Most mornings, Tim and Jan Sintes take full coffee mugs and walk across their lush green lawn and over a path of seashells to their 1960s vintage caravan overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean.
The retro caravan was a gift from Jan's aunty after the 2011 earthquakes and has fast become a permanent feature on the one-hectare Southshore property. However, when the couple need a change of scene for their morning brew, a short trip around to Sumner proves the ticket. Tim and Jan simply hop into one of their seven boats, pick up the neighbours and make the five-minute journey by sea.
Two and a half decades ago, the caravan would have been surrounded by just sand. Dunes matted with marram grass, stretched from the existing house to the sea. Everyone said it could not be transformed.
Tim first noticed the seaside section for sale in 1990, while he was out surfing at Southshore beach. He recalls something "clicking" and knew he had to have it. "I've always wanted a big property on the beach, with a tennis court," he says.
After buying the property with its 1950s bach, the challenge to convert the sand dunes began. Tim had no previous landscaping experience, but knew he had to stabilise the sand and make it suitable for planting. It took two years of painstaking work to tame nature.
Wool carpet offcuts were laid over the sand and grass clippings, supplied by lawn-mowing companies, were packed on top. Eventually, the layers held back the marram grass and turned to fertile soil. Tim says the planting began around two priorities: the end result would have variety, to surprise people, and a grass area dedicated to a lawn tennis court with removable nets, and an archery range.
"Every time you round a corner, there's a bit more to see," Tim says. "I'm a sea person, but I love vegetation."
It was nine years of hard graft until the couple could make the permanent move from their home in North Beach. "I've never lived further than 100 metres from the beach," Tim says.
The garden is now alive with native plants. Once the ngaio trees grew, the couple began underplanting.
The section meets a public walkway to the north and around the boundary lie the succulents. Nearby, is a feature tree, on which buoys, collected over Tim's career as a commercial fisherman, are hung like Christmas baubles. A wishing well sits next to pohutukawa trees, while agapanthus and lilies, planted after an inspiring trip to Maui, inject bursts of fuchsia and mauve into the shrubbery.
Close by, a pond teems with goldfish. Tim feeds them from the deck; a quick thump on the wood calls them in closer for mealtimes. There's often a net laid over the water to stop herons from helping themselves. Once, when the Sintes' daughters, Jade, 25, and Lauren, 22, were younger, the pond was busy with frogs. But the colony proved too noisy at night.
With the burgeoning bush came birds. The garden is now home to fantails, bellbirds, quails, kingfishers and chaffinches.
To fully enjoy this seaside paradise, Tim and Jan have a collection of boats; everything from a sailing catamaran to Tim's tin fishing boat.
Surrounding the currently unmarked tennis court is a spectators' gallery or, as Tim affectionately calls it, "the grandstand". There's also a "Bali hut", with leaves forming the roof, and a crowd of mismatched outdoor furniture for guests.
This lawn has witnessed many of life's events. It has played host to weddings, local events and even a funeral. Tim and Jan are actively involved in the community, Tim being a community board member representing the Burwood-Pegasus Ward, as well as vice president of the Pier and Foreshore Society and North New Brighton Residents' Association. They offer the grounds for community events and it's not unusual for the lawns to be busy with bouncy castles, stalls and live music.
"We like sharing it," Tim says. "Some people get inspiration from the beach."
South of the house, is a matching wooden shed. Jade and Lauren used it as a playhouse when they were younger, employing a pulley system to raise dinner, delivered by parents, up to the top floor. "All their friends just loved coming round after school," Tim says. Now, it's extra storage space for the family's hobby equipment.
In the distance is what Tim refers to as the unkempt part of the property. Before the earthquakes, and his greater involvement with community projects, he managed rows of veges, a glasshouse of plants and a chicken run.
The house itself is a work in progress. The three-bedroom bach-style house is clad in wood. A large sunny deck, decorated with pot plants, surrounds the front of the house and a lifesaving ring hangs like a wreath at the door. A New Zealand flag, hoisted high on a flagpole above the house, flies proudly in the breeze. A traditional cockerel-topped weather vane perches above the house, and helps decide between windsurfing, sailing or hitting the bike trails.
Inside, the house is open-plan, with high ceilings. The kitchen snakes around the wall, the pantry and stove well used by visiting daughters and their friends.
The flooring is all wooden, too, which tolerates sandy feet from days spent on the beach or in the garden. The lounge is large, to cater for a busy family and plenty of visitors. Comfortable couches sit underneath the wooden ceiling, richly varnished for a warm finish. Two lantern-type pendant light shades keep the room relaxed and low key, while natural light streams through windows. Contemporary paintings and photographs of the local beach scene adorn the walls and old photographs of the undeveloped section are a constant reminder of the couple's hard work. Downstairs, a laundry has replaced the original bathroom, which Jan says was almost a tiny closet when the children were growing up.
Both daughters have left home now, but their rooms are still set up for them to visit and enjoy the beach. Jan uses one room as an office to complete coursework for an applied management course at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, while she works at Foley Group.
Most rooms have views of the sea, with the landscape framed by windows; the master bedroom has double doors opening out on to a large deck. The rhythm of life here moves to the ocean's soundtrack. From the right spot, there are unobscured views of the Port Hills, too.
It might have stunning views, but it is also a property with privacy. A long gravel driveway leading up to the house rounds the double garage, and passes surfboards marking the entrance to the gardens, revealing a clear view of the house. It's only when sitting in the caravan that the neighbouring property can be seen. The neighbours could easily be spectators of Tim's own driving range – a wooden platform that looks out to sea. During a less busy time, it was the perfect place from which to practise his swing.
During the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the house and land fared extremely well, with cosmetic repairs to the house having recently been completed. Tim attributes the good performance to the "proper sand", which is hard packed, resulting in very little liquefaction.
A short skip from the beach, this property is best enjoyed in the warm sun, but Jan's favourite time of the year is autumn. A crisp, clear April morning has all the joys of changing colours in the garden and a quiet beach for walking to the sound of thrashing waves.
The couple take pride in maintaining their house and garden, but only when necessary. What's more important to them is making their own fun and enjoying the outdoors, Tim says.
There's something about the wildness that Tim and Jan cannot help but embrace. It's their "own little patch on the beach" – a slice of the West Coast and Kaikoura right there in Southshore. "It feels like you're on holiday all year round," Jan says.