At the top of Mt Moturoa there is a house of many shapes. It has a turret and porthole windows, skylight tubes, strange levels and angles.
Driving along Breakwater Rd in New Plymouth, you can look up and see its distinctive outline, like a child's crazy drawing of a home, complete with a huge phoenix palm that lights up at night time.
In 1972-73, when this Roger Walker-designed house appeared on the hill by the port it was an oddity; a wonder to meander past on a Sunday drive.
''This is an incredible place to live in,'' says co-owner Andre Ferreira, who has heard stories of the house's arrival on the horizon. ''It was quite a talking point because it was out of the norm. It's supposed to be a ship with all the different shapes of windows and those things - the skylights and portholes.''
Around the house is a private, peaceful garden filled with colour, water features and bird song. They have named the house and homestay, Tivoli.
''Say it backwards,'' Andre says.
Out loud it forms ''I love it''.
He found the house by chance, in much the same serendipitous way as he and partner Jan de Klerk ended up in this country.
''We came to New Zealand 11 years ago by accident,'' Andre says. ''I was doing business in Botswana or Namibia, I can't remember which, and Jan was bored and playing on the internet and he saw an advert - 'would you like to work in New Zealand, Australia or Canada?'
''He applied and was working here exactly six weeks later.''
So Jan the medical doctor and Andre, who has a PhD in chemical pathology and is an expert in depression, moved from South Africa to New Plymouth with Jan's two sons.
They were only coming for two years - that was in 2001.
Three months after they arrived they bought a house with a massive section on Kereru Place in Vogeltown. ''We developed a fantastic place over there,'' Andre says.
After three years, they decided to look for a small flat as an investment and one day Andre visited the Spotswood area to view potential places. ''As I was driving past, I saw this was an open home and I walked in and the place simply said 'Hello!'''
They bought it, rented out the Vogeltown property and moved to Mt Moturoa in March 2005.
This is a place with a double bird's eye view - one from up high that takes in an almost 360-degree vista looking down the coast to Oakura, right around to Mt Taranaki and up the coast north and out to sea.
Standing by large windows in the dining room, Andre says: ''On a clear morning, if you look through here, you can see Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe and it just looks like they are over the hill.'' Down in the garden are real birds - an aviary of six rainbow lorikeets and another large cage for a talkative African grey parrot called Zazu.
Their view takes in a garden that is slowly growing up to cut out the winds that buffet this home on high. It has a tropical feel, especially now when it feels as if Taranaki has shifted closer to the Equator.
There's a tall wall covered in ivy, clumps of hot-hued daylilies, prolific plantings of colourful Asiatic lilies and lush-looking puka, tree ferns, cabbage trees and palms, including the towering phoenix.
''When we moved in we had a couple of requests to get rid of the phoenix, but we wanted it as a feature of the garden,'' says Andre, who is the main carer of plants, including a vegetable patch and fruit trees.
''I'm a child of nature, so I love gardening and I love spending time in the garden.''
At the front of the house, there are plants that remind the men of home. Leucadendrons, proteas and clivias are all native to South Africa and these, along with agaves, a tall lancewood, queen and nikau palms welcome people in to a house that loudly proclaims where Andre and Jan come from.
There are skins of African animals on the floors, including a zebra complete with mane and ears. The zebra print, along with leopard spots, is echoed in furniture fabric and there are themed rooms for guests, including one called The African Room. There is also The Asian Room and The Garden Room.
The main bedroom of the house looks out on to another hint of home.
Two metal sculptures of the South African national bird, the kraanvoel or blue crane, stand by a man-made watering hole.
But it's the real birds that captivate - and even capture people. ''I've locked myself in the bird cage twice and couldn't get out,'' Andre says.
''The first time Jan was here and he released me.''
That incident only lasted 15 minutes.
''The second time I had my cellphone on me and I phoned my neighbours, but they were in town so they phoned their neighbours and they came and let me out.''
He spent 30 minutes in the cage that time, but Zazu is used to company.
The parrot comes in at night time and even watches TV with the men. While the programmes are in English, Zazu, like Andre and Jan, is fluent in Afrikaans.
''She will say, 'I'm thirsty, I want some coffee or I want some wine','' Jan says. ''We had a male one and he flew away. She would peck the top of his head until he screamed and then she'd say 'don't worry'.''
Andre says she's also bossy with her bird neighbours. ''When I put in water for the lorikeets in order to bath, she tells them straight away, 'you need a bath now'.''
And just by chance she has embarrassed the woman next door, who went out sunbathing and wondered where the wolf whistle came from.
Close by is a metal structure that looks an intricate bird cage, complete with seats and Jan says it's a place they enjoy having coffee.
''There are solar lights in here so that night time it's like looking up at the stars,'' Andre says.
Nearby is another entertainment area featuring a white mosaic table and chairs beneath a pergola hung with baskets of bright flowers, including shocking pink impatiens.
There's more pink standing in rows, like ballerinas. Five bright pink and three light pink standard fairy roses are in full bloom and over by the fence lavender fuchsias dance above a sleeping concrete face submerged in water.
In this area, a young kowhai is special to Andre. ''When I got my citizenship, this is the tree I got in order to get more of the tui birds into the garden.''
The garden is also dotted with pots, some filled with blue Felicia and delicate pink rhodohypoxis, which Andre also has in the double form.
Sitting on the deck dressed in botanical-themed shirts, he talks about the reality of living in the teeth of the wind.
''My Azalea mollis don't want to flower every year, so I took them out and took them back to Kereru Place. I've got one left and it's for the foliage.''
Also the Japanese maples suffer from the salt spray and when a south-easterly blows, the flags fly off the Chinese toon. ''That's one of the reasons I'm trying to cover up the perimeter of the garden,'' says Andre.
At his feet sits a pekingese with a fierce name and a mane of fur like dandelion fluff.
The male dog is called Tokkelos, a name South African parents use to scare children to come in when it's dark. ''They say the Tokkelos is going to get you. It's an imaginary creature with a couple of heads,'' he says.
Tivoli is like a fantasy place, but not to frighten children - or anyone. It's a home with porthole eyes that look out to the wild Tasman Sea, to mountains far and close, and a city they have made their home.
''I think it's a privilege to live here with all these views,'' Jan says. ''It changes all the time - the ocean is different every day. I love living here.''
For accommodation details look up tivolihomestay.co.nz
- © Fairfax NZ News
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