House of the week: Kiwi's Fiji escape
While other holidaymakers are crawling to their baches through snarled traffic, Aucklanders Denise and Geoff Blampied are likely to be high above the clouds winging their way to their seaside holiday home in Fiji – and arriving at about the same time.
"We catch the 9.45am flight and can be by the beach round lunchtime," says Denise. "It's so easy. It's a three-hour flight and in the same time zone, so there's no jet lag."
The Blampieds' love affair with Fiji started nearly four decades ago. "We loved it so much that we kept going back," says Denise. When their sons Tom and Michael were in their teens, they saw the beauty of having a more permanent family home away from home and bought a two-bedroom villa within the Hilton Hotel complex at Port Denarau, a 20-minute drive from Nadi airport.
The boys, now 29 and 27, soon added friends and partners to the entourage. "We were having to rent an extra villa as it wasn't big enough, so we decided to look for a house in the area," says Denise. After finding nothing to fit the bill, which included a sea frontage and jetty for her "mad-keen boatie husband", they bought a 1600sqm section on Denarau's Marina Point and designed a Pacific pad tailored to their requirements.
"We wanted a contemporary holiday home we could enjoy with our family and friends that was sympathetic to the classic Fijian look but with a modern twist," says Denise.
They engaged Auckland-based architect Phill Matz, who had experience building in Fiji, to design what is not so much a house than a series of pavilions linked with boardwalks.
The U-shaped complex is wrapped around an inner courtyard with a high-vaulted living pavilion at the front opening to the family's playground: an infinity pool and the sea. "Most days we are out boating, fishing or snorkelling or taking a picnic to one of the many sand cays," says Denise.
Geoff's 9m boat is conveniently moored alongside the jetty on an air berth that can be raised out of the water, while a little crane has been fitted to hoist their inflatable run-about in and out of the water.
The water-focused abode includes two pools and a spa. "Everyone thought we were mad putting a pool in the inner courtyard but it's sheltered from the prevailing wind," says Denise. "The breeze is lovely when it's warm but the trade winds can be cooler, especially in winter."
Four of the five bedrooms have outdoor showers, walled with natural stone for privacy. "I don't think I've ever used our indoor shower. It's lovely showering outside even when it's raining."
Indoor-outdoor flow was high on the "must-have" list and it is seamless, with walls and doors sliding open or offering the options of insect screens, glass or wooden louvres. "We never use the air con," says Denise. "The house is designed to let the breeze in." It is also equipped to cope should the breeze crank up, as it can in these cyclone-prone climes. Storm shutters can be bolted across the strengthened glass windows and the copper guttering is extra-wide to cope with tropical downpours. Canadian cedar shakes (longer than shingles and traditionally hand-split) were chosen as roofing for their strength as well as their natural look, and they sit on three weatherproof layers of cladding.
Canadian shakes aside, the Blampieds have used local materials wherever possible. Fijian vesi (Intsia bijuga) timber, used for everything from floorboards to rafters, was Denise's best find. "It's a beautiful wood with streaky white patches."
Much of the furniture is Fijian mahogany, made at the builder's joinery factory, Toll Construction & Joinery. "I would find a photograph of something I liked, give them the dimensions I wanted and they would make it. They were brilliant." The company also made squabs for the outdoor furniture. "I bought two big bolts of fabric on the plane as checked-in luggage. Air New Zealand are quite used to me now," says Denise, who was helped with the interior by the architect's wife, Susi Matz. "I was after a tropical look that was cool, uncluttered and fresh-looking."
Lush gardens around the boardwalks and pools complete that look. "I have a set of gardening tools up here and love pottering in the garden. It's such a joy and everything grows so easily."
The Blampieds moved in near the end of 2015. Cost-wise, building was no more expensive than in New Zealand, but it took two years. A building boom at the time, hold-ups during the rainy season and hassles getting council permits all contributed to the delays. "Those are the challenges of building in an island nation," says Denise. "We are still friends with the builder and landscapers and they continue to maintain the property for us."
The warmth of both the climate and the Fijian people make for an idyllic holiday destination, she says. "Nothing's a bother. We go up there and relax. It's hard not to in that atmosphere."
A tip when building in fiji: Pre-buy all materials so there are no supply delays to hold up the build.
Best seat in the house: The waterside loggia, having a wine in the evenings and watching the boats return to Port Denarau.
The first thing we do when we arrive is: Put the squabs out on the outdoor furniture and loungers.
The garden: Is a delight. I love the variety and colours of the tropical plants and how everything grows so easily and rapidly. We grow Fijian passionfruit and bananas and enjoy the mangoes, pawpaw and sweet pineapples that are so cheap at the local markets.
Favorite local restaurant: There are so many choices on Denarau, either at the port or the hotels, but Rhum-Ba at the Denarau Yacht Club is pretty good. Our favourite method of travel is taking the inflatable dinghy over and using the residents' berth.
- NZ House & Garden