The family who once owned the pristine beach which thousands of Kiwis have pledged money to buy were heartbroken when they had to sell the land eight years ago.

Four generations of the family holidayed at the Awaroa Inlet beach for more than 50 years after it was bought as a holiday hideaway by Colin Benge. He fell in love with the golden-sand peninsula and persuaded a local beef-and-sheep farmer to sell it to him in the early 1960s.

Mr Benge's great-granddaughter, Christchurch woman Sephrah Rayner, 25, spent every summer camped there in a tent with her younger sister Phebe from the time she was born until she was 17.

"My mum was taking me there since before I could walk, " Ms Rayner said.

Advertisement

Ms Rayner's great-grandparents stayed in a one-roomed bach on the property, her uncle in a converted old fishing boat, her grandparents slept in not much more than a shed and Ms Rayner and her sister slept in a tent nearby. Others stayed in tents and a boatshed.

Each summer, her family would arrive by boat or water taxi after packing up supplies at their home in Marahau next to the Abel Tasman National Park. In the early days they pretty much had the place to themselves. Her grandparents would be lucky to see six people a day, Ms Rayner said; now it was "more than six an hour" - trampers on the Abel Tasman track, kayakers and visitors from the baches and lodges in the area.

Ms Rayner recalls summers of swimming, fishing, tramping and bush-whacking. "We'd catch paddle crabs and cockles and pipis in the estuary.

"There was no electricity or hot water. We had solar showers and an outdoor food safe."

Ms Rayner said she was heartbroken when she realised the land needed to be sold and that the family holidays at Awaroa would end.

Friend Ainslee Ryder, Phebe, Georgina, Sephrah and friend Jasmine Trafford enjoy a meal. Photo / Supplied
Friend Ainslee Ryder, Phebe, Georgina, Sephrah and friend Jasmine Trafford enjoy a meal. Photo / Supplied

"There were tears."

When her great-grandparents died the land was left to their seven children, one of whom was Ms Rayner's grandmother, Georgina. But discussions on dividing the land became "complicated", she said, and the decision was made to sell.

She is thrilled the beach might be bought for public ownership.

"I couldn't think of anything better for it. It's such a special place for me, and if other people can have that experience as well, it's priceless."

And did she contribute to the Givealittle page? "Of course! Not millions, but a contribution."

The girls cool off in the water with friends. Photo / Supplied
The girls cool off in the water with friends. Photo / Supplied

Ms Rayner's mother, Sue Dasler, also hopes the crowdfunding tender is successful."It would be a great outcome. It's so glorious, everybody can have a slice if it."

She remembers long, "blissful" summers at Awaroa, both before and after her children were born.

"If it was rough on one side we could go to the estuary on the other side. It was paradise."

Ms Dasler describes her mother-in-law Georgina Rayner as "a master chief of the campfire", baking loaves of camp-oven bread and - a family favourite - sultana loaf steamed in empty tin cans.

In wet weather, an old sun umbrella went up and cooking continued. The family were "very sad" to part with the land, she said.

Sephrah and Phebe Rayner in bush hut. Photo / Supplied
Sephrah and Phebe Rayner in bush hut. Photo / Supplied

Georgina Rayner said she learned to cook loaves in cans, simmered in water, at school cooking classes. She became adept at baking bread, scones and pizza for a family crowd.

"I enjoyed all of that, the real camping aspect of it," she said.

She too hopes the land is transferred for public use.

"I would have liked that to have happened when we could no longer keep it."

Wellington businessman Michael Spackman bought the beach from the extended family for $1.92 million in 2008. BNZ is pursuing Mr Spackman, his son-in-law Michael Garnham, and associated companies, for $6.2 million in unpaid loans.

Mr Spackman and Mr Garnham are disputing the loan recall. They have not responded to requests for an interview.

Sephrah, grandmother Georgina and Phebe relax in the shade. Photo / Supplied
Sephrah, grandmother Georgina and Phebe relax in the shade. Photo / Supplied