The giant billboard of UK talk show host Graham Norton signals you have arrived. It’s Te Kauwhata in the Northern Waikato, sorry, make that Norton Waikato.
Norton’s partnership with Invivo Wines, which made the move to Te Kauwhata two months ago, is just one of the town’s recent headline makers.
The Lotto counter at the local Four Square is where Trevor Cooper bought his $26 million Powerball ticket, David Bain’s first taste of freedom after 13 years in prison was in the town and TK, as it is known to locals, is also home to Pepler Fine Foods, a popular gourmet brand sold in Nosh and Farro.
Now those forced out of the Auckland housing market are following the businesses there.
The average house sale in Auckland has hit $931,000 – passing Sydney’s $913,000 average – and the Herald’s Home truths series has lifted the lid on the battle people are now facing to get on the property ladder. Figures from CoreLogic show Auckland investors and economic migrants are now buying up elsewhere; in the first three months of this year almost a quarter of sales in Whangarei, one in five in Tauranga and 17 per in Hamilton were to Aucklanders.
An hour south of the city, in Te Kauwhata, a staggering 70 per cent of those who have registered their interest in the 92-lot subdivision called Waikare Estate are from Auckland.
The average value of a Te Kauwhata home has jumped from $318,800 in March 2015 to $391,900 this month – a rise of 21 per cent.
UP ON the hill, overlooking the new subdivisions is 103-year-old Bob Moorfield. “I’m 103 and a quarter – don’t forget the quarter,” he says.
He has lived in Te Kauwhata for 96 years and spent his childhood exploring the district.
He prefers wide open spaces and farms to rapidly rising subdivisions.
“Every acre of good growing land they take for housing hurts our economy,” he said.
Moorfield sweeps the steps of the local church once a week and tends to his grape vines. He has family in town and more an hour’s drive away in Cambridge. “I like to go for a drive, go and annoy the family,” he says.
Bob Moorfield is more concerned about long-time incomers. Photo / Doug Sherring.
Despite his reservations about the changes, Moorfield loves the town – and knows you can’t stop progress.
Waikato local councillor Jan Sedgwick says good transport links and a council keen to invest in the town are helping draw newcomers.
When the 600 sections now being developed at subdivisions are sold the current population of 1400 will double, says Sedgwick who moved from Ellerslie nine years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“It will change the village, it will make it quite buzzy.”
The main street has a general store reminiscent of seaside holidays, a charity store, and a shop selling artwork by Te Kauwhata local, TV presenter Erin Simpson. Delicious smells waft from the store and kitchen of Pepler Fine Foods.
Belinda and Tony Cox of Peplers moved to Te Kauwhata nine years ago, taking over the family business specialising in home-made dressings, sauces and chutneys.
They were living in the city fringe suburb of Kingsland with corporate jobs when they realised life was heading in a direction they didn’t want.
The opportunity to take over Belinda’s aunt and uncle’s business came up and they took it.
Busy city life is a distant memory and Tony boasts he is at home playing with the dog minutes before he has to be at work.
Graham Norton welcomes visitors to Te Kauwhata Photo / Doug Sherring
“It is a real community here and we try to buy locally whenever we can,” he says. “But if someone in Auckland or Hamilton needs some stock urgently I can have it to them in an hour.” That proximity to Auckland, but a world away, is the appeal.
Developer Ryan Castles from Waikare Estate says buyers are telling him they are sick of intensification and “can’t afford to spend close to $1 million on a house”. “They know they are getting value for money here and it reminds them of what life was like when they were growing up; they want that for their children.”
Packages at Waikare Estate include brand new five-bedroom homes with three-car garaging on elevated north facing sections of up to 1000sq m for up to $700,000.
In older parts of town, houses sell from about $300,000 for a two-bedroom do-up.
AT INVIVO Wines, Tim Lightbourne and Rob Cameron have just got their winery into full production. In two weeks 1000 Woolworths stores throughout Australia will be stocking their wine.
They believe the town is the perfect spot for their growing business. It has a picturesque winery just 45 minutes from their hometown of Auckland.
Pioneer winemaker Romeo Alessandro Bragato picked Te Kauwhata as sauvignon country in the early 1900s. Wines from Te Kauwhata won gold in the Paris Exhibition in 1904.
“We are loving having our business here,” Lightbourne says. “We like the facility, we love the story of Romeo Bragato and to sell wine you have to have a story.”
Just two months after signing the lease on the 114-year-old winery, Invivo Wines has employed eight locals and will hire more as they expand. Both Lightbourne and Cameron are Auckland-based with Cameron making the daily commute from his home in Hillsborough.
Apart from dropping by with CVs and stories from the vineyard’s history, most locals want to know about Graham Norton.
“Everyone wants to know when they are going to see Norton in the main street,” Lightbourne said.
“Well you never know.”
Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday