When fire ripped through the much-loved 109-year-old Akitio Beach home of Muriel and George Cowan, it wasn't just the home which was lost.

Gone too were a lifetime of memories and valuable historic records.

Fortunately, the Cowans weren't at home, but in Napier with family, and Muriel is still having a hard time trying to summon up the courage to look at photos of the destruction.

"I'm heartbroken," she said.

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The historic Akitio Beach home of George and Muriel Cowan which, along with its beautiful garden, was destroyed by fire. Photo / Christine McKay
The historic Akitio Beach home of George and Muriel Cowan which, along with its beautiful garden, was destroyed by fire. Photo / Christine McKay

The fire came at a time when both Muriel, 77 and George, 81, have been battling serious health issues. George had a major stroke last October and is now living with their daughter in Napier.

"He's been pretty stoic since news of the fire came through," Muriel said.

The Cowan's home was built in 1910 from Australian hardwood, which meant when George re-roofed he had to drill holes for the nails.

"It took teamsters five days to drag a load of that hardwood from Dannevirke to Akitio," Muriel said.

"George's family have been in the house since the 1930s and I first came to the house when I met George in the 1960s. The house is iconic and was a boarding house, accommodating boundary riders, artist Gottfried Lindauer when he was painting portraits of the early landowners, woolclassers, fishermen, schoolteachers and we had always used it as a holiday house.

"George's aunt was a Karitane nurse and she would have families out there too."

The house, which was one of the two oldest houses at Akitio, had also been the Akitio Post Office and was central to life at the beach and it was often photographed because it was so picturesque.

The Cowan's home following the fire. Great work by firefighters prevented the blaze taking a hold on vegetation up the hillside. Photo / Supplied
The Cowan's home following the fire. Great work by firefighters prevented the blaze taking a hold on vegetation up the hillside. Photo / Supplied

"It always had a mystique about it," Muriel said.

"It echoed with some many stories, like the time during World War II when George's aunt was warned by the home guard that she had a chink of lamp light shining from the bedroom. She was told she could be responsible for leading the Japanese ashore."

And in the early years a sawmill operated alongside the house.

"It was a financial failure and people were killed when the boiler blew up. I haven't been able to find out how many lost their lives, but they were buried at the urapa by the river mouth," Muriel said.

A well-known author of a number of books, many detailing the history and characters of Akitio, Muriel is also a well-versed poet who has also collated an extensive history of the district, including stories of the bullock teams at Akitio Beach, which are a rich part of our past.

But now everything is gone, destroyed in the blaze.

"All my books, my archives, newspaper cuttings and old photos have gone up in smoke," Muriel told the Dannevirke News.

"One very precious item was a lockable decanter set which had come off the Pleiades."

Launched in 1869 and after sailing the seas for thirty years, bringing many thousand immigrants to New Zealand, the Pleiades met her doom by going aground at Akitio in 1899. No lives were lost, but the ship was unable to be saved.

"Our house was home to all the original furniture from George's family and although we did have insurance, it was limited," Muriel said.

"I had collected a lot of original art, including illustrations by Jan Menzies and historic paintings and I had an extensive collection of pottery and labelled china - all gone."

Friend Gail Munro has set up a Givealittle page to help the couple rebuild.

"That fire was the last straw for them, so I want to help raise funds so they can rebuild their lives at Akitio Beach," she said.

"Any funds raised will be used to either purchase a relocatable house or to rebuild suitable accommodation at Akitio Beach. Any surplus funds will go to the Akitio Community Centre."

And Muriel is determined she and George will return to the beach.

"With luck I am going back out there next summer," she said.

Muriel is also keen to restore the wonderful garden, lost in the blaze on March 6.

"It's ironic. Cherished garden ornaments, beautifully hand-painted and carved, have gone. But the truly hideous ones survived," she said.

The Cowans are still assessing what they've lost in the fire as they itemise the contents for their insurance company.

"The cause is indeterminable, but it went up very, very quickly," Muriel said. "Locals heard a big bang and immediately flames were coming out of the house."