For many New Zealanders the Far North is a holiday paradise of white sand beaches, mild winters and abundant seafood. But for a lucky few, the Far North is simply home.
Ethan Gibbons is one such lucky person. He holds the honour of being the northernmost mechanical engineering apprentice under an apprenticeship managed by Apprentice Training New Zealand (ATNZ). Ethan lives and works in Houhora, a small coastal community just 66km from Cape Reinga.
With a population of about 800, Houhora is a small place steeped in history. According to Maori legend, Houhora mountain was the first land sighted by early explorer Kupe. And it was another famous explorer – James Cook – who left his mark in 1769 by naming Mt Carmel at the entrance to Houhora harbour. In later years, the famous chief Hone Heke was defeated at nearby Pukenui.
The area was settled by Maori in the 1300s and later, in the 1800s, became a base for European whalers. At that time the Wagener family started farming the area. Fast forward 150years and it is one of the Wagener clan that now employs Ethan at Wagener Engineering.
Wagener Engineering is a small company punching well above its weight. Much of Wagener Engineering’s work comes from orcharding and forestry customers, and so the company is tied into the seasonal demands of these sectors.
“There’s always something for us to do but summertime is really busy,” says Ethan.
“At this time of year a lot of farmers want to get making hay and silage but their machinery’s been sitting in the shed for six or seven months. You’re panicking trying to get it done by Christmas. But we’re delighted!”
Like with so many things, hard work becomes more manageable if you can share a laugh. Ethan credits his boss, Russell Wagener, with creating a good work environment.
“Russell knows a lot and he’s good to talk to and a lot of fun to work with. It means we all get along real well.”
It helps too that the work is interesting. Being part of a small team means that Ethan has been exposed to a range of activities. There’s a lot of machining, fitting and welding, and working on big machines like diggers and forestry harvester heads. But Ethan still believes the best thing about the job is “fixing things that other people can’t”.
Ethan will soon become a qualified tradesman and while many would consider a move to the city to explore career options, Ethan is committed to Houhora. He’s got a good reason too.
“The lifestyle up here is great and the work we do is great. Besides the boss wants to retire and keeps dropping the hint.”
Ethan says he’d be interested in running the business after his boss retires. He also knows that such business opportunities are rare for young people especially in a place as beautiful as the Far North.