When their self-built sustainable home went up in flames early in the morning of Tuesday, May 19, by all rights, so too should have the dreams of Richard and Shannon Barrett.
The Barretts and their three children Caylee, 7, Eliana, 4 and Taura, 2, had been living off the grid on whānau land at Papakai, on the slopes of Mt Tongariro, in a house Richard built himself.
A long and often difficult journey of building the whare by hand was part of a dream the couple had of living sustainably and following in the footsteps of Richard's Ngāti Hikairo tūpuna.
Inside, the house was cosy and warm, a place for their children to grow and learn in a home-schooled environment. Outside, the family had just planted crops and had dreams of raising fruit trees.
But it all went up in flames when embers in an outdoor oven the family had thought was extinguished sprang to life and spread to the house's deck. Luckily for the family, Richard somehow sensed the fire and woke just in time to get everybody out. But it was a cold night, the pipes had frozen, there was no water to be had and by the time the fire brigade arrived, everything was gone. And, there was no insurance. The family could not afford it.
It would be enough to break anyone. But not the Barretts. They are determined to rebuild and this time they want their new whare to be a template for other hapū or iwi members also looking to return home to their land, where they can pass the skills they have learned on to others.
They want their lifestyle to be one where their children live and thrive in harmony with the environment. And Richard particularly, who grew up in Otara and is a former professional rugby league player, wants this place to be a spiritual place, a healing place, where people can work out their hurts and their past trauma and in turn pass the gift of living simply, but with compassion, aroha and strength, on to others.
The family were living a standard lifestyle - he, retired from league, was a tradie working long hours and his Australian wife Shannon worked in human resources - on the Gold Coast, when Richard had a vision while visiting Peru. In it, he connected with his ancestors, who showed him a vision of coming back to the land and bringing his children up connected to nature, to their whakapapa and a simpler way of living, but also of being a pioneer for change for the next generation.
So, the family sold everything and moved back to New Zealand six years ago to reconnect with Richard's Māori culture. They started off living in a sleepout and Richard built the family home in stages. He and Shannon worked in various jobs to supplement their income, as well as living off the land and hunting. By the start of this year, the homestead was complete.
Then, the fire.
'Heartbreaking' tragedy: The driving mistake that tore three families apart
"We had so many aspirations," Shannon says. "It was only a week before the fire that we were finally content with our home and we were going to focus on the gardens and the orchard. But, it's still alive."
While the fire was devastating, the couple are undaunted and see it as just another challenge in their journey.
They plan to rebuild. But they want to do it differently. They want their rebuilding project to be a model that other people can follow to build their own warm, safe, sustainable homes which may draw them back to the land.
So, they are working on a business plan to present to iwi organisations, local corporates, forestry trusts, anyone they can find who may be able to support them in making their dream a reality.
"We want it [this project] to be bigger than ourselves," Shannon says. "This was an experience that's generated more momentum not only for us but for the community, so not only we will have a home that's safe and suitable but we'll branch it out into our community."
Richard sees vast potential in the area and both he and Shannon believe people need to be in jobs that sustain their wairua, and by extension, their families too. But to get to that place, they must first come back to their roots, reconnect and unpick the layers of social conditioning that the system has burdened them with.
"My purpose is to hold space for people and I can work alongside them to connect them to who they truly are and to me that's when our tūpuna become present and they can connect and feel the presence of them and that's a powerful feeling.
"We need to find ways to sustain the spiritual essence that we are trying to build here."
The end goal is that families thrive in an environment that caters for them and Richard feels strongly that his tūpuna are urging him to action that change and to use his practical and spiritual gifts to help others.
"Everyone has got to have a purpose. We are healers, we are kaitiaki, we are leaders but our people think they should be working at Burger King. I believe we are beautiful, resilient and strong and we're the leaders that have to provide that foundation. Everyone has been saying this but no one has been able to action it."
The family have been overwhelmed by the compassion and aroha shown to them by the community since the fire. They have been staying in a motel in Tokaanu but last week had a one-room cabin shipped onto their land to move into as soon as it can be made habitable. From there, they will start again from the ground up.
Their previous home had its own generators, septic tank and water collection. Richard sourced a lot of materials through the resource recovery centre at the Tūrangi transfer station and got smart deals where possible. The couple re-used and re-purposed whatever they could to keep costs down. Now they will have to repeat the process.
Before the fire, life wasn't all a rural idyll, Richard says.
'We struggled a lot to remember our reasons for coming here which was to build a sustainable home for our children to live here and thrive here. It's difficult when you have the reality of not having water, not having money, not having resources and because of that it tested our relationship. But through our love for one another and our love for our children and what we want for us both to have is what's kept us going."
Richard thinks the fire is part of the family's journey although he acknowledges it has been painful for all.
"This is a big experience of wisdom and experience and knowledge that we can value once we are settled and we get past this."
And although the couple are humbled by $30,000 which has been raised on GoFundMe and Givealittle to help them rebuild, they say they are not talking about their journey because they want a hand out.
"We are not expecting anything other than just to share.
"We've been tested a lot. We are still here trying and Tongariro's proud of that, I think."