by Jason Burgess
Auckland’s West Coast is famed for its burning black sands, thunderous surf, primordial cliffs and sensuous rainforest. It’s not a landscape for the feint hearted. Each beach along this Jurassic Park like seaboard is ruggedly beautiful in character and distinctly unique from any other.
Passing alongside the wetlands on the road into Te Henga/ Bethells Beach, I’m immediately transported back in time to when the stilted pa of the Kawerau people stood above the reeds and the gnarled headlands were strongholds against marauding northern tribes. Any trip to the coast is a spiritual journey, but on this road it’s as if ancestral forces guide my car towards the dunes.
At the Bethells Beach Cottages, the presence of another forebear, pioneer John (Pa) Bethell can still be felt. Fifth generation descendant Trude Bethell and her husband John Paice carry on a tradition of hospitality and welcome that Pa began at the turn of the last century, when he created guest accommodations for adventurous weekenders arriving by horse and cart. When Trude and John opened to guests in 1987 with the solitary Turehu cottage, there were few other accommodation options on the coast.
Twenty-three years on they offer three choices of Qualmark Four plus rated self-contained, eco friendly lodgings, each with its own eclectic flavour, framed beneath ancient pohutukawa, some planted by Pa himself.??Sheltered from the prevailing sou-wester, the cottages sit in their own private microclimate on a north facing grass plateau at the summit of a giant sand dune.
It’s as close to the coast as you can get without falling into the sunset. Only gulls are guaranteed better views, and the unyielding metronome of the tempestuous Tasman Sea provides life’s backbeat.
John and Trude are on hand for my arrival; congenial and laid back as always. Privacy, they say, is paramount. Having been given my bearings, recycling instructions, shown the track to the beach and sampling one of John’s delicious homemade ales, I’m left to my own devices. The only decision is whether to take a soak in the Scandinavian hot tub, which has one of the best views of the beach, or make use of the portable hot tub which can be transported anywhere one chooses.
Beyond the cottage-side patios, each with their own wood-fired barbeques, are a plethora of secret nooks and crannies where an eclectic array of tables and chairs are positioned to catch unique aspects of the all-encompassing view. Trude tells me the prime motivation for opening the business, and the aspect she loves most about the operation, is being able to “share this magnificent property.” She and John’s spirit of creativity is abundant across every aspect of the acre-plus landscape and in each building, particularly Te Koinga (point or extremity between the land and sea), a board and batten beach house built for entertaining, which can sleep a family of seven or equally comfortable for two couples.
John, a chippie by trade and self-confessed magpie by nature, has a passion for environmental consciousness, especially when it comes to native trees. He designed and built Te Koinga using recycled timbers he collected. An arrowhead shaped atrium built from nine-metre long macrocarpa beams references the cottage’s name and location. The arched hallway leading into the open plan lounge and dining area is made from a single pohutukawa branch found on a dead tree in the forest.
Trude’s Bohemian interior touches are an amalgam of boisterous colour and hippie chic, designed for comfort and a fuss-free beachside experience. There’s a Norwegian woodburner and a 12-seater table for winter feasts. French doors open onto an ample deck with its own grand driftwood table, cut from a totara log that John hauled up from the beach. Of the two bedrooms in Te Koinga, one is dominated by a queen-size bed, the other has three bunks, while the living room features a large double divan.
The flagship Turehu cottage is a honeymooner’s retreat, named for the mystical fairy folk who, like Cottage guests, wander in and out of the Waitakeres. With a queen-size bed in the studio plus a double fold out divan in the conservatory, it’s also ideal for friends on a get-away-from-it-all weekend. A dining table in the conservatory oversees one of the best outlooks on the land; alternatively, a stone bench on the edge of the lawn offers the ultimate in outdoor locations.
The most recent accommodation addition is Wairua (soul and spirit), an apartment tucked away under the main house, with its own gated patio and special views. Wairua hosts a plethora of handcrafted wood cabinetry, an artist’s easel, paints, fresh flowers and complimentary Living Nature natural toiletries in a large tiled bathroom. Wairua’s point of difference is the enormous Balinese bed. A newly built pavilion with adjacent pizza oven and kitchen is ideal for corporate events and weddings.
The Cottages can pre-arrange Wellness and Rejuvenation packages including massage, body wraps, Aura Soma and Tai Chi for individuals and groups. They also host musical performances by the likes of Anika Moa, fundraising events for 120 guests and, starting in October, weekends with international psychic Suzie Price.
It’s an easy 45-minute drive from Auckland’s CBD to Te Henga/ Bethells Beach. A slower road, aptly named Scenic Drive, wends across the top of the Waitakere Ranges. Travellers along this stretch of bitumen can unwind into the spirit of the place and take in some fantastic views. In parts, the road traces the passage of Pa Bethell who, as a 10-year old boy, would regularly take a similar route, on foot, carting supplies from Newmarket to the family’s coastal farm at Anawhata. A two-day trip one way!