Holiday heaven in Whangapoua
On a blustery evening three years ago, Hugh and Julia Tucker spent their first night in a new home in Whangapoua, on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. The gale force winds would have been a mere detail had there been walls. Even a floor would have done nicely. As it was, their new purchase was nothing more than a roof and framing wrapped in paper.
Today, their sun-drenched home is a far cry from what it was on that sleepless night. “It was just a construction site back then,” says Julia. A driveway wended its way through land that was bare, apart from a few natives the previous owner had planted and an old school bus that had been left on site.
The Tuckers bought the 1ha property at an auction in 2008. “The legal stipulation was that we bought it as is, where is, no guarantees, no warranties, what you see is what you get,” says Hugh, who is general manager of global sales at electronic component company Rakon.
It was a particularly risky decision for Hugh. “The financial crisis had just hit worldwide, we had just bought this property with no plumbing, no electricity and all of these disclaimers about how, if it was full of termites and fell down, it was all on us. It was the most nerve-racking experience.”
Undeterred, they launched into a frantic summer of building, landscaping and gardening. “It was like a gym subscription without the mirrors,” says Hugh. “There was a huge amount of work to be done.” Their workload was compounded by a native bush regeneration covenant imposed on the property during its previous ownership. The planting of native trees on the hillside had fallen well behind over the years and getting it back on track became Hugh and Julia’s responsibility.
Keen to avoid a massive fine, the couple set about planting 1500 native trees that first summer, transforming the colourless hillside into an oasis of greenery. With the work in full swing and Hugh often overseas on business or at his Auckland office, Julia became self-appointed project manager. “We had a builder and diggers but there was no architect, just Julia,” says Hugh. “Interior designer, gardener, painter – it was all her.”
It’s a role she still takes seriously. “When Hugh goes away, I always try to have something done that’s exciting for him when he comes home.” Hugh’s latest surprise, after returning from a trip to San Francisco, was a new fence. “But see, he’s okay with that,” says Julia. “He never okayed it – but he’s okay with it.”
The project ticked along nicely under Julia’s leadership.
“I was in real estate for 20 years so I’d seen enough homes to know what I liked and what worked.”
White walls, exposed beams and wooden floors give the home a relaxed, casual vibe befitting its location – and its owners. In the distance, Matarangi and the Mercury Islands form clear shapes. The couple obviously like the view – they own eight pairs of binoculars. “I pick them up from a little shop in China whenever I’m there,” says Hugh. “But Julia has told me I’ve reached my binocular quota so I’m not allowed any more.”
Upstairs, a loft has been set up for when their adult children (they have six between them) and four grandchildren come to stay. Throughout the house, untreated poles from pines felled on the property years earlier rise through the floorboards to support the roof. They have a rustic look, echoed in cane and wicker accessories – Julia’s touch. “What can I say? I’m a cane freak, a basket freak and a candle freak,” she says. “I’m lucky because Hugh trusts my judgment and tastes, so that’s been easy.”
There was one thing Hugh insisted on: a flat-screen television. That wasn’t to Julia’s liking, so the couple reached a clever compromise. Recessed into the lounge wall, Hugh’s television is concealed behind a large tapa cloth. “There are two things in the house that are mine,” says Hugh, grinning. “This and the scullery where Julia dumps all the dirty dishes for me to clean.”
Some decisions weren’t so easy, and the couple say they made up a lot as they went. “I call it the mayzewell syndrome,” says Hugh. “You mayzewell do this and you mayzewell do that.”
Their extensive garden is a case in point. Using string, they mapped out their orchard, planting what they could where they could. When Julia wanted a vegetable patch she just picked a spot and got to work. Now her silverbeet are the size of small trees. What with her thriving garden, home-made potting bench and the three hens (“the girls”) Hugh bought her for Christmas, Julia couldn’t be happier. “I’m just like a pig in mud here, I don’t think I’ll ever need anything else.”
Using water from an old well, Hugh has created an extensive irrigation system that’s reminiscent of the dancing Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas – all that’s missing are music and lights. “Hugh’s an irrigation freak,” says Julia. “He made me nine taps and hoses, dug all the trenches and laid all the pipes for this system.” Their lawn, bright green, lush and soft underfoot, is certainly reaping the benefits.
Surveying their property from the deck that wraps around the house, they seem vaguely surprised by how well it all turned out. “We look back now and think, how on earth did we do it?” says Julia. “Thankfully, we both have a lot of energy.”
That much is clear from the way they talk about life in Whangapoua. “When we’re not in the garden we’re out fishing.
I caught eight snapper the other day,” says Julia. “How can you beat that – what cafe in Auckland would be better than that?”
Although they split their time between their Auckland “pad” and occasionally Hugh’s Californian bungalow in Laguna Beach, this is home. “It’s not like buying a place that someone else has owned and done all the hard yakka,” says Julia. “It’s a bit cheesy, but we thought we might call this place Heartland. We know we’ve done this; it’s ours – it’s our heartland.”
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Story: Ellen Dorset
Photographs: Paul McCredie