Kitesurfing by day, teepees by night: This Matakana couple’s outdoor businesses are just as spontaneous as they are
Owning a collection of outdoorsy businesses means this Matakana couple are adept at adapting to the wind. But they are also proving pretty flexible when life’s personal challenges blow in.
Words: Cari Johnson Photos: Tessa Chrisp
Nina has neither a plan nor bus ticket as her ferry approaches Picton. The 20-year-old German carefully leans over the ferry railing to snap a few photos, the wind blowing through her blonde hair as she captures the surrounding mountains, which arch and fall like giant humpback whales.
“You a little seasick there?” asks a young man, a question that wasn’t intended as a pick-up line, but upon reflection, that’s what it was.
Nina walked off the ferry with a plan: to hitch a ride with the man, named Tony, to Kaikōura. No need of a bus ticket. Tony now chuckles at his chivalrous offer. “I asked her to join me because I thought she was crazy to hitchhike alone,” he says.
It may seem that Tony Carr and Nina Carr-Fehm, 14 years later (and now in the north, rather than the south), are far from the days of last-minute decisions and aimless wanderings.
Five-month-old Lia slumbers against Nina’s peach-coloured jumper while Teo (6) frolics outside before school. Tony checks the weather (again) in advance of a kitesurfing lesson, one of many offered at the couple’s watersports school and rental company, Blue Adventures.
Their two-bedroom home is minutes away from Matakana and just over 30 minutes from Tony’s hometown, Tomarata, further north. It’s a stark contrast to the dramatic South Island peaks of their past.
In all senses, they are settled, with two kids and matching wedding bands to prove it. Yet nothing has really changed since Nina’s spontaneous decision to join Tony in 2005.
“Everything we do is about seeing how it works and then adjusting,” says Nina. “I usually come up with the ideas and Tony tells me how they are going to work.”
A morning without wind? No problem, Tony will reschedule kitesurfing lessons to another day. Could paying visitors sleep in teepees in the backyard? She’ll be right.
Tony and Nina’s approach to life is how Blue Adventures – and later, teepee glamping – naturally slipped into their status quo. They spent their early days as a couple working seasonally at The Remarkables ski field in Queenstown, later sailing the east coast of Australia chasing the wind and working odd jobs. Nina, who had come from Stuttgart for a working holiday, had no intention of remaining in New Zealand beyond her backpacking days and isn’t quite sure how it happened.
“There wasn’t a point where I thought I’m moving here forever. It developed into it.”
However, when Tony took a job in Matakana running the Sandspit water taxi, the couple began to settle down. He racked up enough hours for a commercial boating licence, bought a jet boat, and down the entrepreneurial rabbit hole they went.
“The jet boat wasn’t going to suffice [as a business] and, as the wind was already here, I got my kitesurfing-instructor certificate to add to the business.”
Tony now dubs 2010 “the year of buying things” – first kites, then paddleboards – and, by 2011, Blue Adventures was a full-blown watersports school. “The business just evolved,” says Nina. It employs five instructors over summer, teaching everything from kitesurfing to paddleboarding in Matakana, Omaha and Auckland, and offering eight students a week-long kitesurfing camp in Tonga in the off-season.
“We started part-time, balancing the business between other jobs, and then decided we had enough to keep going,” says Tony.
A few years later, while the couple was visiting Nina’s German hometown, they noticed online that a pine-studded piece of Matakana land had popped up for sale.
“We didn’t think so much about what we could build but, rather, fell in love with the feel of it,” says Nina. “We both wanted a rural property for our kids, just like we’d both had when we were little.” Tony likens their decision to buy the land as “adding to their collection” of impromptu, life-changing decisions.
Their 85-square-metre home, on a ridge in a small private valley, is enveloped by trees with just enough clearing to take in the Milky Way from the porch. Tony is responsible for constructing everything on the property apart from the exterior of the house, including interior fixtures and gravel path that connects their home to the bottom of
“We had to build the gravel path a couple of times because the first path washed away,” says Nina. “It took us a few years to figure out the land because it’s steep and tricky.”
Nina was the one to come up with the idea for the empty valley below their house; glamorous camping (or glamping) inspired by their brief holiday at a Raglan teepee resort. Glamping was a natural fit for their outdoor-savvy Blue Adventures clientele, though setting up the site on their property proved less easy.
The Carrs bought the teepee canvases in Germany, stuffing the thick fabric in their suitcases for the trip back to Matakana. Then, trial and error; they assembled a single teepee for the summer, frequently testing it for mould, insects, and overall comfort for future guests.
Today, teepees form a small off-grid village visible from their porch, but far enough away to offer guests privacy and an unobstructed view of the stars. Tony completed the set-up with a wooden walkway to connect the teepees and a covered barbecue area for both guests and the Carrs.
Tony has embraced DIY, wherever possible. His handyman skills started with tractors and “mucking around” with tools while helping his parents on their dairy farm. “I think that’s where I got my first range of broad skills.” He strolled off the traditional career path shortly after leaving home at 18, spending his first (and only) year at Unitec doing more surfing than studying.
“I decided I was more practically inclined, rather than theoretically,” he says.
He completed an automotive engineering apprenticeship in Auckland before buying an 11-metre single-mast yacht with a mate from primary school.
Meeting Nina on the ferry was a turning point for Tony, then 28. He had spent five years saving to fix up the boat, named Destiny, and later sailing throughout the South Pacific. The young couple took off on the boat for several more adventures.
Fast-forward a decade and the Carrs still steer life around capricious conditions. Last year, they took another step for Blue Adventures, in a very Tony-and-Nina fashion. A small shop became available at the edge of Omaha Lagoon, just minutes from their home. And despite Nina still being in hospital after giving birth, the couple hastily agreed to expand the business from online to brick-and-mortar.
“It was a spontaneous idea,” says Nina. “We didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves for finishing on time. We just signed the lease and took it slowly.”
They opened the 40-square-metre Blue Adventures surf shop in late 2019. Locals and visitors can grab a rental, enrol in a lesson, or shop from a collection of surf, SUP or kiteboarding gear made, when possible, of sustainable materials.
The couple hasn’t exactly slowed down since. Running the watersports school and glamping business requires them to often start at dawn, working across the entire week. Tony prefers it this way.
“He never relaxes,” says Nina. “He can’t sit still for five minutes.”
Even so, Tony’s decision-making processes can be pretty laid-back. “He can say: ‘Oh, we’ll see how it goes.’ But I like to have a little bit more of a plan. Even at our wedding in Bali, he went out surfing and turned up, like, five minutes before the ceremony. His hair was still wet, and he just put his clothes on.
“Sure, it sometimes drives me crazy. But he’s taught me to take it as it is, because he gets everything done, just in his own way. We have different styles of working, but everything still works out fine.”
It’s not uncommon to see Nina carrying baby Lia around as she makes breakfast for glamping guests before trundling to the teepees to changes linens and handle online bookings.
Tony, forever anchored to the wind and tides, teaches and leads the kitesurfing camps. Despite running multiple businesses from their home, Tony nearly chokes over the word “entrepreneur”.
“We’ve always accepted that this is more of a lifestyle,” he says.
TEEPEES OF THE VALLEY
Blue Adventure students are happy to give up solid walls and wi-fi for a chance to stay in teepees under the stars.
Nina and Tony originally built the off-grid teepee village (called Tepee, using an alternative spelling) in the valley of their property to accommodate Blue Adventure kitesurfing camps.
Now in its second year on Airbnb, Tepee is used for watersports camps and as an affordable alternative for those visiting the Matakana coast.
TONY & NINA’s MUST-DOS NEAR MATAKANA
The rural village, an hour’s drive from Auckland, has come a long way since Tony was a kid. “Matakana only had a hardware store and petrol station when I was growing up. Now it has movie theatres, markets and cafés.”
There’s still a sleepiness to Matakana that settles in on weekdays but, on Saturdays, the village springs to life with Auckland visitors and locals flooding in for the Matakana Village Farmers’ Market. Meandering past stalls of artisanal nibbles and fresh produce is what Tony and Nina call “going to town” these days; they spend most of their time along the white-sand beaches nearby.
Tāwharanui Regional Park is a favourite for teaching Teo to surf, with waves suited to beginners (and swimmers), and a pōhutukawa-lined coastline.
Water-lovers can head north of Matakana for diving, snorkeling and kayaking in Goat Island Marine Reserve, a crystal-clear ecosystem set aside for recreation and research in 1977.
THIS SUMMER, WE’LL BE…
Cooking: “Tony loves a good steak on the barbecue,” says Nina. “When we buy meat, we get organic if it’s available. The Village Butchery in Matakana now sells organic meats. Fresh bread from Ringawera Bakery is another must for our barbecues. I’m not a big meat-eater so grilled veggies (such as courgettes), and cheese are at the top of my list. Dessert is usually watermelon from Omaha or strawberries from Charlie’s Gelato Garden. Teo loves watermelon.”
Drinking: “Cider or a good cocktail. Aperol Spritz is a great summer drink that reminds me of European summers. Tony will be drinking beer made by the Sawmill Brewery in Matakana.”
Playing: “Tony tries to take Teo surfing as much as possible. Teo loves getting tumbled by the waves and is stoked when he gets a long ride back to the shore. He gets cold quickly, so he doesn’t stay out for long. Surfing is the one thing we don’t teach at the school because Tony wants to keep it as his hobby.”
Reading: “The Surfing Animals Alphabet by Jonas Claesson. The rhymes and illustrations are awesome and the kids love it.”
Love this story? Subscribe now!
Subscribe to NZ Life & Leisure at shop.thisnzlife.co.nz