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Inside a young family’s lush rural idyll in Whangarei

A stroke of luck brought Pip and Shane McNeil to this lush Whangārei section. Now, with chickens, fruit trees and space aplenty, they can’t imagine themselves anywhere else

As the McNeil kids race around their acre (4000sqm) section, weaving in and out of trees and shrubs and delightedly hunting for chicken eggs, it’s clear to see they’re living the good life. Their parents, Pip and Shane, bought their Whangārei Heads home in 2017 in the hopes that its expansive outdoor space would allow Caelin and Bowen to have the kind of childhood they’d had – and so far, so good.

“The boys love following their dad around the section, doing the lawns, collecting firewood, collecting eggs and playing all sorts of imaginary games,” Pip says. “The section is covered in fruit trees – feijoa, apple, plum, fig, guava and loquat – which gives us beautiful shade in summer as well as providing us with fruit over the summer and autumn months.”

Up until buying the property, the couple had been living in Tauranga (Shane’s home town) with baby Caelin, but Pip hankered for home – Whangārei.
“After having Bowen and knowing I was due to go back to work, we decided to move to Whangārei to be closer to my family and for the lifestyle – for the beaches and the more relaxed living,” she says.

They’d been looking for houses for a few weeks and had put an offer on a place in Onerahi, sight unseen, which, when they drove up to see it, wasn’t at all what they thought it was. But while they were in the area they went along to an open home – rather reluctantly as the online listing had few photos and didn’t show it in a favourable light. It turned out to be a hidden gem. “When we came to look around and discovered it had four bedrooms, an area for a playroom and two separate living areas, we just fell in love,” Pip says.

The house isn’t perfect, Pip hastens to add, but it has more than enough going for it to be the perfect family home for them right now. “We currently have a blue, ’80s-style kitchen that we would love to renovate,” she says. “The bathroom needs an update and we have dreams of building an entertaining area off the front of the kitchen/dining space. But the previous owners had given the house a makeover, with a lovely fresh white paint job, which allowed us to move straight in without needing to fix or do anything immediately.”

The ’70s house has a deck as well as the additional lounge, making it a spacious home with more than enough room for two busy boys to keep themselves occupied, and the house layout, Pip says, works very well for the family.

“The dining room is the main hub of family activity: meals, homework, morning coffee, weekend brunch, end-of-day chats. The living room is at the other end of the house, which is great because when all the jobs are done for the evening, it’s the perfect space to relax. “And the benefit of having a playroom for the boys is amazing. It’s somewhere to store their toys which means their rooms are clutter free, and they have their own space to play in and explore.”

When decorating her home, Pip took inspiration from their natural environment. “We are surrounded by lush, green trees and just minutes from the beach, so I wanted our home to reflect that and have a relaxed feel – bright and neutral,” she explains.

To do this, she created a base of light and neutral colours accompanied by indoor plants, wall baskets and artworks. “I find Pinterest is a great inspiration for creating an overall theme or vibe, and then I just trawl online and secondhand shops to see if I can stumble across anything that suits!” One of her best finds – the cane shelves in the living room which feature a very attractive, wave-like pattern – came from her mother-in-law.

Their master bedroom was kept light and neutral because it’s a smaller room on the darker side of the house. For the room’s colour palette, Pip drew inspiration from the beautiful print on the wall, by Kiwi artist Maiko Nagao, and she was dead set on linen bedding to add a touch of luxury.

When it came to Caelin’s room, Pip knew exactly what to do. “Caelin is obsessed with the ocean,” she says. “So his sailing ship mobile (which is a kite, too) and whale print were must-haves and really set the tone for his room. Beds are big for my kids – the boys love playing on each other’s beds and sprawling out to read books. Lately they’ve been playing the ukulele using the little step on Bowen’s bed as a wee perch!”

Bowen has one of the lightest and brightest rooms in the house, which gave Pip the opportunity to use a rust, grey and mustard colour palette.

Of course, the pièce de résistance at the McNeils’ home is the land. This is where the boys have the time of their lives, chasing chickens, having picnics and collecting fresh fruit, pine cones and eggs. Each day, Caelin and Bowen burn off plenty of energy bouncing around on the tramp, riding their bikes down the section and playing in their bamboo teepee. When they’re ready to refuel, they’re often lucky enough to eat homemade pizza straight out of the outdoor oven.

“The oven was here when we moved in – it’s made of clay and straw. Shane gave it an update with a lick of paint and now we use it a lot for homemade pizzas and marshmallow-toasting,” says Pip.

With the fruit trees, chickens, pizza oven and plenty of room to roam, this home will suit the McNeils for plenty of years yet. “When we bought the house we could see ourselves spending the next 10 years here. There is so much we can still do to it so we’re keen to stay and renovate the kitchen and bathroom and add an outdoor entertaining area. We are slowly chipping away at things,” says Pip.

In the meantime, she and Shane are happy living the good life in a place that reminds them both so much of their childhoods. “This lifestyle gives us the best of both worlds: semi-rural living close to town, and the beach minutes away. It’s exactly what we wanted for our kids.”

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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