On a fine day we can catch a glimpse of Mt Taranaki through an old star-gazing telescope from our Kapiti Coast back garden — the distinctive rugged peaks clearly visible in the sights.
The mountain is renowned for being coy about shedding its cloud cloak, so I felt fortunate indeed when we got a perfect, and much closer view of it recently — those same peaks we see in the telescope seen with our naked eyes, sharply defined against a crisp autumn sky.
A window of beautiful weather, school holidays and four pairs of itchy feet had led to a family road trip up Taranaki's famous Surf Highway to the seaside village of Oakura. Nestled into a bay of extraordinary beauty and glittering dark sands 15km from New Plymouth, Oakura seems to be successfully treading the fine line between popular and unspoilt.
There is an old-school vibe to the place, with a beachfront campsite, surf club and even the odd Kombi parked up, festooned with surfboards and wetsuits, wet towels hanging on wing mirrors to dry.
Cliffs flank the western side of the beach, while mostly tasteful, new-looking holiday homes are interspersed with older baches along the seafront to the east.
It was on one of these cliffs that we were staying, in a rustic, artistic and well-appointed cottage at Ahu Ahu Beach Villas.
Commanding a magnificent sweeping view out to sea and positioned perfectly for the sunset, Ahu Ahu really is something special.
Owners David and Nuala Marshall say becoming an accommodation destination was a natural progression, as they already lived in the stunning spot and were sociable types.
"We set this up because we enjoy people," David says.
"We'd always meet people on the beach and bring them up for a coffee, then we thought we could do this for a business."
Now, Ahu Ahu has four villas and the two-bedroom Oraukawa Lodge, which has a large central dining room space that can be used for conferences and weddings.
Everything has been built to fit into the natural landscape — the villas are made from recycled materials and are a joyful, homely fusion of styles and influences, and the lodge is set into the hillside, the roof hidden beneath natural landscaping — an eye-catching glass pyramid skylight protruding through the greenery.
A large outdoor firepit, with surely the best view around, is somewhere David and Nuala often join their guests, and one of the nights we were there, a group of their friends mingled with guests, cooking fresh fish and pizza on the outdoor fire, along with delicious local mussels David, and son Seth had gathered earlier that day while out surfing. Yes, you read that right. They popped over to the rocks on their boards and bagged up some dinner, before catching a few sweet waves and heading home. What a lifestyle.
This approach to living, plus the communal and relaxed approach David and Nuala take at their place added a whole other level to our experience. Although they are adept at allowing people the personal space they may be seeking in a location such as this, and the standard of service they offer is very high, they also make you feel like welcome friends with the run of the place.
As well as sampling the local kai moana at Ahu Ahu, we also visited Butler's Reef — one of Oakura's mainstays for food and hospitality — a historic pub renowned for good food, drinks and live music.
Posters featuring surprisingly illustrious band names adorn one of the walls inside, and there's a large garden area where shows are held. A sunny spot on the front veranda and a cold cider saw me quite happy to settle in, and the vege stack I had for lunch was spectacular — a garden's worth of super-fresh produce was piled up on my plate, cooked to perfection, with delicious hollandaise and a poached egg as the crowning glory.
The kids, too, were temporarily quieted as they grappled with a Butler's Burger and a sizeable BLT, while my other half's steak and beer haze would have been the envy of many a man.
A quirky anecdote manager Tanya Farrant shared with me explained the pub's approach to fresh and local produce. Apparently the proprietor had a vision that he would be able to stand on the building's roof and look out across the region to see all the areas their foods originated from. Although I'm sure they still bring in some stuff from outside, the fact they are working towards this "food-miles" approach is very heartening.
Walking off lunch on the beach, we saw more people in the water than would be expected for late April, the sunshine and playful waves tempting hardier souls, including my daughter, in for a dip. A shoal of young learner surfers, wearing neon vests over their wetsuits, charged into the water, squealing gleefully and rolling off their boards with a plop, as they attempted to paddle out through the breakers.
Back at Ahu Ahu that evening, I caught the sunset from a clifftop seat, with a cup of tea and a few minutes to myself — which, in this busy life of work, family, parenting and all the rest of it — is something truly precious.
Reflecting on things with a sea view is surely one of life's great pleasures and makes you realise how small and insignificant are the hassles of daily life.
This sense of perspective is one of the best things about travelling, and is why I would encourage anyone to take every opportunity to do it — whether you journey to far-flung places or just set out to explore this beautiful land we are lucky enough to call our backyard.