Helen Mabey, Whangapoua-beach farm owner.

Helen Mabey is a widow of 14 years who flits comfortably between the city and island life, while all three of her adult sons have returned to either live or work on Great Barrier.

Helen's new partner, an Auckland-based doctor, affords her extra excuses for trips to 'town' while her vegetable garden and 607 hectare sheep and cattle station draw her happily home again.  For the first time, she even has a dishwasher, though of course she only operates it when the sun is shining (it's solar-powered).  This astoundingly youthful 60-year-old stays in shape with regular morning jogs along the deserted golden Whangapoua beach that bounds her property, at the north end of the island.

Helen came to the Barrier to work as a dental nurse 35 years ago, fell for local farm boy Murray Mabey and stayed.  Their sons were at boarding school when Murray died suddenly.  Though neighbours helped and she hired a farm manager, Helen had to learn to keep accounts herself and recognise when the diesel generator needed an oil change.  Or deal with delays when foul weather prevented a barge load of her sheep from reaching the mainland sale yard.  She has since leased an adjoining property, handed over management to middle son Allan, and, last year, downed her dental tools.

Aside from family, fun comes via the rural women's group, an art group and a myriad of gatherings like the "retail therapy" sessions where each woman brings a plate and a few still-stylish clothes to trade or sell.  In winter, she sometimes stays overnight in her beachside shearer's cottage, to watch the storms.

"It's the sea in-between that makes us different," she says.  "I find I'm very stimulated by what I do.  When I look at some of my friends in town, I'd get bored stiff."  Occasionally, she craves a hamburger or Chinese takeaways but frequent mainland visitors feel the same way about her fresh crayfish, fish and roast lamb.  And her regular overseas pleasure trips always make her appreciate the absence of crowds and queues at home.  Her nearest neighbour may be 10km away but the airfield is just a 10 minute drive.  "In 35 minutes, you're in Auckland.  If you lived in Gisborne, you'd be far more isolated than you are here."


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