Inside an intentional community: The people who call Kāwai Purapura home

The site of the notorious Centrepoint community is now home to 100 people. Some are travellers, many are healers, but others just needed a place to stay.

Kāwai Purapura is home to artists, professionals and alternative medicine practitioners. Some work off-site, while others offer clinics and classes – many which are free – for the wider Auckland community from the dozens of buildings dotted throughout the 19 acre site.

Most share bathroom facilities, kitchens and living spaces. They cook for each other, watch movies together, hold impromptu open mic nights and all-night 90s dance parties.

In part two of our series on what became of the old Centrepoint commune, we meet some of the residents who live there now. Read part one here.

TVNZ

Local documentary Heaven And Hell - The Centrepoint Story takes an in-depth look at a controversial commune that began in the late 1970s.

READ MORE:
* New beginnings: What became of the old Centrepoint site
* Centrepoint doco a hellish reminder of the dangers of following leaders
* The vault of Centrepoint stories is only just being cracked open
* Centrepoint: 'All those rooms full of people screaming, that was our lives'

An aerial photo of Kāwai Purapura shows the dozens of buildings built by the Centrepoint community, and North Harbour Stadium in the top left corner.

Kawai Purapura/Supplied

An aerial photo of Kāwai Purapura shows the dozens of buildings built by the Centrepoint community, and North Harbour Stadium in the top left corner.

Jane* came in search of safety after living in fear for three years after a traumatic event. Moving to Kāwai Purapura was “like winning Lotto”.

One of the beauties of KP – as residents call it for short – is that your privacy is respected, but there is always an opportunity to be among others if you're craving human connection.

Jane didn't at first, but her social anxiety has slowly lifted, she's connected with the community and feels safe, loved and protected.

“It's the nature more than anything else,” she says. “I feel like this land is special.”

She took up yoga, goes to the mirimiri massage, attends dance classes and the crystal sound baths – all which take place on site.

It's a nurturing environment, where people look out for each other, Jane says. One table in the residents' lounge Rangi is for free food, and another for random items.

“If you feel down there's always someone to give you a hug,” she says.

“If you want space, you're allowed to say you need space. People respect your boundaries.”

Her children visit and laugh.

“They love it – they say, 'ah yeah mum, we always knew you were a hippy.”

Did she?

“Yes. I knew but I didn't know any other people like me.”

She has no plans to leave but doesn't care if she's not there forever.

“I hope this place will be here for a very long time because of the gift it gives … but I'll take the gifts it has given to me, to my soul and spirit, wherever I go.”

It's the spirit of giving that emka* loves most about KP.

“For me the purpose is the community of giving.”

Emka* is Polish, grew up in Germany and has spent the last 10 years travelling, living in intentional communities and chasing festivals with a focus on contact improvisation dance. They teach it at KP on Tuesday evenings, but might take a hiatus soon when baby arrives.

Emma Taylor – from the UK – arrived a couple months after emka*, at the end of 2019. They were both volunteers and both found out about KP by chance.

After meeting at KP they soon became a couple and married at The Glade in April this year.

“One of the residents was the celebrant. It was a bit hippy, and we just had a potluck and told our friends to bring food and sang songs and played music in the evening,” Taylor says.

Emma Taylor and emka* met at Kāwai Purapura, fell in love, got married and are having a baby together. They moved into their stand-alone home earlier this year.

Emma Taylor and emka* met at Kāwai Purapura, fell in love, got married and are having a baby together. They moved into their stand-alone home earlier this year.

They're now residents instead of volunteers and rent one of the stand-alone, fully self-contained homes, where Taylor plans to give birth. Baby is due next month and will be the only child living at the community.

When they chose KP, they had no idea about its past but were soon told by others living there.

“It wasn't nice but I didn't properly look into it either because I don't want to know every deep, dark secret,” Taylor says.

“Maybe some people would be compelled to leave, but it was like, well look at all these wonderful people and we do so many wonderful things.

“We play, we dance, and we do yoga and we cook together – it was slightly upsetting to know that it used to be that but I didn't dwell on it for any time.”

Pete Wyatt says what he loves most about Kāwai Purapura is he can live amongst the birds, streams and bush, but is still in the middle of Auckland.

Michelle Cooke/RNZ

Pete Wyatt says what he loves most about Kāwai Purapura is he can live amongst the birds, streams and bush, but is still in the middle of Auckland.

Pete Wyatt grew up not far from where KP is in Albany, on Auckland's North Shore, and was aware of the Centrepoint community – “that there were some crazy hippies up there”.

His first time at KP was about 10 years ago when he visited friends who lived there.

“I was in a boarding house in Avondale, which wasn't particularly satisfactory because I wasn't enjoying being locked in a concrete plastic thing … I got dragged into living here because it seemed to fit.”

He loves that he can retreat to his little hut – once the chicken shed – hidden by the branches of a great big tree yet can walk down the hill and instantly be part of a community.

The location and what it offers is the prize.

“I have got all of the nature I could want, but I'm right in the heart of Auckland. And anytime I want to, my dad still lives in Forest Hill, so I can get in my car and five minutes later I'm at his place, so I can help him, and then I can come back here, pop up there and I'm back in the middle of nowhere.”

Pete is the resident handyman, contracting to KP for odd jobs, but he also works outside of the community making, fixing and installing parking machines and selling crystals at festivals.

He says some of the older residents take the younger ones under their wings and one woman in particular acts as a “mother figure”. Her name is Debra Jamieson.

Debra Jamieson ended up at Kāwai Purapura during lockdown last year and is still there.

Michelle Cooke/RNZ

Debra Jamieson ended up at Kāwai Purapura during lockdown last year and is still there.

Jamieson came during lockdown and didn't expect to stay long, but 17 months later she's still at KP and has no plans on leaving anytime soon.

“I try to leave but they go 'no, don't leave, you're important here'. And we all like to contribute, helping other people, and you can really notice doing that here, so there's no point in leaving at the moment.”

The reiki and seichem master was travelling around the country in a van, visiting from Australia, when the country went into level 4 lockdown in March last year. She was in Auckland and her friend – who had recently rented a house at KP – was stuck in Christchurch, so he offered it to her to hunker down in.

"I just felt my role in lockdown was to help people feel better because a lot of people were in fear and upset when that happened and people kept saying 'Deb, why are you so happy?'. Well you know, I'm in this great place, surrounded by bush in a city, and I can walk across the road and get everything I need, so what's to be sad about."

She now helps with the mirimiri clinic on Wednesday nights, has put her hand up to volunteer at Love Soup dinners on Thursdays and has taken on the role of resident camp mother.

It took a little getting used to having to share bathroom and kitchen facilities, Jamieson says, “but after travelling in the van it didn't seem so bad”.

Issues arise between community members, just like they would in any co-living arrangement, she says – always talking in between giggles.

“You know, you get the odd friction because it's a community, ha ha ha, as you do, when you stick a whole heap of people close together. But mostly it's just really great.”

Ajay Angrahari, 37, sits at the puzzle table in Rangi, the residents' lounge.

Michelle Cooke/RNZ

Ajay Angrahari, 37, sits at the puzzle table in Rangi, the residents' lounge.

Ajay Angrahari has also embraced the community lifestyle. The 37-year-old IT worker was fed up with his flatmates about five years ago, Googled accommodation in Auckland and stumbled across Kāwai Purapura.

He's one of the residents that leaves each day to do his day job outside of the community and returns in the evening to retreat from the world beyond the bush.

“The beauty of this place is it doesn't matter which race, gender, whether you're gay, lesbian or straight or anything – people accept you for you. We don't have this lens of judgement.”

KP has introduced him to people from all over the world and brought him back to his roots of yoga and spirituality. Visit on a Friday morning and you'll find him teaching a free community yoga class before he heads to the office.

Could it be improved? Angrahari says it could do more to be an example of sustainable living.

But he also says it's already an example of a successful intentional community living in harmony with nature – and that's a model that could and should be developed all over the world.

“In New Zealand in general there is a housing crisis, but this property can house maybe two or three hundred people without destroying the nature – you can co-exist with nature, but you cannot build two or three hundred houses here.”

*Jane is not her real name, while emka* is their chosen name



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