1189 AWHITU RD, WAIUKU
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SIZE: Land 2732sq m, church 60sq m.
PRICE INDICATION: $400,000 to $600,000.
INSPECT: Sun 2pm-3pm.
CONTACT: Patricia Fenton, 021 836 242, Barfoot & Thompson.
AUCTION: 5pm Dec 15 at 5 Queen St, The Kentish Hotel, Waiuku.

Patsy Deverall quotes the words from Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi: "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone ... they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

There's a similar reasoning behind saving Kohekohe Church on Awhitu peninsula, 20km east of Pukekohe.

"It is an iconic sort of building and New Zealand has pulled down so many of its buildings," says Patsy, who bought the church in September 2012 with business partner and fellow teacher, Antonella Coppolino. In those four years Patsy has learned that the church was built during the Tarawera eruptions in 1886. "Papers Past noted the builders were high enough up to see this glow in the sky and to hear the rumble."

It was used as a Presbyterian church, until decommissioned in 1976. Outside is a memorial to the church's worshippers.

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"The church, I think, has always been on that plot of land," she says. "Some people used to walk across to that church across a lot of paddocks. People who went there when they were young, and I am talking about people now in their 70s and 80s, think that the church has been moved but, actually, the road has been changed."

When Patsy and Antonella bought the church, it had been unused for 35 years.

"I think after the war churches weren't used as much," says Patsy. "People got cars and they drove past the small churches to the big churches in town. I have heard that from 1954 the attendance slackened off and that by 1976 it was decommissioned. And then I gather the local farmer owned it. When we bought, it was in total disrepair with most of the windows broken, swallows nesting in it, the roof was rusted and decayed. It just seemed a tragedy."

She understands people had helped themselves to pews and the organ when the church was derelict. However, some pews remain as well as the lectern in the one-room building.

Patsy and Antonella were struck by the architecture of the kauri building and its commanding position against a backdrop of farm land, lake and sea. In the distance are pa sites.

"It was so beautifully placed, overlooking the Tasman and Lake Pokorua, and with such good bones. "

Restoration work involved replacing the roof, removing rusty nails, and connecting it to power.

"We didn't have to re-pile, it was solid," she says. "We had to renew one board inside. On the outside, it was a matter of punching through the nails and de-rusting them and doing a good sand job and painting the church. Every board in that place is kauri. It has withstood all sorts of winters and the intensities of summer."

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They planted a pohutukawa, native bush over to one corner, and fast growing bushes to protect the building from wind. The church has been used for weddings, as a picnic venue and for private services and commemorations. Irish band The Corrs filmed their What Can I Do video here (watch it on YouTube) and advertisements and movies including The Price of Milk have scenes filmed at the church.

Patsy says there is no legal reason the church couldn't be used as a home.

"There is no historic places caveat on it and there is no council caveat on it.

"A lot of New Zealand churches have a building appended to it at the back but I didn't want to change the back because that to me is an important as the front. If you go around the back and look at it, it is extraordinary how high it is and the solid timber that has been used to build it."

Patsy says it has been a big decision for her and Antonella to sell.

"But I think it is time for somebody else to think of something more to do with it or to take it further down the path it is already on."

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