There is hardly a house in Hoteo and Kaipara Flats that George Wech has not done some work on since he started as a builder aged 14, but it is his castles and pirate ships that can most be described as eye-catching.
His creations include a life-sized pirate ship, built for his grandson, complete with a crow’s nest and a cabin with plumbing and a sink.
“We used a Hiab truck to get it in and the mast got caught in the powerlines. We had to pay to repair them,” George says.
“When the linesman came out, he couldn’t believe it was pirates.”
With other grandchildren feeling a bit envious, George turned his hand to building a three-storey castle with a turret balcony and mounted solar torches.
George’s handiwork can be found in many places in the Kaipara Flats and Hoteo community, from picnic tables and a community stand at Kaipara Flats School to the restored façade of the Kaipara Butchery.
The Maungakura Boat Club, which George helped to build 20 years ago, also approached him to beautify the clubhouse exterior.
They provided him with a historic postage stamp with a picture of a ship on it. The result was a 3.6-metre high by 4-metre wide wooden mural.
George says three summers ago he saw a barge with a live-in shed on it on the TV programme Amazing Spaces and thought his grandkids would love something similar.
“Then my grandson mentioned he’d seen it, too, so I thought ‘Crikey I had better do it’.”
George procured segments of pontoons and put them together to form a boat, and built an enclosed room on top with bunks, a sink and a bench. He named it Hoteo River Queen.
Each year, he uses the vessel to take former farmers wives, from Summerset Retirement Village, for a cruise on the Hoteo River.
For a two-hour window either side of high tide, George can take the boat down the Hoteo from his property on Harriet Hill to the Kaipara Harbour and back.
George says people come to him with projects because they think he isn’t busy enough with his 600ha farm.
His daughter Odette has a plan for George to build a new sign to welcome people to Kaipara Flats, but she says he doesn’t know about that yet.