As you negotiate the final few twists and turns along Omaha Flats Road, and the view of the Whangateau Harbour begins to open up in front of you, most wouldn’t give a second thought to the causeway and the bridge that connects Omaha Beach to the mainland. Minds are focussed on other things; the anticipation of that first glass of wine, sitting on the deck with old friends, a long walk with the dog the next morning on that pristine white beach; a round of golf, or a leisurely game of tennis in the afternoon, and a special dinner at one of the nearby wineries. Then there’s the whole of Sunday to just kick back and relax… or may be go for a fish, or a surf.
Back in 1970, Omaha was a very different place. The peninsula was uninhabited and overgrown with gorse, its only residents were the herds of meandering cows released by the local farmer to fatten them up before sending them off to the meat works. No one went there. No one could, unless it was through the aforementioned farmer’s property.
This was the Omaha a young Alistair Dryden first set his eyes on when he was seconded to work on building a bridge that would connect the peninsula to the mainland. He was a junior engineer at the time, working for the family business. Broadlands Property, who he says, more or less owned the peninsula, had contracted them to build the bridge in order to make it accessible for a new beachside subdivision they had planned.
“When I first went up there, I was completely taken by it, and fell in love with the place,” he says. “I remember the first Christmas we were there – Christmas 1970. The bridge wasn’t built yet, and I went up there with my wife and brother-in-law. We had a caravan and a few tents, and we were the only people there.”
“Back in those days, the only way to get across to the peninsula was to row. I used to be a rower in my younger days, and I’d take the guys’ pay across in a little 10-foot skiff. I remember one day the headwind was so strong I didn’t think I would make it over."
When Alistair says he used to be a rower, he’s being a little modest, here. Alistair rowed for New Zealand at the 1962 British Empire Games, as part of the men’s eight, where they won silver, and also at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. Needless to say, it must have been quite a headwind that day in Omaha!
Alistair went on to spend almost every day of the next two years in Omaha, helping build the bridge, and getting to know the area. At the end of it, he says the bridge cost around $55,000 to build, and the best part of three-quarters of a mile of tar-sealed road was just over a $100,000. “You wouldn’t get much for that, now… just garage and a bit of a house, if you were lucky,” he laughs.
After the causeway and bridge had been completed, Broadlands set about preparing the land on the peninsula, putting out a tender to contour the land so that the houses in the new subdivision could be ‘stacked’ – so they all got a view. It involved a million cubic metres of earthworks in the first stage, alone, says Alistair.
“I clearly remember the day we went there to price the job. It was a Sunday,” he says. “There was still nothing on the peninsula, so we had to park up by the farm, then walk down the hill and try to find our way through the thick bush to the beach. I took my wife and sister with me, and I remember us getting lost in the middle, somewhere, and having a little argument which way to go. One wanted to go one way, one the another. We obviously weren’t very good at bush craft,” he laughs. “It’s funny looking at it all now.”
Fast-forward from those halcyon days in the 1970s, and Alistair had very little to do with Omaha for the next twenty-plus years; that was until 1992, when something caught his in the newspaper. “In those days I used to open up the Saturday morning Herald and, instead of going to the football page, I’d go to the tenders column, because there’d be almost a page of ads for jobs to do. If I liked the sound of a job, I’d write away for the tender documents and send back a price for the job. That’s the way we did things back then.”
On this particular Saturday, Fletchers were asking for tenders for Omaha Point – which included everything north of Success Court. It was bare land, but had consents and sections for 256 houses over 31 hectares of land. “I put in a price and, after a bit of negotiation, I got it.”
The first sections were put onto the open market soon after, with further stages released regularly until 1998. Building was swift and the Omaha community spread its way north towards the tip of the peninsula, which included the development of an 18-hole championship golf course and club rooms, three all-weather tennis courts, and a bowling club. However, Alistair stopped short of selling all of the sections, holding onto the final clutch of premium sites at the very tip of Omaha Point, when Omaha South began its development and demand waned for Omaha North.
And that’s the way it’s been for the past two decades, with Alistair holding onto the those prime sections, choosing not to release them onto the market – that is until now, with the limited release of five sections. So why now?
“I’m getting on a bit,” he smiles, wryly. “I’ve kept them for 20 years, and there’s no reason to keep them for 21. Now’s the time to sell. You can start building tomorrow. They’re ready to go.”
In Alistair’s opinion, these are the prime sections in the whole of Omaha subdivision – north or south. There is flat, easy walking access to two beaches – the ocean and the harbour – and a public reserve right out in front of you that can never be built out. They are totally unique. At this point on the peninsula, you are surrounded by almost 300 degrees of beach, and you’re never more than 100 metres from the ocean or the harbour, he says.
Walking the talk, Alistair has taken the top three sections on the harbour side to build a home for himself and his family to enjoy. And, contrary to the old fable, he says sand is actually a really solid platform to build on, if the conditions are right.
“Omaha is a great place to build,” he says. “The sections are flat, you don’t need much in the way of foundations, the drainage is excellent, and you can build at any time of the year – no claggy clay to deal with. Because Omaha has a single-sized sand, it’s like a whole load of tiny ball bearings. Give it a bit of a shake and throw some water down there and it becomes solid as a rock. It’s an ideal foundation for roads and housing.”
Alistair dusts off one of the original brochures he produced in the early 90’s, when he first bought the land from Fletchers. On the cover, it tempts the reader to ‘escape to Omaha Point’. ‘Only 60 minutes north of Auckland’s CBD’, it boldly claims. Over a quarter of a century later, and despite Auckland’s traffic woes, Omaha is still well within an hour’s drive of Auckland at most times of the day – and that time will no doubt be cut further when the new Northern Expressway to Warkworth opens in late 2021.
Interestingly, inside the brochure, if you look beyond the dated font and clip-art graphics, the three main draw cards of buying at Omaha Point are ‘relaxation’, ‘investment’ and ‘lifestyle’. Things haven’t changed much in a quarter of a century.
As the saying goes… plus ça change. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Respected Auckland architects Lindy and Colin Leuschke have a long history with Omaha Beach going back over 30 years.
A Lifelong Connection
Developer, Alistair Dryden, tells his story of Omaha; of how he fell in love with ‘the pureness of place’ in the early 70’s, and about his p...