My favourite space: Christmas lunch on the verandah
If only, Barbara Breen wishes, the kauri floorboards of her 120-year-old villa could speak. This house could rattle off quite a history: built as a wedding gift for the son of the sheriff of Auckland; bought by the wealthy Rothschilds of New York in the 1960s as a safe haven from the threat of nuclear war; inhabited by the squatters and shady drug cultivators in the 70s; then rescued by a Kiwi aeronautical engineer, who'd helped to solve NASA's space shuttle problems.
Fortunately, Barbara and her husband Dan know many of the stories and are now creating tales of their own within the high, white walls of Oakura Bay Villa on Waiheke Auckland.
Since she was a teenager, Barbara has spent many of her Christmases at this house, brought by her parents, John and Eve Bollard, in 1980.
Every summer, the Bollards would bring their four children to Waiheke Island for the holidays, to repair and paint the by then tired, neglected three-bedroom house and weed the large garden bordering the beach. It was hard work, but Barbara, the youngest sibling, fell in love with it too.
In 2004, Barbara, Dan and their two children – Cassie and Jack – moved in with her parents, who had finally retired to Waiheke. After her parents passed away, Barbara and Dan vowed to preserve the family home's history and share it with others.
The 5ha Waiheke property also includes ownership of a small string of islands they call The Sisters, which the Breens – and their two dogs – enjoy exploring at low tide.
The waters team with sea life; orca, dolphins and stingrays regularly visit the bay and Dan and Jack fish for snapper and kahawai off the front lawn. In summer, the family enjoys their freshly caught spoils on one of the villa's four verandahs, depending on the direction of the breeze.
What are the key features of your verandah? The wooden dining table on the verandah was the last gift to the family from Barbara's late father, John. The cherish rocking chair was given to Cassie by her grandparents and is a favourite reading spot. The tablecloth and the cushion on the rocker are from Verandah, a local décor store.
What's your favourite spot on the verandah? The swing seat. I spend hours there with Cassie, talking, drinking iced tea and watching the sea.
Do you have a favourite Christmas flower? It has to be the pohutukawa. We have a forest of them hanging from the cliff on the edge of our vineyard. There's always a sea of red.
Do you have any special Christmas traditions? Opening stockings, eating cinnamon rolls and American baked ham and swimming in the afternoon.
What do you love best about this part of New Zealand? Its community. There's a saying on Waiheke that it takes an island to raise a child. People from all corners of the world and diverse cultures come to live here and they become family.
- NZ House & Garden