If it weren't for the palm trees dotted around John Maas and Amanda Breton's property in Kerikeri, you could imagine you were driving through an English park.
But it wasn't the English-ness of the place that appealed when they bought it five years ago. On the contrary, it reminded Amanda of Botswana, where she was brought up, and for John it brought to mind the stories his mother used to tell about Indonesia, where she and John's father lived.
It's not surprising the property evokes such diverse memories, because the house started life elsewhere, as three school houses.
They were moved on to the land and combined into the beautifully crafted, seven-bedroomed character country home that now sits comfortably in the tree-studded landscape.
John and Amanda were living in Auckland when John came to the Far North on a fishing trip and found the house. At that point they had no intention of changing their lifestyle but, as John recalls, "You know how you often talk about escaping from the city. It was too busy, I was suffering complete burnout after working on the Emirates Team New Zealand campaign and here was this place with the garden, the birdlife, the pool, the peace ..."
The charm of the property, apart from the massive oaks, ironbarks and maples that give it its parklike appearance, is summed up by the comment friends make when they've stayed a night or two.
"They always tell us it's the best night's sleep they've ever had," Amanda says. "At night you can't see a single light, or hear a sound.
The house is ideally set up for entertaining house guests. There's a guest wing with four double bedrooms, all with en suites, and a family wing containing three bedrooms and a large, tiled bathroom.
With two large ovens and two fridges there's never any fighting for space in the big, country kitchen, and Amanda says four people can easily work in there at once.
The dining table seats 12, and the inviting window seat nearby is perfect for postprandial relaxation.
There's a big entrance hall, several sitting areas and a tranquil library lined with white-painted book shelves. A big, French-style iron day bed makes this an irresistible spot for a good read.
Amanda spent the first year painting the inside, using a warm off-white to create a serenity that matches the peace of the country setting.
The colour enhances the richness of the heart rimu and kauri flooring and works as the perfect backdrop to the many pieces of country furniture. French doors from most rooms and plantation shutters add to the country theme.
The entire house, including the roof, has been repainted, the old decking and veranda have been replaced, and the original outbuildings have given way to an expansive new shed and a spacious covered area almost as big. The garden was extremely well-planned from the outset.
"It's obvious that a lot of thought went into it," Amanda says. "The big specimen trees shelter the house, but they also blend in with the sub-tropical planting, like the palms around the pool area."
In the summers they enjoy the saltwater pool, the tennis court and the barbecue area with the traditional brick barbecue that John rebuilt. Thanks to the broad deck areas there are almost as many places to sit outside as there are in, and thanks to the trees, it's almost always sheltered.
Amanda can see the property best used by an extended family, or returned to its former use as bed and breakfast accommodation.
John recalls that previous owners had hens and horses.
He believes the flat, fenced paddocks, all with water, would be appealing to anyone who wanted animals.
They haven't kept any large animals, but they have relished the pheasants, quail, kingfishers, tui and rosellas keeping them company.
Occasionally, they even hear kiwi at night.
Surprisingly, looking after such a large property isn't as time-consuming as most people would imagine.
"It's a country house, so we haven't tried to keep it perfect and pristine - more clean and tidy, like a good yacht," John says.By Leigh Bramwell