Katikati country Living
As teenagers the Holwerda children enjoyed hooning down a bike ramp into the pond, skidding dodgy cars around the paddock and whitebaiting in the creek. The foursome would build rugby goal posts, go out fishing in the dinghy, dive in the pool and daydream in their mother’s ever-expanding gardens.
As a place to grow up, their home on the edge of Tauranga harbour was hard to beat. Now in their 20s, Ben, Sophia and twin brothers Pieter and Jan still treasure it. So much so that, when Sophia said the official “I do” to her special man in February 2010, home just had to be the wedding venue.
Her dad John – with help from Adam the groom – built a pontoon on the water’s edge where the vows were exchanged under bamboo posts dressed in wafts of white chiffon. Her mum Milenka planted scores of red poppies in two big heart shapes amid the long grass on the hillside leading to the pontoon. With her dad, her brothers erected a tepee draped with flowers and hidden away behind a grove of trees for her wedding night. It was all part of the sense of magic to be found at the Holwerdas’ home base.
The family moved to the 27ha Katikati property, called Homewood, in 2001 after years of dairy farming in the Central Plateau. They swapped thousands of cows for avocados, feijoas and the garden Milenka delights in. Life in Katikati isn’t devoid of four-legged creatures though – 20ha are dedicated to grazing bulls and raising calves. Two dogs, three cats and six Pekin ducks – all named Jemima – are part of the family.
Perfect as it sounds, it nearly didn’t become home, thanks to an unflattering real estate photo. John had a tough job cajoling his wife into viewing it. “And then I saw it and felt I was coming home,” says Milenka. Both speak of their home’s “beautiful feeling”.
The homestead dates back to 1876 when a group of emigrants from Ulster, in Ireland, settled in Katikati. Built from pit-sawn kauri, it’s painted lichen green and hugged by wide verandahs. Over the years the Holwerdas have constructed a garage and pool shed, redesigned the pool surrounds, added a garden pavilion and revamped the property’s three-bedroom cottage. The latter was well worth the combined family effort, says John, as it often houses transient family members (currently it’s home to daughter Sophia, her husband Adam and baby Lucia).
But it was a good four years before John and Milenka made major changes to the house and, even then, it was an anxious time as they were both protective of the home’s charm and historic value. Advice was sought and clever counsel came from Milenka’s parents, Stephen and Barbara Jelicich, who have been involved in various restorations. Stephen, an architect, was a founding member of Jasmad (now Jasmax).
The kitchen had been added on in the 1920s and still had an air of lean-to impermanence that they were keen to rectify, as well as adding a large lounge/formal dining room beyond the dining and family room. With symmetry in mind, they double-gabled the roof line and the result is a seamless transition from very old house to new extension. John reports that visitors simply can’t spot the difference.
Measuring 7m x 11m, the new lounge is big enough to double as a ballroom and it has – the Holwerdas celebrated its completion with a masquerade ball. The new north-facing, 4.5m-wide verandah has hosted lunch for 50 and “coped beautifully”.
During the interior changes Milenka painted over walls of forest green, chocolate, terracotta and burgundy. “They were rich, dark colours that really did suit the house, but we wanted to lighten it up.”
They’ve opted for pale blue hues – Resene Karen Walker ‘Robins Egg Blue’ and Porter’s Paints ‘Watertank’ – for the lounge and master bedroom, but the predominant colour is Resene ‘White Pointer’. Its grey tinge is a perfect base on which to hang art, says Milenka, and that’s important at Homewood. Apart from an eye-catching strip canvas painting by Annie Hill, most of the artwork is by the Jelicich clan. Milenka’s sisters Gabrielle and Fiona, her brother Matthew and their mum are all creative forces.
Milenka, who is a freelance florist, says her garden is her art form. At Homewood, the rose and bluebell walks, a secluded rose garden and picturesque potager plots are testimony to her creativity. A formal pond is planned. Other weddings besides Sophia’s have been held here, as well as classical concerts, and the gardens will be open to the public during the biennial Tauranga Garden and Artfest in November. The gardens also feature on their website homewoodgardens.co.nz.
“It’s a lovely place to be with just the two of us. It’s peaceful and idyllic,” says John. “But, man, this place is a total buzz when it’s full of people. We have so much fun here and absolutely love this place to bits."
To see web-exclusive images of this house click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Story: Monique Balvert-O’Connor
Photographs: Jane Ussher