All the maladies of the aged disappear when Elva and Noel Turner roll the combination lock and walk through the fence into the gully behind the Tamahere Eventide Home and Retirement Village.
They call it four acres of paradise.
The married couple of 60 years lose sight of the neighbouring secure care facility when they descend the gravel track twice a day. They zigzag gently down into Tamahere’s Mangaone Valley through stands of young kauri, flax and rewarewa. Fantails and tui flit about, reports the Waikato Times.
At one of two ponds the Turners feed the ducks that were brought in to keep the weeds at bay. Four years ago, though, it was a wilderness of gorse, blackberry and convolvulus.
It was then that former dairy farmers, Noel, 85, and Elva Turner, 83, moved in at villa No 9. Since then they’ve spent nearly every day clearing weeds and willows, and spraying to turn wilderness into paradise.
They were never great conservationists and the regeneration work had humble beginnings.
First, it was spreading a little gravel on the network of overgrown trails but soon Mrs Turner was hanging from a rope planting native flora on steep, unstable dirt banks.
“I had to be the abseiler with a rope around the middle and Noel was up the other end,” she said.
“Some of the banks were just clay so the idea was, to stop them slipping we’d plant them. So we did with grasses and flax but of course it’s hard on that angle so I needed to be tied up.” Mr Turner would feed the safety rope around a fence post or tree trunk and feed it out slowly and pull his partner up again.
They work in the area every day they are able. Some days they spend up to four hours on all sorts of projects.
They have also roped a variety of characters in to help, as well as their family.
“It’s become a dream for us.
“What we wanted to do is encourage people to be active, to go down for walks,” Mrs Turner said.
“I had my 83rd birthday party down there last week – we had a cloth on the picnic table with flowers all set out – it was beautiful.
“Another lady, she’s dying of cancer and they gave her a Mad Hatter’s tea party down there.
“She’s been brighter ever since.
“We think every month she’s going to die but she perks up.”
The Turners’ home is one of 60 retirement cottages that share Eventide’s grounds with a secure dementia care facility, as well as home help and personal assistance accommodation.
To them, their gully is a little bit of paradise. “You sort of get right away from the sadness of older people,” Mrs Turner said. “Some have got Alzheimers and it can be quite sad.”
Earlier story: Gully restored by young at heart