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A PLACE TO CALL HOME: Lara Matthews on her "dream property" in Te Horo with son Liam.


When I was a child my family moved a lot. I was raised in Wellington and I think it’s fair to say I had a pretty typical “city kid” upbringing.

We seemed to move every couple of years, but it never bothered me as we didn’t travel far and I could stay at school with my friends.

The only downside of this arrangement was that I never felt I had a physical “place to call home”.

Despite this sense of transience, I have always had a strong connection to Ōtaki. My parents were born and bred here, and returned once us kids left home. One set of grandparents was also born here and they came back from Australia to live; the other grandparents lived here from 1952. My brother and his family have also been living in Ōtaki for the past eight years.

I spent many Christmas and school holidays at my grandmother’s house on Te Manuao Road and have fond memories of visiting my great-grandmother at Matene Street.

In fact, I can hardly walk down the street with my mother without her pointing out someone we are related to and where the family connection is. My whakapapa extends back to the early 1800s on my Pākehā side, and even further for my Māori ancestry (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa and Ngāi Tahu).

In my mid-20s I was still living in Wellington with my then partner (later husband), Dustin. We were your conventional uni graduates flatting in the heart of the CBD, and our childhood dreams (his to become a farmer or builder and mine of having a petting zoo) weren’t exactly realistic.

We were stuck in the corporate world and in search of something more meaningful, like quitting our jobs and moving to South America. Or being sensible and buying an overpriced “first home” in Wellington. With the housing market going crazy though, I found myself looking half-heartedly at properties that we could barely afford and wouldn’t want to live in anyway.

I gave up that dream and focused on planning our overseas itinerary.

On a whim one day I expanded my web search

to include “bare land” and “Kāpiti”. I found a section in Te Horo, 3.5 hectares with a lot of scrubby, half-dead manuka and no mature trees.

It was perfect.

We found ourselves following the trend of moving to the Ōtaki region and realised our dream of owning our first home. We saved money by doing a lot of the work ourselves and got a new build for a price comparable to a shack in town.

Dustin got to dabble in his building and farming dreams and I have my cat, dogs, sheep and cows – basically my own little petting zoo. And we now have two young boys.

The Ōtaki region has given us so much. I love the lifestyle up here and being able to raise my kids in the country. I remember a few years back seeing a young girl walk her pet goat along Freemans Road and thinking how cool it would be to give my children that experience.

The climate is better up here and I feel like we get a proper summer. There are incredible bush walks, beach walks and river walks to take the children and the dogs to and plenty of activities up the gorge to satiate the need for some adventure.

Te Horo is a beautiful area and best of all my family is just a short drive to Ōtaki.

Like anywhere, Ōtaki is not perfect and there are issues in the community to work on. But there are also many things to love about the place.

Such as the annual kite festival. The early morning view of Kāpiti Island lit up by the sun. Extra-long parking spaces.

To me, however, what I love most about Ōtaki is that it feels like home. I might not have been born here, but I am part of this place now, and it’s a part of me.

Do I ever yearn for South America and the experiences that would have brought to my life? Yes. Do I regret moving here instead? Absolutely not.

A transient childhood, but strong connections to Ōtaki



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