This idyllic hideaway is accessible only by sea and is the common denominator in the friendship over more than 60 years of two Kiwi childhood rugby mates. US-based financier Bruce Cleland and Auckland civil engineer Grant Campbell met playing school-age rugby in Wellington.

Decades later in 2000, when it came time for Bruce to rebuild the two dwellings on this land, he engaged Grant to put his background in the construction industry to good use by managing the project.

Bruce has been living overseas for the past 47 years, during which time he married and raised a family of four children. It was when his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness that he decided to renew his bonds to New Zealand.

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"I had a strong urge to own a little piece of New Zealand before she died, to help me maintain a close connection both for myself and for our children," he says.

After a 10-day visit Bruce landed on Orokawa Bay, the last property on his list of Bay of Islands options.

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"When we climbed out of the boat I literally felt a tingle run down my spine and I fell for it immediately," he says.

Undeterred by the irreparable condition of the two 1920s dwellings, Bruce engaged Auckland architect Peter Sargisson to recreate a new home with a harmonious connection with the land.

Peter designed two identical looking homes on the beachfront footprint of the original dwellings, with adjoining amenities at the back.

The larger main house has an all-weather breezeway linking its front living areas to the new three-room rear bedroom annex.

The cottage sits further back from the beach with its own pergola connecting the boat shed and eight-bed loft accommodation.

"It all sits very comfortably with the environment," says Grant. But it was no easy build. At its peak, 15 tradesmen lived on-site, with Grant's son spending his gap year cooking meals.

Barge operators had to work with the tides, often delivering materials and equipment in the middle of the night.

"This was no nine-to-five job. It was quite a logistical exercise," says Grant.

In came the roofing iron, weatherboards, joinery for the glass sliding doors and matching windows, interior roof rafters and golden Fijian kauri timber flooring.

This home was always about delivering dynamic social spaces, including the breezeway for table tennis and bedrooms away from living areas for solitude.

"Aside from the communal spaces, it's really important to have those private spaces and that was part of Peter's philosophy," says Grant. "This house is cosy for two and comfortable for 20."

For Bruce and his wife Isobel, the remoteness of Orokawa Bay has been magical.

"I used to lie awake at nights and dream about it," says Bruce. With family and grandchildren well-established in the US, he has a holiday property closer to home, but he'll still be keeping connected to family and friends in New Zealand.

OROKAWA BAY, BAY OF ISLANDS
• 3+3 bedrooms, 5 bathroom, 0* parking spaces.
• Land 5.96ha, house 686sq m.
• Tender: Closes Feb 21.
• Inspect: By appointment.
• Schools: Russell Primary, Bay of Island College, Kerikeri High School.
• Contact: Chester Rendell, Sotheby's, 021 964 873.
*Double boat shed. no road access