STANDING TALL: Doug O’Hearn puts his hands to work creating flamingos, pukeko and storks. Photos Troy Baker D7833 series

TWO years ago, Doug O’Hearn was working from dawn till dusk in the earthmoving business he’d owned in the Waikato for years. Today, he’s making pink flamingos from the basement garage of his new home in Coastlands. And even then, only when he feels like it.

Doug, and wife Sandra, a relief primary school teacher, say their new lifestyle, semi-retired and now relocated to the Eastern Bay, is like paradise.

“We’d decided to make a big change,” says Doug. “We were nearing retirement and thinking of what we wanted for the future.”

Having fallen in love with the Whakatane region following many previous Ohope holidays, Doug says they decided to sell up, move from the five-acre block where they’d lived for 27 years, and shift to the area whose beauty, he says, the couple had become attached to.
With time on his hands for the first time in many years, Doug says his latent artistic leanings began to come to the fore.

“I’ve always been fairly creative, I’ve always drawn a lot, but I’ve never had time to do anything much because I’ve always been working”.

But after buying a home in Coastlands – converting the bottom level of the house into a self-contained holiday unit now known as Sunrise Accommodation, he painted a mural at the back of the property, enhancing the unit’s outdoor living area.

His creativity unleashed, he then began turning his hand to driftwood, using specially chosen pieces from the beach to construct figures of animals; turtles, birds, and fish.

“I’m on the beach at Coastlands at least twice a week,” says Doug, using his quad to keep long stretches of the shoreline cleared of rubbish or recyclable items. “Often,” he says, “cleaning up messes that are left from beach parties,” a trailer load on one occasion.

Trawling the beach, Doug began picking up pieces of driftwood, their shapes and form inspiring him to recreate them into garden-adorning animal figures, he says, “to make something out of nothing”.

With a seemingly uncanny aptitude for finding just the right piece, Doug’s driftwood creations sold quickly when he decided to sell them at the Ohope Craft Market. And turning his skills more recently in a new direction, his latest creations are proving equally popular.

Experimenting with the use of flat steel, hand-bending the material and hammering it into shape, Doug began creating high-standing pink flamingos.

By word-of-mouth, news spread, orders began arriving, and the pink flamingos, soon joined by stalks and pukeko, took on a life of their own.

“I can’t hope to sell them at a market,” Doug says, “I can never get enough made because someone always sees them and wants to buy them”. And besides, he says, “it’s just a hobby”.

For a man that had been “working day and night” for a very long time, putting the creativity that he says has always been there, finally to use, is, he says, wonderful.

“But I’m not keen to make a new job out of it,” he says. “Life at the moment couldn’t be any better than just the way it is.”

By Lorraine Wilson