By Jodi Bryant
To outsiders, Andrea Thackwray looks to be living the coastal dream and she'll be the first to declare her happiness. But dig a little deeper and you will discover it has not been an easy journey for the bubbly, active entrepreneur, who is constantly thinking outside the square to make ends meet.
Despite much adversity, the solo mum of four has, not only carved out a successful career, but turned out four beautiful daughters with their own successful professions.
Originally from Christchurch, Andrea had started a business career with a dozen staff working for her by the time she was 21. Also, a dive instructor, she met her daughters' father in the 80s and moved north where he owned land at Mahinepua, north of Kerikeri.
They purchased around 4.5 hectares of nearby coastal-front property and spent the following years clearing and transforming the land while building. However, the relationship became increasingly volatile and Andrea left it in 2011. Despite her attempts at ploughing on being constantly thwarted, and with a sizeable mortgage, Andrea never gave up.
"All my girls have had to chip in," she says gazing beyond the expanse of deck and well-kept lawn to the sparkling jewel-like ocean that is her backdrop. "They've all got a bit of drive in them I'd say."
In terms of the setting, Andrea's daughters have had an idyllic upbringing with ample outdoors opportune but it wasn't without its hard work; Whether it was digging up horse manure for their vast vege garden, harvesting the crop or providing the fresh catch of the day, with the intent of living off the land. And then there's the common country drawback; the 35-minute car ride into school at Kerikeri, which in true spirit, Andrea puts a positive spin on.
"I have a lovely relationship with the kids because I've spent so much time in the car with them – 35 minutes talking about their day. Not everyone gets to do that."
But despite the good chat, Andrea entertained the idea of moving to Kerikeri and it was this which lead her to the successful business she runs today.
"When I was contemplating moving, I thought wouldn't it be clever for real estate agents to be able to show people the properties via video for viewers to watch at home."
However, this was in the days just prior to internet-viewed video footage and real estate agents didn't jump on board with the idea. But, accommodation providers did.
And so Promotional Videos was born. Beginning with simple video equipment, the family company soon evolved using helicopters - and then drones - and underwater cameras to produce videos for businesses which air at the likes of the Cathay Cinema in Kerikeri and nationwide. The family have made videos promoting restaurants, vineyards, real estate, accommodation, markets, horse trekking, surf schools, photographers and gyms, to name a few.
While the youngest girls initially acted in the videos where necessary, the two oldest, then in their teens, also played important roles. Michelle, now 27, has always been an avid photographer/videographer and started her own business from the age of 14 breeding, videoing and selling Ragdoll kittens. She once had a waiting list of up to 40 customers who would fly from all around the country for the popular cats. Today, Michelle, married to 'tech genius' David, who she met in primary school and has three kids with, films and edits videos commercially for Promotional Videos, artistically bringing them to life with music and effects, while living just across the bay from her mother.
Bridget, 26, was basically forced into the business while still in high school, Andrea admits with a laugh. "She took online web design lessons at 16 so she could help me and her sister with the business in the early years. This was when the four kids and I were on our own and it was hard to make ends meet so we were able to up our game."
And it was to be the start of something much bigger for Bridget, who went onto forge a successful web design and social media marketing company which enabled her to travel the world with her laptop. Today Bridget and boyfriend Topher (short for Christopher) are navigating the globe in Jeep Gunther (named after Gunther Holtorf who spent 24 years driving around the world). The duo, with their Jeep, are taking on 70 countries, through seven continents over three years to carry out assignments for the likes of National Geographic and WWF promoting environmental issues and share their discoveries with breath-taking and clever imagery through global media channels and social media. Their Instagram page Expedition Earth has well over 200,000 followers.
Then there's Penny who always had a passion for the outdoors and, at 16, is already sponsored by Aimrite Spearfishing and has over 4,000 followers to her Instagram page featuring her impressive adventurous freediving catches.
And 15-year-old Holly is a master at app development and has already developed a couple of her own.
As for Andrea, she feels she has combined her love for beautiful scenery, a passion for filming and a desire to spend time with her family, to create the ultimate business.
"One of the best things about our job is the amazing opportunity to learn about so many different products. One year we did 12 economic development videos for the Northland Regional Council and learnt about agriculture, horticulture, forestry, aquaculture… and found ourselves filming such interesting things as the paua and kingfish farming research being done at NIWA, wood processing plants, new kiwifruit research, meat processing plants and things that normally time doesn't permit us all to learn about."
And this business led to the development of tourism website See and Do New Zealand, which utilises their Promotional Videos skills, showcasing the country's beautiful tourism spots and featured to potential tourists around the world. After Michelle's husband David invented animated gif buttons, linking the site to other tourism companies both nationally and internationally, See and Do NZ has web traffic of over three million video views per year. Plus, it lends itself nicely to their main business, providing a huge library of stock footage which clients are happy to use for their own videos.
The family team have travelled all around the country – at times with the newest baby in the front pack - shooting footage for skiing destinations, parachuting, bungy jumping, rafting, caving, and more.
"It has been a wonderful bonding experience with the kids, pushing all of us to do amazing things," reflects Andrea. "The girls and I have produced well over 100 scenic videos around New Zealand and have enjoyed learning about our beautiful country travelling to all the different corners to film it as a family together."
And then, back home, there's the family patch, a work in progress and a stunning one at that. Over the years, Andrea has carved out her land to maximise the views and hosted her daughter's wedding onsite. Ever the entrepreneur, she hosts backpackers on a regular basis, providing board for labour, the most recent guests creating stairs leading up to her top tier of land with breath-taking picturesque views over the bay.
Although the two oldest daughters have left home and, with the younger two in school, it never gets lonely for Andrea – as she works from her water-front office, her loyal long-haired Weimaraner dog Louie is never far from her side. Then there's Tipsy, the chihuahua, the five Ragdoll cats aesthetically sleeping on each of the girls' beds, Echo the Quaka the parrot, who cheekily watches goings-on through the kitchen window, and the rabbits.
And come Christmas, it's a full house every year with all the family descending and that is when Andrea is at her happiest.
"I always put the kids first. If Michelle comes over with the babies, I stop what I'm doing as that's the reward. I feel majorly proud of myself and what I have achieved but it's the time together that we spend that means the most. I always feel connected to them – even with my daughter travelling the world. You reap what you sow if you put your priorities and direct your energy in the right place and what I like to reap is the love of my family."