It’s a daunting thought for most of us to wake up every morning at 5:30am to cook breakfast for guests, but for Margaret Woodhill, it’s a joy and something she looks forward to.
Her modest home is perched atop a hill with sweeping views of Kaikoura’s rolling mountains that meets the grand sea. Kaikoura is a small town north of Christchurch made famous by its whale watching activity. Annually, the town welcomes enthusiastic wildlife lovers from all over the world. Before the big whale watching boom about 28 years back, Margaret together with her late husband, Bob first opened their home to travelers. At that time, their four children had all grown up and moved out leaving an empty nest. So, the most logical decision was to find a way to fill up empty rooms and that was how Bayview Homestay came about.
Margaret recounts the first official advert that was published about Bayview Homestay. It was printed in the New Zealand Bed & Breakfast book together with 25 other operators. They welcomed their first six guests and since then, there have been thousands from around the world. Margaret has a poster of the world map stuck on the pantry wall and guests are encouraged to stick a pin on the country of their origin. The map is polka-dotted with many pins, too many to count.
Staying at Bayview felt like putting up a night at grandma’s, especially since I was traveled with my husband and baby son. Margaret treats everyone like family and her warm and infectious smile is the very thing that made me feel at home. The guests’ rooms are situated in a separate section of the family home with a small pantry, living space and a separate entry and exit. But despite the wall that separates us, Margaret never made us feel that we had to stay in the guest area. She welcomed us to roam freely and to join in conversations over a cup of tea at the breakfast table.
Breakfast was a grand feast at Bayview. Margaret took painstaking effort to provide us with homemade food. Breakfast at Margaret’s is as good as having brunch and she takes pride in what she serves her guests. For two consecutive mornings, we had bacon, perfectly poached eggs fresh from Margaret’s chicken coup and homemade toasts. Atop that, we had a selection of other goodies to choose from; cereal, fresh rhubard and peach jams and yoghurt.
There is a great sense of respect for the environment at Bayview. Margaret shared with me her passion of tending to her garden, the hours invested in caring for the land and some tips on creating good compost. In her one-acre garden she grows tomatoes, lettuce and other greens. She has a neat chicken coup only for eggs and a beautiful garden of blooming flowers. Despite the garden looking immaculate, Margaret remarks, “I wish I had more time to spend in the garden. If I have a spare minute in the day, you will see me in the garden.”
Her green thumbs were cultivated over time and she credits her father for sharing tips on keeping the plants healthy. “You need good compost,” she said. “The trick to good compost is seaweed. Layers of grass, animal manure, grass, seaweed…” I listened intently as Margaret freely shared her garden secrets.
Although Bayview Homestay is opened to guests, the home remains a family sanctuary. Margaret hosts her children and grandchildren when they come to visit from afar. The home is also a meeting place for special occasions such as Christmas. Having spent three days at Bayview, there is undoubtedly a family atmosphere in the place. I asked Margaret what is the best thing about living in Kaikoura. She beamed and told me two reasons, “This home. I’ve lived here so long there are so many memories here. The scenery – looking out the window at the breakfast table, I am reminded how fortunate I am to be living here. Especially when the guests’ go “Wow!” at the view.
Margaret had recently published a book about her life called “Life of Mar”. It is a beautiful recount of her life from childhood up until the birth of her first great grandchild. Precious personal memories and descriptions about Kaikoura were documented. Margaret wrote it as a personal memoir for her family to remember.
She had lived in her Kaikoura since 1934 and back in the day, there were only 5 houses on the hill – now there are 66 houses. It gave me a sense that development has crept into this small little town, now made famous by the big ocean mammals. But even with the boom, Kaikoura has not lost its charm. The people are still as friendly and communities tightly knitted. Possibly, it is this community-type hospitality that keep tourists coming.