By Susie Mesure
When Gary and Shirley Akers bought 10 acres of bush in the early 1980s, in Acacia Bay, overlooking Lake Taupō on New Zealand’s North Island, they did not set out to create a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired estate that would welcome guests from actor Burt Reynolds to director Peter Jackson.
After subdividing the lot and keeping two acres, they settled on a design influenced by Wright's Prairie style. “We like natural things,” says Shirley.
A visiting acquaintance who owned a luxury hotel chain was so impressed with what the Akers had created that he suggested they turn their new home into a business for paying guests. They did, opening their doors in 1996.
Visitors, who Shirley says have included celebrities Barbra Streisand, Kim Novak and Michael Palin, would return several times, lured back by the sunrise lake views across to Mt Tauhara and luscious vegetation in the garden.
But running a luxury lodge takes its toll after 25 years. “I’m 77 and Gary has just turned 80,” says Shirley. “I look at what he’s doing some days and think, ‘Oh, he should be out fishing.’” Which is why the property is up for sale for NZ$6.5m ($4.54m).
Shirley says the buyer “has got to be a garden lover”. The first trees, at the edge of the grounds, were planted in 1981 before work even started on the house that year. Then the late Ted Smyth, a renowned landscape gardener from Auckland, visited after the house was finished in 1984.
“He had a walk and suggested what would look fabulous,” says Shirley. “Huge rocks and boulders were brought in and he [Smyth] created something very different from anywhere else. It’s absolute magic; no-one has a garden like this in Taupō.”
The Akers, who ran a womenswear business before building their home, employ a gardener three days a week and someone else to mow the lawn once a fortnight.
Shirley’s favourite spot is underneath a magnolia tree by the largest pond among pongas, a tree fern native to New Zealand. “The energy there is very strong,” she says. “I go down there if I get really fed up and I sit and calm down.” Their daughter chose that spot for her wedding, as have a number of guests.
The gardens include herb beds in the shape of a Union Jack (main picture, top) and a wealth of flowering bushes that provide blooms throughout summer, from roses and irises to camellias and lily-of-the-valley. Japanese maples and liquidambar trees keep the garden alive with colour come autumn.
There are fruit trees — apple, pear, lime and lemon — and lettuce, chillies, spinach, tomatoes, beans, peas and silverbeet are currently grown in a vegetable garden.
“We planted the whole boundary with beautiful trees and shrubs — including pittosporums — and put in a watering system from the mains,” says Shirley. “You can’t see the house from the road. It’s totally private.”
Such abundant nature attracts plenty of birdlife including tūīs, fantails, English finches and sometimes a kākā, a species of parrot found in New Zealand.
The three-level house, which is built mainly of stone and timber, has a large, extensively equipped kitchen, full-sized billiard room and library. There are seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms in all, including the three outside suites, which also have kitchenettes, overlooking the herb garden.
Decorative lead light panels depicting a pond scene on the front entrance were inspired by something similar Shirley and Gary once saw in Christchurch. “It’s magical from the inside when the sunlight hits that glass,” says Shirley. “But they are quite fragile.”
The couple plan to buy somewhere smaller in Taupō, where Shirley can walk everywhere with her two miniature schnauzers. The town, which sits next to the freshwater lake of the same name, is a six-minute drive from Acacia Bay and was a tourist hotspot before the pandemic: Huka Falls, to the north of the town, is one of New Zealand’s most visited natural attractions. Auckland is a three-and-a-half hour drive away, and the capital, Wellington, roughly five hours.
However Shirley is not sure that she can bear to leave the beauty of Acacia Bay. “I think [maybe] we need to find a smaller place up here instead of moving into town.”
Photography: New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty