Endless Summer - Family Life in Piha

Life's laidback and carefree for this surf-loving family at Auckland 's Piha. 

When your fondest childhood memories are of long, hot, carefree days in the sand and surf, it's understandable that you'd want your own kids to have the same idyllic upbringing.

And if you can make that summer holiday last year round, well, why wouldn't you? Carolyn Gundy and Stu Millar have.

The couple met in their twenties through mutual friends at Karekare Surf Club. Carolyn says Stu "hounded me for some time to catch up but I was intending to go to Europe, so dodged his calls".

Eventually the traveller returned, and the two kept bumping into each other around Piha where they were both flatting over the summer. Needless to say, Stu eventually won his long-awaited date.

Fast-foward a few too many years to mention and the couple have added two young girls to their brood, while creating a wonderful, warm family home for them at their beloved Piha.

Issue 20Family Matters1

The west side rules
Carolyn grew up in the Waitakere Ranges, so Auckland's famous west coast beaches were her playground. Her family also had a beach front section at Taupo Bay in Northland.

"My parents are both teachers so we would bail up north as soon as the Christmas holidays started and camped out in tents and caravans for a couple of months each summer.

"We'd have a massive Christmas feast with extended family and then do it all again on New Year's Day. I have amazing memories of that place."

Likewise, Stu was an outdoorsy kid. His parents had a caravan on a section at Omaha, so Stu's summers in the '70s and '80s were spent skateboarding across the then largely empty cul-de-sacs, as well as fishing and surfing.

And that carefree, laidback, nature-loving life is what Carolyn and Stu want most for their girls, Portia, three and Leia, five.

The love of surfing and the rugged west coast is why the couple chose to bring up their family in Piha. The downside is that Stu has to commute to the city for work, which can take a couple of hours out of his day. But he says, as soon as he hits the winding road down the hill into Piha, the sound of the surf and the salt air hit, and the stresses of the day fall away. It's like being on holiday full-time.

And short of being a professional surfer (which he grudgingly concedes isn't going to happen) he's more than happy working in the city, managing investment and superannuation funds.

Issue 20Family Matters2Grand designs
Of course it helps when the drive home has you winding up a tree-lined wooden track and discovering an architectural gem at the end of it.

Carolyn spent seven years working for Crosson, Clarke, Carnachan Architects in Parnell before taking a "voluntary suspension" to have Leia. Now she works 15 or so hours from home, mainly for local clients. But her biggest project to date has been designing and building the family's own home.

In 2005 the couple bought "a tiny bach on a great site". Carolyn would sneak an hour or two a day when baby Leia was having a sleep to start work on the design. Once Leia started preschool she had more time to really nut out the plans. But then along came baby Portia, and the project received only sporadic attention.

And there were other distractions. "If the surf was good any chance of squeezing time in to work on the design was down the drain!" says Carolyn. No doubt it was a long and frustrating process for her client Stu, but seven years down the track, the couple are proud to show off a home that ticks all their boxes.

It's modern, bright and airy. It has great outdoor living and a peek of the sea so they can see if the surf's up.

While they kept the footprint of the original old bach, it's pretty much a complete rebuild.

Carolyn says, "It's a compact but great little space, which a friend described as a little jewellery box."

Heading into their first summer in their completed house, they expect they'll have a constant stream of visitors and house guests.

Life's a beach
The surfing couple love nothing more than hitting the waves together but it's only on the odd occasion that they can manage it.

Carolyn also has a few local girlfriends who she goes surfing with. They'll gather the children on the beach and tag-team the childcare while they each head out for a surf.

They're also members of the Karekare Surf Life Saving Club and this year Leia is old enough to be a "tadpole" - a young life-guard in training.

On the days when the weather's not flash, the family will flag the beach and head out for a bike ride or a bush walk. Or maybe just hang out at home doing some landscaping and playing on the tree swing at the bottom of the garden.

They reckon there's no better place to bring up kids. Carolyn says the local preschool is fantastic with a school bus close by for Leia.

"It's enough of a close-knit community to be able to call on a great crew of people for support without being too small and overbearing."

"We spend summer afternoons after school down at the beach boogie-boarding. The days seems to go further out here in the summer and it's criminal not to make the most of it. 




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