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Ann-Marie Stapp: “Living in Ōtaki means I have a community of vibrant connections. . .”

Photo Ian Carson


It seems strange to be writing about why I love Ōtaki when I’m sitting in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. 

Then again, maybe not so strange. Being so far away, and at the end of a three-week trip, I’m very homesick for my life with Mary at our aptly named piece of paradise, Ōtaki Haven.

Homesick. Being sick for home. Wanting to be back with our loved ones in a familiar place. The word home invokes both images of places of birth and places we choose.

Ironically, Mary and I thought we were choosing Ōtaki when we bought in 2005, but we’ve come to believe that Ōtaki chose us.

We moved so we could have a quiet life in retirement and I could get a better chance at MS remission. A life that involved music and art, a garden with none of that Wellington garden-destroying wind, and not having to leave the property too much.

We found the house we wanted fairly quickly and managed to talk ourselves out of it, convincing ourselves it was too small. A month later, when its sale fell through, we had another chance.

We made an offer. We haggled. We bought. On settlement week we realised we were driving up Friday to collect the key and we didn’t even have a bed, so we bought one over the phone to be delivered the Friday night. 

The day arrived, the real estate agent was waiting on the steps, lights on and with our key.  No bed in sight. We were just going to go to plan B, find a motel, when a lone voice shouts out from down the drive “anyone here buy a bed”? He’d parked on the road and walked the 180m driveway with the mattress on his shoulders.

That’s how life in Ōtaki begun. On a wing and a prayer.

For the first year we commuted up every weekend, bringing bits of our Wellington life to Ōtaki, preparing to sell our old home and make the transition. We watched the studios being built, the bathroom and kitchen renovated and the deck form a courtyard for the spa pool to sit upon. A safe place!

From the time we Civil Unioned in Wellington in 2005 to the time we had our community wedding on the deck of our friends, the Leasons, in 2014, we had been blessed with

a whole new life. Godparents to gorgeous children. New friends. Catholic Worker community. Church. Music. Art. Garden. A small business. Far from being the quiet life we had expected.

Home has become the place we have laid our roots, and where we’ve been welcomed.

Home is where the music and art happens. Gabriel’s Horn and Art in Heaven studios sit along side each other and the creativity gives us energy to connect.

Living in Ōtaki means I have a community full of vibrant connections through singing groups, Renée’s creative writing course, Pukekaraka Sts Mary and Joseph Parish, Māoriland Film Festival, markets. All of these things make me love Ōtaki.

And the thing that ties all this together? The people.

The conversations in the supermarket that mean a 15-minute shop takes an hour. Turning the corner in Countdown on Sunday after Mass and seeing all the congregants, and realising we could have had Mass in aisle 3.

The unplanned stop for coffee (or a pie, and a custard square) to catch up on all the latest.

The Ōtaki Facebook pages that keep us up-to-date with traffic, whose pet is missing or been found, and who might need our support.

The people who come to singing on Tuesday afternoons at Hadfield Hall and delight me with their music that we share with others at Ocean View and Carols in the Park.

The Ecumenical choir supporting the Presbyterian monthly contemplative service with intent and meaning in their contributions.

The friendly snippets of conversations and banter at the post office, pharmacy, doctors waiting room and the op shops.

The honk of a horn from a familiar face driving down Main Street.

Home. A place where you choose to live and in turn it chooses you.

There’s simply nothing like turning off SH1 at the roundabout, onto Mill Road and Main Street, knowing I’m back home.

Home, where there’s music and art



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