SHARON and Michael Harris' crib at Mullet Bay, co-owned with Phil and Kathy Ngeru, couldn't possibly contain at once all the people to whom it is precious, but it doesn't have to. The crib is not about containment. It's about family.
"We've got seven children between us and they've now got their own children, so if everybody was there, you could have more than 20 people, and everyone would want to be there, because Sharon and I were there," Michael says.
For the couple, deeply though they love the place, nothing that awaits them there is more precious than what they bring with them - an expansive, vibrant, welcoming, get-along family.
They have watched their children and now grandchildren grow up "floating round" the bay and say one of the most significant changes to occur is in the children's attitudes towards the sea.
"In the swimming baths, they know there are sides and so they feel more comfortable about it.
"However, when you've got an open expanse of water, you can see them at the beginning being very, very cautious about it, but it only takes one of them to do something extraordinary and they're all doing it," Michael says.
There are seemingly limitless adventures to be enjoyed on the beach too.
The children delight in making huts, climbing rocks or throwing a fishing line in, with a little guidance from Michael.
If they tire of that, they can row out to the little island in the bay to spy on the nesting birdlife or clamber and explore to their heart's content.
Sharon has also been known to lead expeditions to investigate the rock pools and collect shells or stones.
Most finds are returned to the sea before heading home, but some have proven irresistible. "They've all come back with a stone that their mothers find through the wash," she says.
Nearby Monkey Island is a favourite spot for the more intrepid adventurer, but it proved something of a disappointment for at least one of their grandchildren.
"But there are no monkeys," the crying four-year-old wails.
"Oh darling, it's not like that, it's just called Monkey Island. People climb round the island, so they look like monkeys," Sharon soothes.
The crib itself is small but has been lovingly maintained and boasts sleeping for six - a queen bed, set of bunks and divan bed - all with their own bedding.
It has a cosy fire for cranking up, if the weather turns cold, and a new kitchen.
However, its facilities don't currently stretch to a shower, laundry or flushing toilet, and some of the younger children have been known to bypass the none-too-fragrant long drop, preferring to pee in the grass.
The men of the family, keen on diving and fishing, often venture further out to sea and have little difficulty in meeting their quota.
Crayfish, blue cod, paua, kina and mussels all tend to be plentiful and cooking them over a fire on the beach adds to the fun.
Every second year it's the Harris' turn to use the crib at New Year's Eve, so all the family head out with tents or caravans in tow. The celebrations regularly include toasted marshmallows, fireworks and building a huge bonfire on the beach with their crib neighbours.
Many visitors to the bay find themselves tucking away a little stone as a keepsake.
A good friend of Sharon's, who has lived in Brisbane since he was 20, was particularly upset about losing his stone, so she carefully selected three for him to choose from last Christmas.
"I think he ended up taking all of them," Sharon laughs.
Tomorrow: The tenting holiday.
- The Southland Times