A communal lifestyle


During the 1970s, many alternative lifestylers established communes to escape materialism and the pressures of society. They were attracted to rural Tasman and Golden Bay by the beautiful environment, mild climate and cheap land prices.1

In 1973, Norman Kirk, New Zealand's prime minister, announced the Labour Government would lease government land to young people to establish communities similar to Israel's kibbutzim. The scheme was called Ohu - meaning to work together voluntarily.2 However, much of the land was remote and scrub-covered and the communes struggled to survive.3

Hubert Holdaway grafting trees (1959). Courtesy of Riverside Community.
Click image to enlarge

Nelson/Tasman's first commune, the Riverside Community  was in fact founded much earlier, in 1941, by a group of Methodist conscientious objectors4 who believed that living in a community would solve many problems of social injustice and, therefore, many of the causes of war would disappear.5 They wanted to live a practical, communal life based on religious worship.6

The Peace caravan. AC Barrington with Merle Hyland. Courtesy of Riverside Community. Click image to enlarge

Two of the founders, Hubert and Marion Holdaway contributed 12 hectares of farmland and orchard in the Lower Moutere and several people began to live together at  Riverside. One of the early members was A.C. Barrington, a relatively high profile figure amongst the many men at Riverside who refused to fight in World War II and were imprisoned in the North Island.7 Riverside children were harassed at school and the community was generally derided as ‘bloody pacifists'.8

Between 1946 and 1962, the community built many facilities9 and bought and developed run-down properties. By the mid-1950s, Riverside was growing 19.5 hectares of apples and pears and running dairy cows (44), pigs (62) and sheep (800).10 However membership numbers grew slowly and by the end of the 1960s, the members were mainly middle aged or elderly.11

The 1960s and 70s saw an explosion of counter-culture activity and during the 1970s, 77 people joined Riverside, bringing much needed youth and new blood.  Many of the new members knew little of Riverside's Christian Pacifist roots and, with the more fluid social conventions of the times, there was some intergenerational conflict as the church also became less of a focus for the community.12 

Members of the Riverside Community Garden. Courtesy of Riverside Community. Click image to enlarge

Today up to 30 community members continue to work in allocated activities, with each receiving an allowance according to individual needs.13 The Riverside Community now owns 208 hectares of land which includes a dairy farm, gardens, orchard and a café.14

By the early 1970s, there were about 12 communes in the Nelson-Takaka area.15 The Rainbow Community was established  in 1974 in the Anatoki valley, the Renaissance Community in 1977, which resulted in the establishment of the Graham Downs Community, in the Graham Valley, Motueka River Valley and the Tui community in Wainui Inlet in 1984.16

Milking cows at Rainbow Community. Courtesy of the Community. Click to enlarge

Rainbow Community
In 1973, two couples embarked on a back-to-the-land venture and bought 103 hectares of land at Glovers Flat  beside the Anatoki River  for $25,000. They became equal shareholders in the Rainbow Valley Company Ltd and the Rainbow Valley community was born. The founding couples all left but a second wave of people continued their dream.17

In the early days, it was a hard, pioneering kind of life with primitive conditions.  Water was carried from the river and commune members slept on mattresses in a cold, unsealed barn.18

Ploughing at Rainbow Community. Courtesy of the Community. Click to enlarge

In 2011, the community had 19 residents, with five having lived there since the 1970s. The community's farm provided milk, mutton and beef and most members worked at various occupations in Golden Bay.19 Members own equal shares in the company, which owns the land and members own their own houses.20

A smaller community, Happisam, was established adjacent to Rainbow Valley in 1976.21 "We were looking for a rural lifestyle out of the rat race.....but the pressures of family and the unavailability of work made it unsustainable for some members to support themselves,"  said co-founder, Colin Gylstra.22

Rainbow Community. Courtesy of the Community.

Tui Community
The Tui community was established on 50 hectares at Wainui Bay in 1984. The aim was to create an intentional community.23   "There are no gurus, no religious goals, our spiritual base is looking out for nature and looking out for the spirit in each of us," Katie Thurston told the Nelson Evening Mail in 2005.24

Today between 30 and 40 adults and children live at the Tui community.  Members are expected to contribute to community running and development costs and work together in the large organic garden and orchard. The Tui Balms business was initially part of the community, but it moved to new premises in 2001. Some members work outside the community. 25

2012 (updated 2023)

Note: The pictures from Rainbow Community were contributed by the Community. We would welcome information about dates and names.

For more information about the Rainbow and Communities, see Rainbow and Tui Communities, brief histories to 2011 by Robert Jenkin [PDF]

Sources used in this story

  1. Walrond, C. (2010) Nelson region - Population and Society Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  2. Jones, T. (1975). A hard-won freedom : alternative communities in New Zealand. Auckland, N.Z. : Hodder & Stoughton, p.24
  3. Wilton, C.  (2011) Communes and communities Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
  4. Riverside community website. Retrieved 7 May 2012
  5. Rain, L. (1991) Community : the story of Riverside 1941-1991. Lower Moutere, N.Z. : Riverside Community, pp.9-11
  6. Barrington, R. (1976) Riverside : a community in the country.  Wellington, N.Z.: Reed Education, p.4
  7. Riverside community website
  8. Shoebridge, T.  'Methodist Church - The 20th and 21st centuries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Mar-11
  9. Rain, pp.31-35
  10. Rain, pp.24-28
  11. Rain, p.81
  12. Rain, pp.92-94
  13. Gillies, J. (2011, April 29). Down by the Riverside. The Nelson Mail, p. 013.
  14. Riverside community website
  15. Jones, p.72
  16. Walrond
  17. Rainbow Valley Community. Retrieved 7 May, 2012 http://www.rainbowcommunity.org.nz/index.htm
  18. Sparrow, B. (2005, January 29) Rainbow connection. The Nelson Mail, p.15
  19. Rainbow Valley Community website
  20. WWOF New Zealand [Happisam community entry]. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  21. Happisam offers life out of the rat race (2005, January 29). The Nelson Mail, p.16
  22. Tui spiritual and educational trust. Retrieved 7 May 2012 from https://www.tuitrust.org.nz/ 
  23. Tui ‘family' taking a bold new direction (2005, January 29). The Nelson Mail, p.15
  24. Tui spiritual and educational trust website

Want to find out more about the A communal lifestyle ? View Further Sources here.

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  • The history of Renaissance is covered in a thesis by Olive Jones, 2011 - Keeping it together: A comparative analysis of four long-established intentional communities in New Zealand. [There is now a link to it in the list of books on this page]

    Posted by Gerald, 30/08/2021 9:38am (3 years ago)

  • Very interesting..I'm looking for information about Renaissance up at graham downs,ngatimoti..I'd appreciate any info an is it still operating..appreciate yr feedback thsnks

    Posted by Adrienne Chisholm, 11/09/2016 10:36pm (8 years ago)

  • It was a blessing to read this story. Thank you.

    Posted by Michael Snow, ()

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Further sources - A communal lifestyle


  • Barrington, Rosemary (1976).  Riverside : a community in the country.  Wellington, N.Z. : Reed Education.
  • Grant, D. (2004). A question of faith: A history of the New Zealand Christian Pacifist Society. Wellington, N.Z: Philip Garside Publishing. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/70899198 
  • Hindmarsh, Gerard (2006). Swamp fever : a Golden Bay memoir. Nelson, N.Z., Craig Potton Publishing.
  • Jenkin, R. (2010) Shared ownership, decision-making by consensus, and sustainability at Rainbow Valley and Tui communities [ Research report P.G.Dip.Arts] Palmerston North: Massey University.
  • Jenkin, R. (2012). Endless connections: New Zealand secular intentional rural communities founded in the 1970s : a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in History at Massey University.
  • Jones, O. (2011) Keeping it together: A comparative analysis of four long-established intentional communities in New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from:
    [Includes a chapter on the history of the Renaissance Community]
  • Jones, Tim (1975). A hard-won freedom : alternative communities in New Zealand. Auckland, N.Z. : Hodder & Stoughton.
  • McAloon, Jim (1997). Nelson : a regional history. Whatamango Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound : Cape Catley.
  • Ohu : alternative life style communities. (1975) Wellington, N.Z. : Published for the Ohu Advisory Committee by the Dept of Lands and Survey.
  • Rain, Lynn (1991). Community : the story of Riverside 1941-1991. Lower Moutere, N.Z. : Riverside Community
  • Sargent, L.T. (1999) The Ohu movement in New Zealand : an experiment in government sponsorship of communal living in the 1970s. [Amana, IA : Communal Studies Association]
  • Sargisson, L. & Sargent, L.T. (2004) Living in utopia : New Zealand's intentional communities. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, Vt. : Ashgate Pub.
  • Webb, L.I. (1999) Living together? : change and continuity of a New Zealand intentional community. [Thesis MA--Anthropology]. Auckland : University of Auckland.


  • Antipodean kibbutz (1973) New Zealand Listener 74 (1773), pp.12-13
  • Clarke, A. (1996, November 13) Bee balm success has community buzzing. Nelson Mail, p.4
  • Gale, Hayley (2010, February, 25). Tui applies for extra buildings. The Nelson Mail, p.12
  • Gillies, Jude (2011, April 29). Down by the Riverside. The Nelson Mail, p.13
  • Happisam offers life out of the rat race (2005, January 29). The Nelson Mail, p.16
  • Manning, David (2001, October 20). Riverside Community. The Nelson Mail, p.11
  • Mountfort, M (1986, January) Riverside Community origins in pacifism. Dairy Export. 61(7) pp.8-10.
  • O'Loughlin, Jane (2001, January 11). Down by Riverside. The Nelson Mail, p.13
  • O'Shea, J. (1984, Dec 17) Have home but where to park it [Bus people Nelson] NZ Woman's Weekly. pp.24-9
  • Sparrow, Brandon (2005, January 29). Rainbow connection. The Nelson Mail, p.15
  • Swain, Pauline (1992, February 27). Riverside going strong. Dominion, p.11
  • Tui ‘family' taking a bold new direction (2005, January 29). The Nelson Mail, p.5
  • Williams, Dave (2001, October 22). Riverside faces up to changing times. The Nelson Mail, p.3
  • Cropp, Amanda (2004, February). All together now. Next, (235), pp.22-27
  • Frances, Helen (2010, October). On the Riverside. New Zealand Lifestyle Block, 24(10), pp.10-14
  • Frances, Helen (2010, September/October). Riverside Community. Organic NZ, 69(5), pp.43-45
  • Goodman, Robert (1952, March). A New Zealand utopia. Here and Now, 2(6), pp.28-30
  • Reider, Rebecca (2009, July/August). Tui Community : 25 years on. Organic NZ, 68(4), pp.18-21
  • Walton, Trevor (1973, February 1) Riverside Community in a period of change. New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, 126(2), pp.14-16.
  • Young, D. (1979, March 17) Ohu and then there were three. Listener, 91 (2045)  pp. 24-5
  • Young, V. (1976, May 8) Watching the land (Interview). Listener, 82 (1900)


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