Why a creative Central Otago couple swapped their first home for a yurt

Australian cinematographer Emily Menzies and her husband Heath Nayler have lived in this yurt in Central Otago for over a year, with their two dogs Alphie and Shade. The ink had barely dried on the couple’s first outdoor home purchase when Menzies found the 5-acre plot of his dreams. The only problem? They had no more money to build. As for Mikaela Wilkes.

EMILY MENZIES: Heath and I met in Canada. We decided to do a ski season in New Zealand, and he originally wanted to go to Queenstown, which was the only place in New Zealand I had ever been to. We chose Wānaka instead, intending to stay for the winter. Eight years later we got married, we had two dogs, bought 5 acres of land and now we have a yurt.

We met our best friends on our first day in Wānaka, a British couple.

It is magnificent here. We love the city and have met amazing people. We are both blessed with jobs that we love and there is so much to do. I love hiking and kayaking. I work for myself so if it’s a good day I go to the lake for an hour to kayak.

We bought our first home in Luggate, outside of Wānaka in 2017. When we started looking, the prices skyrocketed and they didn’t stop. We started looking for places 20 to 30,000 over budget, and within a month they were over 100,000 above. We were able to buy a house, but we always wanted land.

I’m a bit of a real estate addict. I was on the radar of a few local agents, so I received this section before it went to the public market. We got the 5 acres for a phenomenal price – $ 300,000 two years ago. The sections were sold by a wealthy local trader who wanted to get rid of them.

We couldn’t afford to build right away, so we looked at options for a smaller temporary life setup.

I wanted to build a domestic bus, but Heath was totally against it, little houses and caravans. He loves the space around him. I showed him the yurt, and after six months of conviction, we bought it.

Menzies brought the globe and his grandparents' bar cart furniture from Perth, Australia.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

Menzies brought the globe and his grandparents’ bar cart furniture from Perth, Australia.

We bought ours in Colorado because the larger models sold locally are no larger than 36m². A yurt is a glorified tent, that’s how it is explained to people. But it works like a one bedroom apartment.

We both love open and airy spaces. We have two picture windows four meters wide. The front and rear doors open, as does the transparent dome at the top.

People always ask if we are fed up with each other. Not really. We respect everyone’s space and have spent a lot of time living nearby. We lived in hostel rooms together for six months at a time and worked for six months in the Hollyford Valley as lodge hosts when we first moved here.

The next section is owned by an Aucklander, and he has given us permission to walk his 100 acres. We cycle and walk the dogs. We have the space to do it.

We have divided the yurt into a bedroom, living room and dining room. The bathroom shed is outside and we have a storage container and garden shed for all of our camping gear, tools and linens.

We have a plumb shower, a kettle and a TV and a barbecue.

It was pretty cool last August, I’m not going to lie. But we have a wood stove, and now it’s nice and warm.

I really feel relaxed here. You are sitting under the rafters. We can see the stars through the dome. It took some getting used to in the summer. If everything is closed, it absolutely cooks. If we leave out the butter, it will be a swimming pool. We remove all plastic coverings and leave the back door open for months.

The annoying thing is not being able to open these windows from the inside, especially when it is raining.

We start our construction this month. I’ve always wanted a tiny house, and Heath is your typical Kiwi who wants a quarter acre with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Since we’ve been in the yurt he’s done a 180. What we’ve designed is a two-bedroom 86m², with space to sleep in if we change our mind.

Menzies stands in his

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

Menzies stands in his “temporary” vegetable garden, which has grown rapidly.

The couple are big from farm to table and keep leftovers from their summer garden to fill meals through the winter.

Fiona Tomlinson / Stuff

The couple are big from farm to table and keep leftovers from their summer garden to fill meals through the winter.

The temporary garden was supposed to consist of three vegetable beds, but it now has eight. We will eventually sort out a henhouse and I will learn to hunt.

Everything tastes better when you’ve grown it yourself. I have no interest in contributing to factory farming and much prefer to eat meat that I know exactly where it comes from.

The globe bar cart belonged to Menzies' grandparents.  It is not an antique, but the sentimental value for it is immense.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

The globe bar cart belonged to Menzies’ grandparents. It is not an antique, but the sentimental value for it is immense.

The globe bar cart is really a talking point, it was my grandmother’s. She passed away a few years ago. My little sister, who doesn’t drink, tried to claim it, but I started asking around when I was 5 years old.

Menzies grandfather's ticket stubs collection.

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Menzies grandfather’s ticket stubs collection.

Menzies has kept all the tickets she has had from childhood.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

Menzies has kept all the tickets she has had from childhood.

I also have boxes from my grandfather.

I’ve been collecting ticket stubs since I was a kid, starting with admission to Titanic in 97 from the Hoyts cinema. I keep memories of where I’ve traveled, the shows I’ve been to, the trains and flights I’ve taken – all of that. My dad found a box full of all those old banknotes and we realized my grandpa had a similar collection.

The Alchemist is one of Menzies favorite books.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

The Alchemist is one of Menzies favorite books.

Menzies is one of the founders of a local book club and her collection has grown considerably since living in New Zealand.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

Menzies is one of the founders of a local book club and her collection has grown considerably since living in New Zealand.

I have always been an avid reader. I am one of the founding members of the local book club. We meet once a month and talk about everything we read, it’s unconventional.

All of my stuff was still in Australia when we bought our house in Luggate. It had been in storage for five years. I was ruthless. I ended up bringing back more than 3 cubic meters of things, including the globe and the chair which also belonged to my grandparents. I have put all my books in a few boxes, but I cannot leave a bookstore without one.

The dogs Alphie and Shade are six-year-old husky crosses.

Fiona Tomlinson / Supplied

The dogs Alphie and Shade are six-year-old husky crosses. “It was a bit of an accident on a farm between the working dog and the pet,” Menzies said.


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