As filming was wrapping up on season nine of The Block NZ, the television show’s site foreman spoke to Heather Barker Vermeer about his love of his work, his family and his Shore life…
Peter Wolfkamp’s love of heritage houses means he is perfectly at home in the North Shore suburb of Devonport and has been for almost 25 years. His wife Debbie’s family history stretches back over 130 years in the village. The couple live with their early teenaged son Joseph in a renovated villa.
Born in New Zealand to Dutch parents, Peter grew up in Papatoetoe. He attended De La Salle College before being taken on as an apprentice with a local builder in 1987. His first project was working on a subdivision of new-build homes in St John’s. He has been self-employed since the late 80s and has now trained to specialise in heritage house restoration.
He says, “It’s always been something of an interest of mine - the craftsmanship involved in heritage buildings. I have an interest in preserving and protecting that.”
His foray into television came about after he saw an advert about TV3 having secured the rights to produce The Block here in New Zealand. “I had already been a big fan of this show, so I wrote off and asked to be the host,” says Wolfkamp.
“They didn’t give me the host’s job but said I could help out on the show, using my building expertise. And ten years later, I’m still there.
“I really do genuinely enjoy working on the show. I’m often the translator between the TV production side and the construction side. From a practical background, I know what’s involved in the building and I know what it takes to make a TV show, so I often find myself being a meditator between the two sides.”
His favourite season was the fourth, where contestants renovated homes in the suburb in which his building career began. “We achieved a seven-star energy efficiency rating for those houses in St John’s,” he says. “Being part of that, with my interest in building science, was fantastic from both a personal and a professional level.”
As well as TV, Wolfkamp’s velvety voice has also lent itself well to radio for over seven years, as host of Newstalk ZB’s Sunday morning talk show, The Resident Builder. He’s been involved in broadcasting from a young age, getting his first airtime as a stand-in announcer on Newstalk ZB after training in radio broadcasting with the Christian Broadcasting Association.
He speaks passionately on topical issues around housing. “There’s currently a real thirst for knowledge from people on how you get their homes warm, dry and comfortable. And housing affordability is a huge issue. We have a young son and wonder what it will be like for him when he comes to want to buy a home. It’s something we discuss with friends, it’s a concern for many people.
“There are issues around social justice: if housing is increasingly unaffordable, do we get people who are constructing housing to fit around the needs of communities. Or do we create more security around the rental market? If developers are building to rent, perhaps people can rent these properties for ever.
“There is also the complexity around what we create and where we create it in terms of urban renewal and building multiple homes on large sections. You drive down Lake Road and that begs the next question: if it’s already congested now, what is it going to be like with more homes being built? “That question around what’s being put in place to manage that needs to be answered. Are people going to jump on public transport to reduce congestion? I’m not sure.”
Choosing a trade career is something Peter is keen to promote to young Shore people. “I would encourage people to consider it. It’s an area of some considerable interest to me, of course. The education system 30-plus years ago moved away from the trades; they were not at all aspirational careers for our children. People started to want a job for their children where they didn’t get their hands dirty.
“Typically, in New Zealand, we don’t often respect what tradespeople do. It’s a marked difference to the attitude towards the trades in Europe, for example. My own father was a Dutch tradesperson and, over there, people had a tremendous sense of pride in their trades.
“It seems the English immigrants to New Zealand wanted to escape the trades. And inadvertently perhaps, we have steered young people away from that. Everyone I speak to in the trades today says I could take on more new people, so the need is there.”
Peter once took on a 40-something who had previously worked on the airlines and fancied a career change. “If you’re in a career and you’re thinking ‘this isn’t really for me’, then I’d encourage anyone to consider it.”
“One of my favourite quotes is from Warwick Quinn, CEO of the BCITO (Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation) who said we need to look at the trades as ‘a pathway to prosperity’.”
Which Shore projects have been personal favourites to work? “I’ve been lucky enough to do some really outstanding renovation projects in Devonport. In 2019, my wife Debbie and I bought a small cottage, which was very run down and needed a lot of work. We’ve made it into a warm, dry, comfortable home. It’s nice to do my own work in my own time and be able to put a personal stamp on it.”
The North Shore has won ‘The Wolf’s’ heart for many reasons, he says. “I feel incredibly fortunate, grateful and thankful living where we live, here on the Shore. I think that we have tremendous lifestyle here in Devonport, with the proximity to the beaches, the mountains and the city.
“I love going for walks that take in the seascape and landscape and, of course, I love the heritage. I’m really grateful to the people who have stood up over the years to protect the heritage buildings in the area.”