (63) was the best way to live her life. She has always loved adventure – she upped sticks from the Netherlands to Zimbabwe to become a PE teacher, then decided to move to India, hoping to meet someone who would walk the Himalayas with her.

Living a primitive life in the bush is Miriam’s cup of tea
Living a primitive life in the bush is Miriam’s cup of tea

That’s when the next journey of her life started to unfold.

“I always went to local restaurants with not many tourists, but Peter was there. It was quite unusual to find another European person there, so naturally we got talking.”

Peter, who had walked the Himalayas before, offered to join Miriam on her adventure.

“We moved north of the Himalayas and we walked for two months,” she recalls.

“There were a lot of nomadic people living in Tibet, living self-sufficiently in tents. That was my inspiration to live simply and nomadically in the mountains.”

The pair travelled to the Himalayas, as well as Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and then back to Peter’s home country New Zealand where, once settled, Miriam worked as a teacher in Blenheim.

Huddling under a manuka tree while it rains.
Huddling under a manuka tree while it rains.

“You could see the mountains in the distance and every day, as I was walking to the school, I’d look at them and think I would much rather be in the mountains. To see mountains gives you a third dimension to your life and it enriches your life.

“One day, we asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t we live there?’ You don’t need to have money and I had enough savings to buy the food. I was ready for a real expedition,” she tells.

In 2010, Miriam and Peter sold their possessions and prepared to head into the South Island bush, where they spent three to four winter months in a hut.

Selling all that you own would send many of us into a cold sweat, but Miriam says it energised her.

“You work your life away to pay for things that make your life more stressful,” she explains. “Money became irrelevant. From what we sold, we had enough in our savings.”

Over those first few months, the pair definitely faced challenges as they grew accustomed to a stripped-back version of living.

The Dutch traveller met Kiwi Peter in India and followed him to New Zealand two years after meeting him.
The Dutch traveller met Kiwi Peter in India and followed him to New Zealand two years after meeting him.

“Peter found the cold most difficult; I found the boredom the most difficult,” she remembers. “I also struggled not sleeping on clean sheets every night and all my clothes smelling like smoke. Everything is just a little bit dirty and the sandflies left me screaming mad!”

To pass the time, she baked bread, cleaned the hut, gathered firewood and hunted for food, usually possum. Their meals often consisted of rice, bean, lentils and dried fruit. Showers were done on hot days in cold rivers.

“There’s a real art to doing nothing. With doing nothing, I think you heal the body and mind. But it took about two to three weeks to get into that rhythm of nature.”

Miriam is now unable to imagine living any other way.

“I never knew a life like this was possible. In the bush, I just live. I get up and think what needs to get done. I might light a fire and have a cup of tea.

“In the wilderness, we are totally subject to the weather and the conditions. That can make you feel quite insignificant and that feeling is quite interesting, really. We become more aware of what is happening around us because we are more dependable on that.”

*Woman in the Wilderness* by Miriam Lancewood (Allen & Unwin, RRP $36.99).
Woman in the Wilderness by Miriam Lancewood (Allen & Unwin, RRP $36.99).

One of the most transformative aspects of this life, Miriam says, is being able to sleep for 12 hours.

“It really simplifies and clears the mind so it’s not so cluttered. I don’t have any worries in the evening – whatever happens tomorrow depends on the weather.

“We live without a clock or the days of the week. I hated the clock the most at my job. Because it wasn’t me who was organising my life, it was a clock. Having my life planned out felt like a prison.”

Since that first wilderness expedition in 2010, the couple now only leave the bush every few months to top up their supplies, send letters, catch up on emails and plan for the next adventure.

“We don’t know what’s next. This is the way we plan on living indefinitely and I love it!”

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