Scandrett Regional Park: Bach to basics

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright spends a weekend in a regional park and discovers that having nothing to do can be a very good thing.

Moonlight Bach is so close to the sea you could fish from the deck. Photo / Supplied
Moonlight Bach is so close to the sea you could fish from the deck. Photo / Supplied

"You could swim or kayak," the helpful tourism lady suggests when I ask what there is to do in Scandrett Regional Park, where, six months earlier, I'd booked a weekend stay in a classic Kiwi bach.

Swimming or kayaking did sound nice, but it was the middle of a cold spring. I ask friends and even reach out to strangers on Twitter, but no one can think of anything to do in this pretty regional park at the south eastern edge of Kawau Bay.

Never mind, we pack our wetsuits and after a short drive from Auckland we're heading, through heavy rain, down a steep incline past the Scandrett Homestead, built in 1885, to a group of three nostalgic baches so close to the beach you can fish from the deck.

Ours is last in the row and though it lives up to the ARC's promise of a "back to basics" experience, it seems a bit more decadent than the usual offering, no doubt thanks to its previous owners: fashion designer Trelise Cooper's family.

Bright yellow feature walls, try-hard retro fittings and cocktail shakers in the cupboard make us feel as though we've stumbled into the holiday home of Beverly from Abigail's Party. I half expect to find a prawn cocktail left in the fridge.

It turns out that, even before Trelise played here as a child, the bach's history was always quite glamorous.

Its original owner, Geoff Moon, was a nature photographer and charming images of dotterels and oystercatchers foraging on the foreshore adorn the walls; even seagulls are made to look interesting in his coffee-table books.

His bach partner was Charles Light, who was a professor and later Dean of Design at the Architecture school at Auckland University. Together, they named the accommodation Moonlight Bach.

It could just as easily be named after the incredibly clear night skies here, as for the combination of the owners' last names. With no television, or even radio, we sit inside next to the oil heater and watch through the windows as the sky darkens to reveal what seem like millions of stars to brighten the night.

It's easy to imagine Moonlight Bach as a retreat from life, much like a Swiss sanatorium might have felt in the 1950s. Hours can be spent here just watching the water lapping and old cares seem to wash away with the waves. It's so quiet.

In the morning though, some noisy neighbours wake us: three ducks, two seagulls and one pukeko outside on the deck asking for their breakfast. Our daughter takes them some bread, then crackers, then whatever else she can smuggle past us.

"My friends," she exclaims, particularly fond of the lonely pukeko, while our son listens to loud birdsong in the trees nearby remarking: "So, this is where all the birds live."

With no plans for the day, we watch as the kids play on the sand a few metres from our kitchen table and we're surprised to be able to catch up on the weekend papers, a rarity at home.

They play tag, build with driftwood, make fishing lines with sticks and plastic wire found while beach combing, and make friends with the children staying in the bach next door.

After a few hours we put on our gumboots and head off in the direction of the homestead, which has seen four generations of one family raised under its roof.

The Scandretts first settled here in 1863 and began developing a farm, which they named Lisadian after George Scandrett's hometown in Ireland.

It's an unusual building, made of an early type of concrete from locally burnt lime mixed with beach pebbles from Motuketekete Island, instead of the usual kauri timber.

For many years there was no road access and all produce, stock and supplies were carried in and out by boat, so a farm was created to service the family.

The farm has been both a sheep and dairy farm, although once farming ceased, Joan Scandrett said the leases from around 80 caravan sites on the land, "were the best cows".

Scandrett's Bay ran for almost 50 years as a private camping ground until the ARC bought the property for a farm park in 1998 and the caravan site leases were withdrawn, with bach leases also gradually running out.

We spend some time in the milking shed, painted barn red, listening to commentary from old bach owners coming from speakers. They talk about what life was like when there was no television, mobile phones with distracting games or internet to keep people tucked away inside their baches.

Instead, they talk joyously of the "very sociable time" as they all gathered around the milking shed listening to the songs and talkback on the radio blaring above the machinery.

A huge Norfolk pine, planted around 1870 as a gift to the Scandretts from their Kawau Island neighbour Sir George Grey, provides shelter from the rain and an old rowboat is done up for children to play in; wooden fish hang on a line for them to pretend to catch.

Some "real" fishermen, with a case of Tui Red beer under one arm and their bait and lines in the other, walk past, and we follow them to see what's through the farm's fields.

It's been raining for the past week so the ground is hard to walk in.

After a few minutes, my usually adventurous husband wants to turn back - which might be because he's the only one without gumboots on. The rest of us are having a great time in the squelching mud, but he keeps repeating, "I can see what's coming," referring to one of the kids, or more likely me, falling face-first into the slippery mud.

He has good instincts, so instead we go in search of a holiday dinner that will be healthy enough to satisfy us parents, but tasty enough to feel like a holiday treat.

We head to nearby Snells Beach and find Market Provedores, where we buy homemade organic lasagne and greek salad - with a serving of chips from the nearby take-away; it seems a good compromise.

After dinner, we take our torches for some night beachcombing along a silent shore.

As we reach the pine tree and turn back, we see the warm orange glow of the baches as well as tiny dots of light glistening on the horizon, like beacons of homeliness.

Here in the moonlight, we're reminded that having no TV and nothing to do can make the best holiday memories of all.

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

* The Auckland Council now manages the 25 former ARC regional parks, many with unique bach accommodation for reasonable rates and in unforgettable locations. Bookings are six months in advance, with payment in full on booking.

Moonlight Bach costs $85 per night mid-week and off peak (June-Sept), or $128 per night peak season and weekend/public holidays. Phone (09) 366 2000 or email regionalparks@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz to book.

Walks in the area include the Mullet Point Loop walk (1 hour return, 2km) for views in all directions, including of Kawau Island, the smaller islands in Kawau Bay and the Hauraki Gulf, or the Scandrett Bay Loop (50 minutes return, 1.5km).

* Market Provedores is open 7 days, Mon-Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 9am-4pm. Shop 6, Mahurangi Shopping Centre, Snells Beach, ph (09) 425 5815.

* Leave enough time before you leave to clean up, a thorough spring clean is expected. Don't forget to bring your own bed linen and tea towels.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 21 Dec 2014 10:52:23 Processing Time: 1160ms