Trying to entertain a 7-month-old child led to a beach project with the design precision of a builder, was viewed virtually by more than 1000 people and provided hope for friends as far away as the United Kingdom.

On day one of the lockdown Charis O'Connor and her partner Ben Rutten took their 7- month-old daughter Lilia for a walk down to Waikanae Beach to get some fresh air and a change of scene.

Living in a small house and with a month at home imminent, the small family made the most of the sunny weather creating a design in the sand out of shells with Lilia's name in the middle.

As the days went by and being cooped up in a small house became rather stagnant, the family started to make daily beach trips adding here and there to the shell design which was far enough up the beach, near the Waikanae River mouth, to not get washed away by the tide.

Seven month old Lilia with the original design on Waikanae Beach, March 25.
Seven month old Lilia with the original design on Waikanae Beach, March 25.

While Lilia was having her morning sleeps, Charis and Ben worked on the design which slowly turned into a mandala, a symmetrical, abstract geometrical design.

Slowly the mandala began to form and went from being a higgledy-piggledy design to a striking mandala with symmetrical shapes and in Charis' words, "a perfect, measured design courtesy of a builders hand".

"It feels like we cheated a bit," Charis said.

"With Ben being a builder he made sure we had proper circles and things all lined up rather than just putting stuff here and there like I would do."

Each day they came back and found people had changed the name in the middle.

"We've become quite close with our neighbours over this time and they came to know it was us who was creating the shell design on the beach.

"Many of them started changing the name back to Lilia each time someone changed it but eventually someone wrote 'love' and we left it at that so everyone could enjoy it.

"It then became more of a gift for the community with people adding shells and names, with children and adults alike getting involved.

The final design.
The final design.

"It was so nice meeting people when we were working on it each day, and it was nice that people could pass it on their daily walks and add their names to it."

After 12 days it was beginning to become a bit of a chore, so Charis and Ben had a few days off.

"We left it for the community for a bit and came back to it after a few days.

"We've met so many people walking past and have had people tell us they've sent pictures of it to friends in the UK and it has turned into a bit of hope for people.

"It was just something nice for us to do to start off with and has turned into something bigger."

The project eventually came to an end when high winds and tides over Easter washed away all the shells but not before Waikanae artist Michelle Retimana captured the design during a stunning Kāpiti sunset.


Capturing the shot on Saturday evening, while venturing out from her property for only the second time during lockdown Michelle said, "I have been very anxious throughout this lockdown so that was only the second time off our property when I saw the mandala.

"Living at the beach I feel so, so privileged to be residing where we can walk both north and south along the beach, so lucky.

"I came across this magical mandala made with shells on Waikanae Beach next to the stream, thank you to whoever made it."