A Place I love

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1 November 2022

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Moving to wild, windy Ōwhiro Bay has proved an inspired choice for perfume-maker Frances Shoemack and her family – they love the welcoming community, midwinter swims, seeing orcas and sea lions, and being close to creative, buzzy Wellington city.

Frances Shoemack and her husband Dave moved back to New Zealand with their sons Rufus, eight, and Arthur, six, in 2019, after eight years in Amsterdam. Frances is from South Canterbury, Dave is from Tauranga, and they had lived in Auckland for seven years. But they chose to settle near Wellington, because they felt it had a similar creative vibe to Amsterdam. Frances is the founder of Abel, a natural perfume company she started in 2013, which is going places – it has just raised $2.2 million in venture capital for research and development, upping production and expanding in the US.

What’s your favourite place in New Zealand?

Home since coming back is the beautiful Ōwhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast. It’s a marine reserve with a staunch local community that we’re very proud to be a part of.

Why is it so special to you?

We bought our house sight unseen from Amsterdam and had only spent 10 minutes in Ōwhiro Bay prior to moving in. We suspected we’d love it here, but in truth, everything was a punt. However, within days of moving, we had neighbours bringing us homemade bread, offering to help us, and introducing us to people, as well as visits from kids in the neighbourhood. Within weeks we felt more a part of the community than we’d ever done in Amsterdam or Auckland. Ōwhiro Bay is such a rugged environment – we get blasted by the fierce southerlies and are a target for big waves, so it takes a certain kind of person to live here. There’s a strong camaraderie in that – we’re all bound by our love of this raw energetic environment, but are also mostly urban souls who want to be within 10 minutes of downtown Wellington and its culture.

How is it living in a smaller community?

We have midwinter swims, Easter egg hunts and regular community gatherings. Our chickens got loose, and within hours of sharing that on the neighbourhood Messenger group, there were photos of sightings and we were able to track them down.

What are your favourite things to do?

Walking around the coast towards Red Rocks. In the winter months, the sea lions come from Antarctica and there’s nothing better than blowing out the cobwebs by getting out there and watching the sea lions in all their majestic glory. Since moving to Ōwhiro Bay we’ve also seen orcas in the bay and have swum with dolphins. About a year ago my husband and I started swimming daily – he hasn’t missed a single day, whereas I’m an 80:20 kind of person! More recently, our eldest son has started joining us. I can’t overstate how life- changing it is to get out in that icy cold water every day. You feel alive, it gives you perspective and brings you closer to nature.

Other favourite spots in Wellington?

There are so many! Our Friday morning ritual is to pop into Baker Gramercy in Berhampore for croissants before school and work; the pastries
are heavenly and we pick up a few loaves of bread for the weekend. Abel’s “fabriek” (perfume factory) is located in Aro Valley, which is such
an awesome little village within the city. Our neighbour, the acclaimed restaurant Rita, is the perfect place for a date night treat, and Garage Project craft brewery and taproom just up the street are brilliant. Another ritual Dave and I love is going to Tory Urban Retreat, a sauna that has been on Tory Street for more than 50 years. We love the sauna as well as their six degree plunge pool.

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