Features

The HapPea Event

Rocky and Claire are bringing Aotearoa’s lush native flora to the fore in their brand-new events styling company, HapPea Events.

Rocky and Claire are bringing Aotearoa’s lush native flora to the fore in their brand-new events styling company, HapPea Events.

A growing awareness of our wasteful, throwaway culture means that more and more people are coming up with smart solutions to change the way we do things. So what about a sustainable and beautiful way to deck out events, eschewing imported flowers and unsustainable materials that are used once then dumped in landfill Introducing HapPea (pronounced: happy) Events, which specialises in native plants styling and hire.

The business is newly launched by life and business partners, French/British Claire Gillespie and Kiwi Rocky Turfrey, who love the idea of bringing a piece of New Zealand to events. “We have so much beauty all around us, we thought it would be great to showcase that a bit more,” says Rocky. “And we want to bring awareness to how unique the flora is here too,” Claire adds.

The Slow Road to Aotearoa

The pair met in London, 2013; Rocky was a hairstylist and Claire was working in tourism and events. Not long after, they chucked in their big-city life and steady jobs to travel and live around the world — their moves, in part, dictated by each of their Visa restrictions.

First stop was Australia, where the couple did Workaway — a scheme where they worked for a few hours each day in exchange for accommodation and food.  They lived in various places, including a housebus in the bush. This shift in lifestyle was a revelation, especially to Claire, who hadn’t travelled to this side of the world. “It opened my eyes to a different way of living after London — we were put in situations out of our comfort zone.” Rocky agrees, “It gave us a taste of a slower life and more connection with nature.”

Eighteen months in Amsterdam followed, during which time Rocky completed an Advanced Diploma in Special Events Planning and Design, followed by some hands-on experience styling and events coordinating. By this stage, the pair had their sights set on a business together. “We knew we wanted to do something sustainable around events, and also include our love of plants and nature,” says Rocky, who credits her father for instilling her with an early love of natives. “We’d been living out of a suitcase for so long, we were ready to settle down and do something with a bit of purpose, which had been missing.”

The Simple Life

Rocky and Claire arrived in Aotearoa in 2017 and set off in a campervan to choose their new home — it didn’t take long to realise the Bay of Plenty was the place for them. They learnt the lay of the land through joining Kiwi House Sitters. They lived in more than 20 properties that year, around the Mount, Tauranga and finally Whakatāne, where the quieter, more relaxed vibe appealed to them. That’s when the pair found their property in Manawahe (between Matata and Rotoma).

They brought in a small house, planted a vege garden and live completely off the grid with the aid of four solar panels that power everything from wifi to a washing machine. “I was just thinking this morning that we live like anyone else!” says Claire. “We do have to be more mindful of water — you can’t just leave taps running,” she adds. “And when you use your appliances when the sun is shining, you aren’t using your back-up power,” Rocky explains.

Rocky at work styling a venue with a hanging fern basket

HapPea’s verdant living wall can be transported to events

Thinking Positive

Making a positive impact is a focus for Claire and Rocky and it drives their decisions around HapPea Events.

Their native plants are roughly grouped into three types: nikau palms, tree ferns and ground ferns, including the ponga (silver fern). The ponga pots are carved from the whekī-ponga tree.

In fact, all the plant pots are made of natural, recycled or repurposed materials, and all their plants are replanted, rather than dumped, after they have outgrown their purpose.

HapPea’s pièce de résistance is a 3 x 2-metre living wall. It beautifully showcases the diverse range of ferns, along with ground cover and grasses, all sitting in Ecofelt Grow Pockets, made from recycled plastic bottles. The pair had the vision for the wall, and a welder brought it to life. The frame comes apart into manageable pieces, so it can be ferried to events in the (very pretty) HapPea van. Among other things, it’s a glorious backdrop for photos at any kind of event, from weddings to corporate functions.

The couple’s ingenuity and DIY nous is also apparent in their plant home, which they built with their neighbour, a retired builder. “It has a double-layer shade cloth so even on a really hot summer’s day, you step in there and it’s so cool — it feels like you’re in the middle of the bush,” says Rocky. “I’ve mulched the ground so it stays really moist too.” Everything has to be watered by hand with rainwater, due to being off the grid.  

The pair say there’s still loads more to learn about natives and they educate themselves in different ways, from books to working with great suppliers. “We’re lucky because we feel like the people we are surrounded by in Manawahe are interested in this kind of thing,” says Rocky. “And we also belong to the Manawahe Eco Trust — they’re all so knowledgeable,” adds Claire.

Beyond the sustainable materials and practices used at HapPea, the pair are also aiming to make a wider positive impact. Every event they work on, they donate to Trees That Count, which matches donors with tree planters. This means their clients get a ‘tree gift certificate’ and are eventually advised where their tree is planted. Claire and Rocky also want to promote the link between nature and happiness, so they intend to contribute a percentage of profits to the Mental Health Foundation, in the hope of helping the community.  

“We want to contribute to the wellbeing of the land and the people,” says Claire.

happeaevents.co.nz

Story by Sarah Nicholson
Photography by Rose McMahon