They dug to preserve the history above, and stumbled across a glimpse of it below.
Erosion protection work has revealed a relic of Takapuna Beach's past, with workers coming across a buried set of stone steps leading down to what was once the beach.
The steps, buried by years of shifting sand, will soon be reburied, however - the privately funded work is actually to preserve two other reminders of times gone by, the landowner paying for the work told the Herald.
Peter Menzies owns a William St beachfront property and asked contractors to build a retaining wall and do other works in a bid to protect an age-unknown swimmers' changing shed and a pōhutukawa tree at the bottom of his property.
The steps were a surprise, but nothing special, Menzies, who is aged in his 80s and had lived in the area for 50 years, said.
"They will just be buried again when the work is done … we can't leave a big hole there. I've got two things to preserve - an old changing shed and a protected pōhutukawa."
He was unsure of either's age but both were special, he said.
"The shed I'm protecting was built at the time people used to bathe at the beach and change in there. It's a reminder of what it was like years ago. But when we get big waves coming in, the tide washes over the whole base of the shed."
He'd already lined the walls of the shed with marine timber to protect it.
Menzies, who has deliberately left his front lawn unfenced so those visiting the beach can sit on its lower section, said the tree was special and familiar to many.
"It's a lovely old tree. Some families have picnicked under it for 30 or 40 years. It's got a lot of history and the old bathing shed is a reminder of a time past."
However, a big north-east storm, which struck at the peak of a king tide about five years ago, had caused serious erosion.
While his home, set 8m back, isn't at risk, the shed and tree are, Menzies said.
The works, which are expected to take about two weeks, involve replacing the stormwater disposal system and building a retaining wall.
"The retaining wall will act as a barrier so the sea doesn't erode [any more land]. The shed would be secure and the tree would be secure."
He didn't want to say how much the work cost. It was part of the cost of owning a property and wanting to protect the environment around it.
"You've got a responsibility to look after it for the generations ahead.
"What is the reason we're here? I'm a Christian and I think I understand why we're here ... responsibility for the environment is fundamental to a Christian person's faith."