Kerikeri: A place to dream

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes her family to a Northland town so good they named it twice.

There are a lot of beautiful places to stay in Kerikeri.
There are a lot of beautiful places to stay in Kerikeri.

The rain sluices our windscreen as we drive through a storm to arrive at Kerikeri's Driftwood. It's dark as we ferry children and bags across the steep gravel driveway to the bach. In the 30 seconds it takes to get to the door, even under golf umbrellas, we're all soaked.

Thankfully, a large jar of giant marshmallows awaits us inside the beautifully decorated bach. It's enough to distract our four-year-old daughter from pestering her big brother with questions such as: "Do you want to play, 'I don't want to play', again?" The Far North is always further than we remember.

In the morning, it's a completely different outlook as we eat breakfast while looking out past thick bush towards a sparkling Te Puna inlet. We walk through vineyards and down to a private beach past a restored caravan called Flip-Flop.

At the beach, there's a red tractor and a rowing boat for the kids to play on plus beach huts with bunks and an open-air pizza oven. A tree swing provides endless entertainment as we search for wood to take back to the bach for the scoria fire pit out the front.

We meet our landlords on the way back up the hill. The Owen family bought the property when it was covered in gorse and built everything, including the beach huts and bach, themselves.

"We work so hard on the property - sometimes 90-hour weeks," says Vanessa Owen.

"We're blessed to live here so we want to be able to share it, and not charge a fortune. All we want is praise and gushing from guests on the weekends."

A quote by Robert Louis Stevenson is on their website: "It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire."

Even though their property is extraordinary, you still get the feeling they have the taste for collecting shells, rather than money. Vanessa tells me she loves the natural, simple lifestyle in Northland. I watch their daughter, Millie, making home-made lemon sorbet as Vanessa offers me home-made biscuits.

Vanessa met husband, Richard, at just 17 - she was a schoolgirl and he was the dentist in a small English village. It caused quite a scandal so they decided to spend some time travelling and ended up sailing around the world for many years, as well as having four children.

"Every interesting, dynamic, thought-provoking person we met was a Kiwi," explains Vanessa.

"We moved here because we wanted to meet the other three million of you. Now, we have the best of both worlds because interesting people come and stay with us, so there's no need to travel."

One visitor, author Susan Lewis, stayed for 10 days and on the day her book Don't Let Me Go was published, Vanessa received 140 emails inquiring about accommodation.

Vanessa tells me that if you don't own waterfront property in Kerikeri it can be hard to access beaches, so she gives me the access code for one around the corner.

We drive past wild turkeys, ducks and cows and a quaint rural fire station.

Orange, purple and yellow wildflowers cling to the sand banks that line the white sandy beach while a car pulling a boat has a giant wheel and the word "tractor" painted on it.

We try not to lose the beach ball in the high winds, before the kids spend an afternoon finding driftwood to make a beach base for their game that seems to involve "unlocking their true potential", whatever that may be.

Back at our real holiday base, my husband and son are hell-bent on starting a fire. It takes a few hours with the damp firewood and just as the flames take hold, we hear a blanket of rain racing up the bank to put it out.

As we snuggle inside, four in the bed on top of a toasty electric blanket, I feel a bit guilty having not explored the local area more. We watch the third family movie in a row and light the tea lights in crystal as the noise of the rain returns, drumming on the roof.

Driftwood is so perfectly geared towards that lovely feeling of boredom you get while unwinding, that it's much nicer just to stay put on an enchanting weekend escape.

HOME COMFORTS

The Hammock at Driftwood is at 860 Purerua Road, Kerikeri.

The Owens can organise platters of organic fare including crayfish, scallops, mussels, local cheeses, olives and roast vegetables, so there's no need to lift a finger.

You can also rent retro caravans, Ake Ake vineyard provides boutique wine tastings and a wine cellar with bottles such as Francis Ford Coppola's Zinfandel and "New Zealand's most famous syrah" from Stonecroft. Our food platter has the freshest bread, delicious seafood, the creamiest cheeses and silky-smooth pate. We are even able to enjoy a glass of wine while the kids colour in or play boules.

Sunday mornings in Kerikeri mean one thing: the Farmers' Market. Produce includes the largest vegetables, the fattest oysters, beautiful orchids, German sausages and banoffee pie cupcakes. It runs from 8.30am until midday in the carpark off Hobson Street.

Danielle Wright was a guest of Driftwood.

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