Cam and Heather McRae discovered Algies Bay about 40 years ago. They were farming and raising four children near Kaiwaka, on the furthest reaches of the Kaipara Harbour, when a friend invited them to his place at the bay.
The lifelong Northlanders had never heard of the small, peaceful settlement of baches curved around Kawau Bay, 10 km southeast of Warkworth, and across the water from the fishing magnet of Kawau Island. When they saw the bay stretching out sparkling and blue before them, an idea began to evolve.
Cam told his friend to keep his ear to the ground, and let him know if any of the tightly held waterfront spots became available. Close to 20 years later, one did - right at the time Cam and Heather were starting to think about their next step. It was an old bach right on the waterfront, with wide and uninterrupted sea views and its own boat ramp.
"We saw it as a great place to retire to, after our farming days," says Cam. "So we snapped it up."
It served as a holiday home for about seven years while Cam and Heather tried to figure out the best way to renovate it into a home they could retire to. But it was never going to be a straightforward job. Not only had the bach been added to in an ad-hoc manner over the years, but the piles weren't in the best condition.
"It didn't take us long to realise it wasn't going to work," says Heather.
They concluded it was going to be easier to start again with a clean slate.
The sloping section with its wide water frontage gave them plenty of scope to make the most of the sun and views. A little more than 16 years ago, Heather gave a simple brief to Warkworth architect, Grant Neill: make the most of the view and create a lovely entrance.
"He did a great job of designing it to make the most of what was there," says Heather.
He gave them a soaring double-height entranceway lit by skylights, with large kauri doors recycled from an old woolstore, a curving wall drawing the eye to the sea view through the living room ahead, and a wide staircase to the master suite.
The large open-plan living area at entrance level has a wall of windows, opening to a partially covered veranda that seemingly hovers over the water. Cam's favourite spot is on a comfy chair near the glass doors, reading the paper and watching the action in the bay, which is popular with boaties, sailors and waterskiiers.
Upstairs, the master suite opens to a large deck with stunning views, which Heather says is a great spot to retreat to with a lounger when the family is staying. Two other bedrooms have doors opening to west-facing decks.
"It's lovely on summer evenings with all the doors opened up," says Heather. On winter nights, they cosy it up with an open fireplace and underfloor heating.
Downstairs, also facing the bay, is a separate self-contained two-bedroom apartment, which has proved ideal for accommodating Cam and Heather's children and 11 grandchildren.
With Cam approaching his 80th birthday and slowing down a bit, he and Heather have decided it's time to get a smaller place, perhaps an apartment around Orewa.
"As much as we don't want to leave it, I think it's time to move," says Cam.