* Lion, witch and wardrobe sold separately

By Bronwyn Sell

SIZE: Land 758sq m, house 184sq m.
PRICE INDICATION: House is expected to achieve more than $800,000 at auction. Auction April 17
INSPECT: Sat/Sun 1pm-1.45pm
ON THE WEB: bayleys.co.nz/189091
SCHOOL ZONES: Silverdale School, Orewa College
CONTACT: Michael Guy, ph 0274 958 511
118a Hibiscus Coast Highway, Red Beach. Photo / Ted Baghurst
118a Hibiscus Coast Highway, Red Beach. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Mark and Helen Huston had long day-tripped from Auckland to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula's parks and beaches with their three children, but had never entertained the idea of living there.

Partly, this was because English-born Helen has a bit of a thing for villas, and the Hibiscus Coast generally doesn't.

But one day, a few years ago, Mark was idly checking out real-estate sites on the internet when he spotted a handsome renovated villa for sale at Red Beach, at the Silverdale end of the peninsula. It was an anomaly for the area, having been transplanted from Grey Lynn to a quiet site set back from the Hibiscus Coast Highway.

The family were renting in Meadowbank, having bought and sold several villas, and were keen to find a bigger house and put down permanent roots again. The prices in the central Auckland market were discouraging, especially for villas, so they began to look further afield. "We just couldn't afford anything we liked," says Helen.

As they searched, that pretty Red Beach villa became more and more attractive. It had all the classic villa features, including native floorboards, sash windows, a wide hallway, high stud, bay windows, French doors, a veranda and a huge ornate plaster ceiling above the main living area. And, crucially, it didn't need doing up - Mark and Helen had once renovated a villa and weren't keen to repeat the experience.

Because it was only a few minutes from the Silverdale motorway on-ramp, it was deceptively close to the city - a 25-minute drive, off-peak - while being within striking distance of Mangawhai, Waipu Cove, Puhoi, Leigh and Wenderholm for daytripping.

It promised to be perfect for the kids, then all aged under 12. It had five bedrooms, one of which could be used as a separate lounge, plus a deck and barbecue area off the open-plan living area and a lawn with room for the trampoline. Orewa's beach and estuary were within walking distance, with Red Beach, Stanmore Bay and Manly beaches within a short drive.

It even had a few touches to make Mark, an actor, feel at home. It had been previously owned (and renovated) by a film-set creator, who had left behind quirky souvenirs - a fake boulder in the front garden and an old-style lamppost, which was created as a prop for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie (alas, not the snow-covered one under which Lucy meets the magical Mr Tumnus - the director went with a different design) and has earned the villa the nickname "the Narnia house".

What's more, it hadn't sold at auction - as if it was just waiting for Mark and Helen. So they jumped in and bought it.

Mark reckons they spent every evening in that first week sitting in the living room and gazing up at the stunning ceiling. He says they've never taken the house's aesthetic charms for granted - he still feels buoyed every time he cruises into the driveway.

The coastal lifestyle proved to be a revelation. "It's fantastic," says Helen. "It's been our favourite place to live in Auckland - and we've lived in a few places. It's relaxing, the people are really friendly and the beaches are amazing."

They're reluctantly relinquishing their home for a new lifestyle - they're moving to England's Lake District, where Helen's family lives. Though that will have its advantages - including plenty of character homes - they'll miss their beaches and their villa.

"It's a haven," said Mark. "I like to be able to escape from the world after a long day."

- NZ Herald

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