Living Off The Grid: Homesteading In The Wilderness

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-07-2232

Remember the cheapest family in the nation? Well this family has got them BEAT!

Can you live a totally “FREE” life? Apparently you can. And this story can attest to that. This is cheap living at its finest. Let me introduce to you one of the cheapest families in the world (they’re the cheapest, by choice). I’d like to tell you the story of a special family who lives in the Pacific who decided to throw away all the trappings of modern civilization in order to isolate themselves in the remote boondocks of New Zealand.

Living Off The Grid and Homesteading In The Wilderness

I guess you can call them true “back to nature” frugalists. In fact, they’re a step beyond that — they are homesteaders (survivalists?) and hermits who live in one of the most beautiful and natural settings we have on this earth. This Kiwi family is comprised of a father (from New Zealand) named Robert Long, and a mother, originally from Australia, named Catherine. Their kids are Christian (age 16) and Robin (age 13).

Here’s their story: Robert Long at the age of 24 was an aspiring doctor, 3 years into medical school and right at the cusp of becoming the doctor his father had always wanted him to be. Aside from being highly educated, he was also a champion athlete. His wife, Catherine, is a former microbiologist. In their 20′s, they suddenly made the decision to eschew civilization and move into an isolated part of their country, surrounded by wilderness. On one side of their home is the sea, on the other, mountains. They live with the bare minimum there is to live, grow their food, have no electricity (well, maybe they do now), and live a completely rustic life catching possums, washing their clothes in the river and swatting away sand flies.

Imagine yourself 2 days walk away from the nearest town without any form of transportation except your legs to take you anywhere (what if you get sick?). Imagine seeing nobody else over a span of months. Groceries come from a supply plane that only visits once a month, and your emergency radio is broken. Guess what. They are living it! Kids are homeschooled, parents don’t need any jobs and they are a completely self-sustaining entity in the middle of nowhere. This is the genuinely rustic life of homesteaders handed down from one gutsy generation to the next.


They live on public land “lent” to them by the government, which agreed to keep Robert on as a “caretaker”. They have no mortgage or rent to ever worry about. A bottle of milk is a luxury, but man, the catch of the day (fresh lobster!) must be typical food fare. Take a look at where they live — 50 km from Haast, the nearest town (yay for Google maps! Click image to enlarge.):

frugal living, no money needed

And following is a fascinating video documentary about them — hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Click this link or the image below to watch the video.

bush babes, survivalist

Edit: Unfortunately, YouTube has made the video private at this time.

Living Off The Land

I think there are some solid takeaways from this family’s story. It tells us that if we want to live with less, we can. There are people who live in small houses and love it. There are people who sleep on cardboard furniture and don’t mind. There are people who borrow, barter and buy used, and live very simply as a way of life. These are all true lifestyle choices that don’t require much money or any money (in the Longs’ case). Though the story of the Long family is extreme, I find them incredibly inspiring, for these are the people whom you’ll find standing and surviving even if the world ever wipes itself out.

But I do wonder about one thing. I wonder about the kids who’ve been raised to know only this kind of life. I’m curious about how they’re experiencing life as growing adolescents in such a peculiar, unique and incredible environment. I’m not so sure how kids can take to this kind of isolation for so long. Just how healthy can this be? The children want lives that require them to mix with society: they’ve clearly expressed their ambitions and aspirations. I hope they’ll find ways to adjust. Still, from what you can see in the video, those kids seem pretty well-adjusted.

Oh and one more thing. These people are actually part of my extended family. They are far flung relatives of mine through affinity — my spouse is the second cousin of Catherine. Just last month, Catherine’s mother visited us here and we shared nifty stories about sand flies and vegetable gardens and the rest of the family in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe one day, I’ll get to visit the Longs…. or maybe not. I’d rather they come and visit me instead!

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane July 22, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Thank you for sharing this very humbling story of people who really live their convictions. What an amazing story! The video left me with a few thoughts about Catherine’s 13 year old daughter. Firstly, I was impressed with her poise in front of the camera. Second, I thought she was quite comfortable speaking with the interviewer, a complete stranger, if my assumptions are right. And third, I marvelled at the amazing headstart this 13 year old has in the career field she is interested in. These are attributes I would not have necessarily correlated with being raised in social isolation.

Yet these are attributes this young girl has despite her experiences. Despite the lack of social experiences other than through her parents, brother, and pet, she seemed, as you put it, well-adjusted ! The human spirit is inspiring. As an aside, where did they get the seeds to plant their sustainable garden? And who pays for the monthly supplies that get flown in?

Thank you for sharing this story.

Silicon Valley Blogger July 22, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Hi Diane!
Glad to have your comment! :) Thank you for weighing in on this story. I thought it so cool to finally see who my family kept talking about at the dinner table! I mean — we’ve always wondered how this family could survive out there, but on several occasions, I’ve met Catherine’s mom, a lovely lady who assures us that “this place in the middle of nowhere” is a wonderful place to be. I couldn’t believe that she’d stay with them for long periods of time for visits. Where do the guests stay?

Anyway, to answer your question, I believe they get supplies sent to them from the nearest town, and these supplies include seeds and plantings. However I’m not all too sure where they get the money for those supplies. I’ll have to ask my in-laws about that! I would guess they sell stuff like those possum skins. There’s probably some wildlife material they trade in for their basic necessities. I’ll find out and let you know!

Early Retirement Extreme July 22, 2009 at 10:34 pm

As for the kids I’m not entirely sure that being sentenced to the institutional education system in the civilized world and only interacting with your parents for a couple of hours a day makes for well-adjusted children either. Teenage life is more like Lord of the Flies if you ask me. As for the seeds, ideally they come off of the plants.

jason July 23, 2009 at 6:44 am

Well, at least you have some really cool cousins, thats for sure. When people brag about their family and their success you can always just bring up these relatives and no one can top that.

fern July 23, 2009 at 8:16 am

While you may get a romanticized view of living this way, i think it’s rather selfish of the father to inflict this on his children. They never had a choice or say in the matter, so when they say they’re content, for now, they really don’t know any other life, so how could you expect them to say anything different?

I also wonder bout how they get their nutritional needs met, and what happens if someone gets sick? The father certainly looks like he could use some dental care. What do the mother and daughter do when they get their periods?

It’s all a little too extreme for me.

Scott Lovingood July 23, 2009 at 9:45 am

Interesting video and article. I think the key is that both dads did what they thought was best to create wealth in the lives of their family. Sr focused on financial wealth and the rewards that go with it. Jr focused on family and giving them opportunities to explore and understand nature and learn to be self sufficient.

Fern – nothing romantic about this type of lifestyle. It can be tough and rugged and dangerous. America was founded and grown by people willing to live this lifestyle. I think you will find both of those kids grow up. Learning to make things happen is the most important skill to have. The son wants to become a business owner and the daughter wants to go to college.

It is always interesting to see people who have taken a very different approach to life.

I will say that I hope Australian possums taste better than US ones do. Having eaten baked possum once I would never touch it again. Never make a promise to someone who works for you that you aren’t willing to go through with.

Are you getting the most out of life? How do you define that? Two generations who defined it very differently.

Martha Roden July 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm

What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

I noted the concern about the children, but I wouldn’t worry about them. They have a unique opportunity to interact with their parents and with one another in person, every day, rather than by email, texting, Facebook, etc. They are NOT constantly multi-tasking or being distracted by television, phones, and the Internet.

They are probably learning the fine art of giving their full attention to the task at hand, whatever it may be. And most importantly, they’re connecting with nature at a personal level and gaining an understanding of their dependence on the planet for survival. Now that’s something kids these days rarely experience.

I suspect they will grow up into amazing individuals with their own sense of who they are, rather than what TMZ or the media tells them they should be.

Additionally, they will be equipped with something that many young people … and older people lack … the ability to think for themselves, fully focus their attention, and analyze and solve difficult problems.

More power to them!

Martha

Stephanie July 23, 2009 at 4:08 pm

“I wonder about the kids who’ve been raised to know only this kind of life. I’m curious about how they’re experiencing life as growing adolescents in such a peculiar, unique and incredible environment. I’m not so sure how kids can take to this kind of isolation for so long.” I found this comment you made to be rather thought provoking. I think that more often than not if a child is raised in this type of lifestyle, he/she may not learn about how society works and functions, and he/she is likely going to continue this lifestyle not by choice but because he/she doesn’t know any different. In this case the child grows up wanting something more, but not knowing how to get it. Maybe I am just looking into it and thinking too much about it, but is this a healthy lifestyle? I mean, isn’t that the case for most 2nd and 3rd world countries?

karyn July 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

Don’t parents everywhere “inflict” their lifestyle on their kids – whether it’s forcing them to live in the bush or forcing them to live in the city – kids live their parents’ lifestyle until they can make their own choices. I’m sure Robert’s father thought he was choosing the best lifestyle for Robert – yet Robert chose something very different. Hopefully, whatever Robert’s children choose, their parents will be supportive.

Goran Web Design July 27, 2009 at 7:13 am

That is just the most incredible post I’ve seen for a while! To make a conscious lifestyle choice of this magnitude, and to then live it is just awesome! Truly paradise on earth. I really wouldn’t mind a similar lifestyle for myself!

Ben July 27, 2009 at 11:39 am

I wouldn’t liken this lifestyle to the austerity of everyday 3rd world life elsewhere around the world. Man’s inborn attribute as a social creature draws him beyond immediate family. Most everywhere, people live in community among others of their, tribe, clan, religion, what-have-you. For young people, non-blood friendships, even platonic love interests are realized in such environments. Fortunately the father is not a tyrant. But this lifestyle is just not scalable.

All that said, these particular kids much better adapted for social/professional life than typical adolescents, and that says more about modern youth culture than it does about this family.

Goran Web Design August 1, 2009 at 4:42 am

True words Ben, well spoken. Unfortunately our youth culture is rather…..uhm….scary….to say the least!

Todd August 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm

This is a great story however you state that “they are a completely self-sustaining entity” at one point and then at another you mention “Groceries come from a supply plane that only visits once a month”. These two things contradict each other, you can’t be completely self-sustained and then also get drops of groceries every month.

-Todd

Silicon Valley Blogger August 10, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Todd,
I think that’s just a technicality. In my mind they’re pretty self-sustaining for having been raised in modern, civilized society. For the authentic experience in self-sufficiency, I suppose you’d have to look at how tribal communities live — which is a whole different situation.

What I find most amazing is how the New Zealand homesteaders manage to live in pure isolation, without the support of a community or society around them.

Kevin Quinlan August 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

I think there is a line between working to live below your means and endangerment. This works great for the parents but it seems it does not set up the children too much for success.

Alex August 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm

There are not a self sustaining family they rely on a helicopter supplying them with food and other provisions. How good for the environment is that, having your helicopter fly in your food once a month? How great is the life when your hunting for possums, no girlfriends, friends. No Internet, who decided that the father.

It seems like this father has developed the attributes of his father. Need to relax a bit and not impose your views on your children. The Father could be exercising emotional abuse on those children.

Mike September 12, 2009 at 12:49 am

Beautiful…. I admire this family. I plan on doing just this, just not as extreme. I’m saving every week to buy 40- 50 acres, to be as much off the grid as I’d like to be. Only bill I will have are property taxes, and very minor help from the outside world. All those people who like depending on society all the time,well, that’s your choice. The rat race is yours for the keeping!!

Alex B. June 4, 2010 at 10:48 am

If you don’t want to visit them, but want to send an emmissary instead, let me know!

–Alex

Silicon Valley Blogger June 4, 2010 at 1:39 pm

@Alex,
Oh my! That would be beyond awesome! We’d love to have you pay them a visit on our behalf… :) Seriously, you’ve heard this story before and if you’re still up for a major adventure into the wilds of Australia, then yes, it would be quite the opportunity for you.

We’re going back to that general vicinity (SouthEast Asia) next year, maybe you can come along and continue to Australia? The Digerati Spouse may be interested in moving on to Australia (I may not) but if he does he can go there with you…. :D

Just a thought…really hoping we can plan something!

brenda June 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm

point, im from nz, nz is not part of Australia in any way. that’s quite insulting, like calling canadians americans……..australia is a 4 hour flight away and requires a passport to enter. nz has many vary isolated areas that require supplies to flighted in. Children are still required by law to be schooled, and this might happen by radio and correspondence. Possum fur is a tradeable commodity, and might bring in a nice little income, you cant live for free in nz, you still have to pay land rates no matter where you live. you can generate your own power, compost your poop, grow your own food reduce recycle reuse, but living still costs. you cant trade a chicken for a doctors/dentists visit in this country. I couldn’t watch the video as it is banned from being view due to copyright, but i would imagine that they get visitors, this is a very friendly, social and supportive country. :)

red elk August 10, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Hi friends. Im a 68 yr old grandfather (with wife). Trying to go (AGAIN) “out n away”. Tell u this, a 14 yr old boy…who CLAIMS to want to learn “Wild Living”…well, talk is cheap. Aho? “Camped” 2 nites ago. WANTED CONSTANT ENTERTAINMENT. Been “drop dead” tired every since. Without a buddy AND his DVD Games, to “DO” will be nearly impossible, OR SOMEONE will go NUTS! I’d suggest IF CONTEMPLATING a “life” like this N HAVE KID(s)…u mite want to try out an “away” time with um..NOW.

And as for YOU: TURN OFF ALL ELECTRICITY for ONE WEEK END! NOTHING Elect.! CARS need a batteries…NO CAR use even. SEE if YOU can “take” the lifestyle u CLAIM to want. NO electrical clocks…NO city Pumped -n water. REAL “Primitive”! Aho?

It’s one thing to “dream”…quite another to DO! TEST YOURSELF AND ANY FAMILY!! Aho?

Good luck to you.

Silicon Valley Blogger August 10, 2010 at 6:44 pm

@red elk,
Hi Gramps! Sorry, had to clean up your comment a little (typos and stuff, ya know!). Anyway, great points you make ;) . I agree, you might enjoy the rustic life but who knows what the missus and the kids may say…. As for me, it ain’t my style. I’m a suburban mom who enjoys my countryside WITH running water and an entertainment center. So I ain’t going anywhere. Thanks for the pearls of wisdom…

Daniel Christensen August 27, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to live in the wild……it’s real life….you want what? Powered cities and good running cars????…. That’s what is wrong with kids these days…. They are interested in video games, sex, being liked and all that…. Why not teach your children morals and honesty instead of backstabbing, and taking advantage of each other.

This way of life demands respect to live and those who don’t have it, don’t make it. Instead you want your kids to become doctors, lawyers, even managers. All this does is make the world worse and worse. Living out in the wild makes you work to live, and work hard. Almost all kids I have seen wouldn’t even sweep a small porch because they can’t get off the couch or computer or video game. That’s why people are so lazy growing up, they don’t know hard work, never have. As a parent we are supposed to teach them good not laziness, and disrespect. And some of you may think oh I didn’t do anything. And therein lies another problem. The outdoors are what every family needs. Not side by side houses like in the city. Not a park. The “sticks” as some people call it. REAL OUTDOORS.

@fern…that is why some people shouldn’t have kids because of that way of thinking.

Elaine January 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Hi That is a real life dream come true. My husband and I are going to be doing just the very same thing but we are a bit older..mid 40′s We will be going out in 2012 Just living off the land. We both have experiance of that sort of thing and we have always been dreaming of it sence we were young. (we have been in love for 30 years) and had always talked and dreamed but things would get in the way but we are going for it now. Your story is awww inspiring. We wont be by the ocean but there are many mountains and wilderness here. Thank-you for letting people know there are dreams we can all live. Dont be afraid of what people will say. GOD Bless

Craig Stadler March 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm

It’s inspiring to see such motivation that we should all be doing! But also to reuse in a day to day fashion, i use a site called ecofreek.com to find things i want or need!

mike May 1, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Hmmm, lets see, by being homeschooled and not sent to public schools they’ll miss out on all kinds of harassment and intimidation met out by other “children”. Sarcasm aside, the public schools (in the USA) are out of control and no place to send or attempt to raise children (can’t say I’ve heard overseas in the English speaking world being any better). Are there any benefits to enforced group socialization? None that I’m aware of. As opposed to clean air, fresh food and (hopefully) a loving family environment and learning how to be self-sufficient. Pretty good trade off in my book.

Good luck to them!

Personal Shopper May 11, 2011 at 2:14 am

This is a pretty incredible story. I can’t imagine living without the internet, or soap. As long as they are properly educated I think the kids will grow to be fabulous adults, that’s if they make it. It is what the aboriginals of Australia have been telling us all along, What is the point of working hard all your life so that you can retire and spend your days on the beach, why not just do it now.

Aileen July 5, 2011 at 9:30 am

Wish I could view the video. I’m in town today heading out to house sit for a friend, who, like me, is living in a wilderness surrounding 34 km from town and off the grid. I myself have been doing this since 2005. Winters here get to 40 below. No internet, no fridge, no vehicle. My friend has solar and internet with skype, I have no electricity at all except a landline phone. I have had a logging truck load of wood dumped into my driveway and an old rsf stove to warm my 800 sq ft log home, vaulted ceiling, sweet as all get out. Burn about 4 cords of wood a winter, sometimes 6, true cords. Bug killed wood is shoved and piled on landings to be burned wile we give our standing timber to pellets stoves ( totally inefficient) or chopsticks. I am a 62 year old female. Alone. But, I grew up like this. Now, out from a 30 year marriage, three children we raised in town of pop 100k, crack houses on every block. HIV. AIDS. Poor children, so sad. I am consistently told by others how much they admire the way I live. Even and especially by my nieces. Doesn’t take a lot of effort or courage, really. Go slow into it.

Paul July 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I have seen this story before. I would like to say something to all the ones making remarks about how this sort of living is “hurting” or depriving the children. And one respondent even called it “abuse”. My gawd what has happened to humanity. It is now child abuse to “deprive” children to TV, video games, sex and violence on TV and in our schools!!?? And for Gramps…I walked off into the wilderness in 1999 with nothing more than a pup-tent, hatchet, a deaf cat and a few rations. I lived that way for four great years. There were periods of up to six months without seeing any other human. I was snowed in four months of the year and even when the snow was melted I hardly saw anyone except a few hunters who had ventured off the beaten path. I hiked into the nearest town during the summer and traded or sold dream catchers, pouches, book covers, pipes, buttons and beads made from many different materials. The local shops were happy to work with me. Usually I traded for fuel oil for my lamps, flour, rice and salt. And on occasion some pipe tobacco, a tool or article of clothing. In that four years I not only learned a lot about myself, the human spirit and life itself, but also learned (or had my eyes opened) about society itself. How, you may ask did I learn about society by living “away” from society? Well that’s something that cannot be explained with words, not by this man anyway. But I will say this, only after you are able to accept yourself in total isolation, can you truly unconditionally accept and respect others, their choices and their views. I myself, feel it should be mandatory for “every” person to live totally isolated for one year before they can be referred to as an adult.

I am 55 now and live on the Oregon Coast. I want nothing more than to find somewhere that I can live “unbothered” and remote again. I have searched and am told the only way to do so without a government coming down on me sooner or later is to keep on the move. So I guess I am stuck in what some of you folks call the “real world” which is kinda ironic to me because your so called “real world” is man made and mine was nature made. Nature trumps man every time!!
Thanks for the article…I enjoyed it while I could and took me away for a few.

Paul

richard July 7, 2011 at 6:36 am

Hi. Just wanted to answer a few of the questions I’ve read on here … yes they do get visitors from time to time — fishing boats stop in to trade with them and they keep in contact with a radio, their money mostly comes from the sale of jewelry made with greenstone collected from the river, for health emergencies a rescue chopper can be there in 30 minutes and for not so urgent health issues they can either wait for the supply chopper or catch a lift on a fishing boat.

There are a lot of isolated places in New Zealand and there are quite a few people that live a lifestyle like theirs!

Liz July 11, 2012 at 11:15 am

Thank you so much for sharing, this is an amazing story!

I actually work for a production company in Los Angeles and we are currently trying to create a documentary series (for a major network) to help tell the stories and deliver the messages of people just like this! We’d like to focus on individuals and/or families who are choosing to live in the wild, off of the land and away from society. I would love to be put in touch with this family to hear more about their incredibly refreshing lifestyle!

I would also love to speak with some of the other folks who commented on this blog, who are looking to make similar decisions for themselves such as Elaine, Paul and Mike!

Please call or email me anytime to further discuss!

Thank you!

Best,
Liz
Talent Coordinator, Development
Office: 310-566-6213
Email: LizDCasting@Gmail.com

Pippi August 14, 2012 at 4:13 am

How did they manage to have only 2 kids. The Pill? Not very natural/frugal!

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