Building their idyllic home away from home was just the beginning of this family’s Great Barrier architecture adventure
The Judkins family aren’t the type to sit around and do nothing on their summer holiday. Instead, after building, decorating and landscaping their dream bach on Aotea/Great Barrier Island, they set about renovating three dilapidated neighbouring cottages – just for fun.
But before they got stuck into any of these projects, Sarah, Jason and their young kids, Zach and Madi (now teenagers), spent five summers camping on the section they had purchased in 2007, which is in Gooseberry Flat, overlooking Tryphena Harbour.
They’d spent an idyllic summer camping on the island years before and had been looking to buy there ever since. “One of the reasons we went there in the first place was that I really wanted the kids to have that legacy of family holiday memories in the same place,” says Sarah.
Sarah, Jason and their kids already live in an island paradise – they are based between an apartment in Auckland and their home on Waiheke Island. But there’s something even more special about getting away to the Barrier, they say, especially in the holiday season when Waiheke becomes overrun with tourists and citysiders.
The off-grid island, which lies some distance off the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, is only accessible by plane or ferry, and – unlike the frequent, packed ferries to Waiheke – the half-day boat trip to Great Barrier only departs once a day, limiting visitors.
“I call the Barrier my happy place,” Sarah says. “I think when you live somewhere, you can’t really see it as a place you escape to. All the normal, annoying things about living somewhere destroy that notion.”
While the family have wonderful memories of five summers spent camping, after a particularly rainy holiday they realised it was time to build something more permanent.
“I said to my husband, ‘That’s it, no more camping. We need to build a house,’” says Sarah. Luckily, her dad, Ron Stevenson, is an architect and her brother-in-law, Tony Page, a builder, so the building process was quick to get under way.
It was easy to get plans approved for their flat site, although there were some restrictions. Because of the section size, under Auckland Council rules they could only have two bedrooms and the house could be no more than approximately 100 square metres.
They got round these limitations by including a big bunk room for the kids and their friends. The master bedroom at the other end has the view, with two bathrooms and a laundry in between. The main living area is open-plan, with doors opening to the deck. “When you open the whole lot out, it’s just magic.”
Most of the house was built in just five weeks in early summer, and the family camped out in the unfinished house that Christmas. “We’d always planned to build,” says Sarah, “but it was one of those things: do we want to spend the money? And you just put these things off.”
The house is perched right on the harbour, with just a quiet road separating it from the water’s edge. The native flax the couple have planted, a favourite feeding spot for local kaka, has ensured the road is barely visible.
Sarah and Jason wanted the house to blend in with the surrounding bush, so they used cedar cladding, with plywood underneath, alternating different widths and thicknesses of cedar to create texture. Many evenings have been spent enjoying sunsets from the front deck, G&T in hand, while the back deck, with its gas-powered outdoor bath, is a sheltered spot for those windy days.
Hiking, paddleboarding, swimming and ski-biscuiting in the bay are favourite activities for the kids and adults. “I describe my husband as an active relaxer; he likes to be doing things all the time,” says Sarah. For this reason, when the building work at the bach dried up, the couple were ready for a new challenge. The three little cottages they purchased down the road were found by chance.
“We just sort of stumbled across them,” Sarah says. “We’d seen this ‘For Sale’ sign and wandered down an overgrown path… and it was such a magical place. You kept walking along and finding another cottage.”
Sold on the magic of the two-acre section and excited about sinking their teeth into a new project, the pair set about trying to purchase the cottages. Their plan was to renovate the houses and rent them out, but the sale was complicated by the fact it was New Year’s Eve and everyone was on holiday.
“We were at the New Year’s fair and talking on the phone to the real estate agent, who was talking to the owners who were in Thailand at the time,” Sarah remembers. Their eagerness paid off, though, and the owners agreed that they could start clearing the land before the property was officially settled.
The three houses, just three kilometres (or a short paddleboard or dinghy trip) from their bach, were named Alice’s Seaside Cottages, after the original owner, who had spent many years living on the island. Sarah and Jason have spent the last two summers sympathetically restoring and renovating them and returning them to their original colours.
They’ve also built an outdoor shower and kitchen using reclaimed planks, and added two outdoor baths – one an original from the property. Having just finished the second bach, they’re preparing to host their first guests this summer. “I call the cottages a journey not a destination,” says Sarah.
While brother-in-law Tony has done the hard labour on the cottages, and Ron has helped with the plans, the whole family have got stuck into the painting, landscaping and DIY. Jason put his building skills to work on the outdoor kitchen, while Sarah refurbished the original furniture.
Secondhand and upcycled items have also been installed in the houses. “I love going into junk shops,” Sarah says. She’s just come home from the US, where she couldn’t resist stocking up on antiques – Jason brought four full suitcases home, with his hand luggage laden down with precious glassware.
Now nearing the end of this mammoth project, Sarah’s left wondering what they will do with their summers. Read a book, perhaps? Or maybe relax in their beautiful outdoor bath. Thankfully, they won’t get lonely – both Sarah’s parents and her sister and brother-in-law also own houses on Great Barrier and, of course, they’ve made friends with all the locals.
Stay here: Two of the cottages restored by Sarah and Jason will be available to rent from February 2019. Search for ‘Alice’s Seaside Cottages’ on Facebook for further details.
Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Jackie Meiring.