When you're on the other side of the globe trying to keep your hands on rugby's holy grail, the last thing you need is a phone call inquiring what tapware you'd like for the en suite of your holiday home.
Fortunately for New Zealand rugby star Ben Smith, his concentration was never interrupted during the successful defence of last year's Rugby World Cup in England, even as the finishing touches were being put to his Central Otago bolt-hole.
Ben and wife Katie – who was also in England with their baby daughter Annabelle – had set up a clever system with their builder, Chris Leith of David Reid Homes Wanaka and interior designer in case urgent decisions needed to be made.
"For a couple of months at the end of the build, when we were in the UK, we set up the WhatsApp messenger on our phones so the guys back in Wanaka could message us and keep us in the loop," the respected fullback and winger says. They had also told builder Chris Leith and designer Greg Booth to do what they would do if it was their own home. "We trusted them," Ben says, "and it worked out great; better than we'd imagined." So Ben returned to New Zealand a world champion, and to the reward of a brand new holiday home, an oval ball's kick from the shores of Lake Wanaka. The four-bedroom house, designed and built by David Reid Homes, was ready and waiting for the family to walk into and enjoy a scorching Central Otago summer.
"We moved in early in December and stayed for two and a half months," says Ben, who then had to take his family back home to Dunedin for the Super 15 rugby season. "It was hard to leave."
When the Smiths began looking for somewhere to get away from it all, Wanaka was an obvious spot. For years, Ben and Katie, who met in Dunedin as teenagers, have been holidaying in the stunning resort town. And last year, it was the backdrop to their wedding – Ben and a seven months' pregnant Katie tying the knot at the Olive Grove at Barn Pinch Farm. "We've always enjoyed escaping to Central Otago. Wanaka has got pretty popular, but it's still quite different to Queenstown," Ben says.
The couple love the lakes and the mountain ranges encircling them. The demands of the rugby season constrain any skiing adventures, but they will often race each other on foot up the local rocky knoll known as Mount Iron. Katie is an accomplished athlete herself – she's represented New Zealand in two sporting codes. The former national junior basketballer attended an American college on a sports scholarship and, five years ago, she won a silver medal at the world age group triathlon championships in Beijing.Ben admits it wasn't easy finding the right slice of paradise to build their retreat. "Sections around Wanaka were being snapped up fast. We wanted one that was quite handy to both town and the lake, so we could arrive here, put the car in the garage, and bike or walk everywhere," he says.
They finally found a section that fitted the bill – around 700sqm in an established area near Wanaka's town centre.
"It's a three-minute walk to the lake," Katie says. "And it wasn't until we moved in that we discovered a wee track that runs behind the campground and past the rugby field to the water's edge."
Ben and Katie enjoyed the challenge of a new build. They'd already done a sizeable renovation on their house in Dunedin, which is on the edge of a golf course. "It's an older house, with a garage downstairs and living upstairs, that we've put a bit of work into. It was just fun building a new house, and doing it from scratch, the way we wanted it," Ben says.
Katie wanted the new house to reflect Wanaka's natural beauty – "wood, rock and earthy tones" – and integrate a relaxed holiday vibe. She worked with Greg Booth, of Otago Design, to create a tranquil feel, using mostly light colours in the paint and wood detailing.
Katie, who has a double degree in sports science and human nutrition, had a major say in the kitchen design, but it is no longer solely her domain. "Ben has become a really good cook, since we started getting My Food Bag!" she says with a laugh.
Having four bedrooms has already proved a winner, with both sets of parents and a raft of friends staying at different times over the summer. "It's awesome to be able to say: 'There are a couple of beds there, go for it'," says Ben.
The couple envisage it will be a great house for kids to grow up in too. They can see Annabelle, who's just turned one, spending hours on the lawn next summer playing with the patient family dog, six-year-old golden labrador Charlie.
And they expect there will be fun on the water too. "My dad has kindly left his jetski at our place," says Ben. "But I'm looking to buy my own boat next summer." Thankfully, there's plenty of space in the roomy garage for a boat too.