Sanctuary for the Endangered
“A sanctuary in nature’s paradise” is the strapline for Miller’s Ark. For once, the advertising is true. Nestled behind the sand dunes of Pakiri Beach is a lush sub-tropical garden, an extraordinary and eccentric home, a rentable studio and gorgeous rustic wedding venue. And it was all lovingly built and planted by hand over decades by Paul and Josephine Miller.
You may know them as that nice couple tending the ‘I Love Pies’ stall at Matakana Farmers Markets. The pie business belongs to one of their daughters, but mum and dad keep up a local presence going by getting up at 5am every Saturday and opening the stall at 8. Hard work, (“and getting harder!” says Jo) but they love the busy market.
These two definitely know how to put in the hard yards. Driving through the Pakiri paddocks to get to Miller’s Ark you’re eventually greeted by what hip gardeners would call a food forest. There’s a huge clump of highly productive banana trees, an orchard closely planted with pomegranates, figs, citrus and grapes; vege gardens, tropical flowers and an olive grove which has produced 200L of prize-winning oil in a year. They used to press it by hand, but now take it along to Whangaripo Valley’s Olive Place.
Birds, bees and butterflies abound here. The birdlife is fiercely protected – there are endangered bittern and fernbirds in the many acres of pristine wetland behind the dunes, kookaburra and kaka in the bush, and dotterel, pied stilts and rare fairy terns on the wild miles of beach, just eight minutes’ walk from the olive grove.
Paul bought the land with a group of other like-minded individuals when he was 21. He was a potter and had been living up on Pakiri hill. He built a bigger kiln down at the beach and made a good living from his work. Josephine arrived one day with friends… and never left.
She was 24, immersed in the fashion world at Auckland’s ‘Tiger Moth’ boutique. She had “put it out to the universe that she was looking for a potter who lived by the beach.” She’s pretty sure there was a dog and a Landrover in there, too. Paul had told a friend he’d quite like a Sagittarian redhead. “Oh yes, we were definitely meant to meet. We couldn’t have done this with anyone else for a partner,” Josephine says. They smile at each other.
In the early years, the girls to the local country primary school in Tomorata. Josephine and Paul milked goats by hand to make cheese of some renown, which Jo drove down to city delicatessens. Paul meanwhile worked his clay and went about the endless job of finishing the house. The whole family moved down to Auckland for the girls’ secondary education and the couple returned with renewed vigour 15 years later.
The garden was planted on sand; they laugh when asked how much compost they’ve hauled in by hand. “It’s nearly broken our bodies, but our souls are well nourished,” Josephine says. “I do feel that it might just be our life’s work – creating what is, to us, our Garden of Eden. Every person who comes here says it feels like a healing and relaxing place, and it’s wonderful to be able to bring that to people who need it.”
The self-contained studio has been adored by many, and they’ve added to it with a tempting outdoor bath. As a wedding venue, it’s a picture of rustic romance, but they only host a couple annually. The marquee goes up at the far end of the olive grove. “They string lights through the trees… it’s very beautiful. We’ve got it down to a fine art now.”
Some couples have the ceremony on the beach then walk back to the garden for the reception. Glamping has worked well in the past, but there’s plenty of local accommodation at the Pakiri Beach Holiday Park and at Pakiri Beach Horse Rides.
It’s always been a little remote out here, and that’s just how they like it. But Paul and Josephine are finding that there’s more action than ever along the beach. Te Araroa Walkway trampers often pop in – the Millers are ‘Trail Angels’. Weary travellers walking the length of New Zealand are welcome to pop in for some sustenance and to tend their aches and pains.
This couple have cleverly reinvented themselves to support their vision for the land and their lifestyle, but new subdivisions along Pakiri Block Road are multiplying, and the exclusive Tara Iti Golf Club at nearby Te Arai attracts international guests.
Peaceful vibrations at Millers Ark are now regularly replaced by the very loud vibrations of helicopters bearing wealthy golfers northward. Paul and Josephine may represent a new endangered species: the original Pakiri lifestylers.
www.bookabach.co.nz – Miller’s Ark #20736