For my generation in particular (I guess roughly the baby boomers) an essential part of life, if we could organise it, was the beachside retreat. It was a place to go where you and the family could relax, forget about the tensions of the week and enjoy the beach environment. Beachside homes are still much valued of course which is why seaside properties are now expensive and hard to get. But certainly, when we were young(ish) beachside retreats varied all the way from rough shacks to proper homes. You did not necessarily need a huge budget to get a slice of this particular Kiwi dream.
In the case of my wife and me, our beachside retreat is on the Kapiti Coast, near Paekakariki. Although the idea of getting a beach house had been in our minds we had no immediate plans to invest in anything. Then one gorgeous Saturday we went up to Coastlands to buy some shoes and on the way home saw what quickly became our beachside dream. The lure was irresistible. It was one of those magic days when there was no wind, a calm twinkling sea and an empty beach. We banged down a deposit straight away and a month later were the owners of that dream beach house. As my wife often says it turned out to be the most expensive pairs of shoes she had ever bought!
It wasn’t grand but it was brand new and it was ours! A big plus for us was also that it was only 30 minutes from the Wellington CBD, outside of the morning and evening peaks, which made it very accessible even for short stays.
That was roughly 25 years ago! The house was built in the early 1990s using the monolithic cladding construction popular at the time so over the years there has been quite a bit of repair work to deal with leaky house issues and all of this culminated in a major renovation a couple of years ago.
The beach house has been many things over the years. During my working years, it was the location for many a successful staff party. With a few exceptions, over the 25 years, we have celebrated Xmas at the beach house, with at least some of our family. It has also been the venue for family celebrations such as landmark birthdays. If nothing else is going on, it is our mecca each weekend and we pretty much live at the beach house over the summer months. It has also been an escape and holiday home for friends and family.
The location is magic! In the summer particularly the sun sets right out in front of the house and the spectacular sunsets we often get have to be seen to be believed. When the weather turns rough and we have a north west and the sea belting in it can be equally spectacular. The master bedroom faces the sea upstairs and when it is rough it is like sleeping on the bridge of a ship.
The house is close to the beach (no intervening road) so access is immediate. The beach is one of those that are of continually changing character – one week it is all smooth sand and then the sand shifts with certain seas and the stones underneath are exposed. Sometimes there are large beds of shelly sand on the beach and then they completely disappear. During the late spring, there is also a lot of small driftwood from the rivers to the North which is not so pleasant. So going for a walk on the beach is a continual journey of discovery.
At some times of the year, the beach is populated with surf-casters but the pickings tend to be thin and there are noticeably fewer than there used to be. However, if you have a boat and know where to go (not that far off shore) there is good fishing to be had. The beach is also a favourite landing place for paragliders and hang-gliders coming off the summit of the nearby hills. They provide endless entertainment, particularly in the spring and summer months.
But in many ways the beach is an undiscovered gem – very often it is possible to have a decent walk up the beach (a km or so) and hardly see another person.
Immediately in front of our place, there are rocks in the sea which are renowned for their mussel beds. Fresh mussels cooked up with some wine and herbs is a favourite summer meal or entree.
There is a price to be paid for being so close to the beach and it comes in various forms. The wind often whips in from the sea and salt gets in everywhere. So, anything metal needs to be either made from well-coated Aluminium or Stainless Steel. It’s also very difficult to get things to grow and the garden has really developed by trial and error – even plants that are supposed to be bred for coastal conditions often curl up and die. However, the survivors really are tough and happily survive the worst that the coast can throw at them.
Storms coming in off the sea also need to be protected against and we have a very solid stone (rip rap) wall on the sea facing bank which is kept well maintained. As a result, the sea facing bank is probably in better nick now than it was when we bought the place 25 years ago.
The nicest part of the beach house is that it is so relaxing. The minute we walk in the door we feel that we are on holiday, even it is only a brief visit. Our house is also part of a very small but very well-knit community and that adds to the pleasure. Many a pleasant bottle of wine has been shared with our neighbours.
Now that we are getting on in age a question is how long we can hang on to our beach retreat and I think the answer is that we may well have to be carried out feet first. It’s really a part of our lives that we would not think of voluntarily parting company from.
It really is a key part of our New Zealand dream.
By Bas Walker
This is another of Bas Walker’s posts on GrownUps. Please look out for his articles, containing his Beachside Ponderings.
Do you have a favourite holiday destination or batch, a place you have visited often over the years and made precious memories at? We’d love to hear about the place that has a special place in your heart, let us know in the comments below.