Once a sleepy backwater favoured by hippies seeking an escape from Auckland’s rat race, Waiheke Island is now the go-to holiday home destination for wealthy New Zealand urbanites.
Investor Graeme Hart, the country’s richest man, owns a property here – as does former All Blacks rugby coach Sir Graham Henry. In the 20 years up to the end of 2011, median property prices rose 582 per cent, according to figures supplied by the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (Reinz). In the past year alone, prices have risen by about 10 per cent, says Brad Roebuck of real estate firm Bayleys.
It is easy to understand the appeal. Waiheke lies 11 miles off the coast of North Island and is just a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, the nation’s financial hub, making it increasingly popular with commuters and owners of second homes. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the city’s “island suburb” – although this is not a term favoured by locals.
Waiheke has stunning scenery (lush vegetation, rocky sea coves, translucent waters and breathtaking hilltop views), more than 30 vineyards producing some of the country’s best wines (the local Syrah is a favourite) and an attractive microclimate. Add to that the growing numbers of boutique shops, bars and restaurants, including the award-winning Mudbrick in Oneroa, and it is no great surprise that while Waiheke has just 8,000 permanent residents, its population swells to more than 30,000 during the holiday months.
“Ten to 15 years ago, Waiheke became a place for the trendy Aucklanders to go to,” says Peter Thompson, managing director of Auckland estate agents Barfoot & Thompson. “Predominantly, the buyers today are local Aucklanders who look at Waiheke as a lifestyle change, either on a permanent basis, or as a place for a holiday home.” Its infrastructure has improved, he adds, but it has retained its community-oriented feel.
The west coast of the island draws the most punters, in particular the beaches near the island’s main town Oneroa and at Onetangi, its largest and arguably most beautiful beach. “Typically [house] prices range from NZ$500,000 (£260,000) to NZ$1.2m – though some more palatial places in excess of NZ$5m are not uncommon,” says Thompson.
Barfoot & Thompson is selling a Mediterranean-style villa at Onetangi, at a guide price of NZ$1.95m with four bedrooms, olive groves, a small vineyard and a small orchard producing many fruits including the local feijoa or pineapple guava. A little farther afield, Savills is selling a modern, glass-fronted villa with four bedrooms and a 4.27-hectare estate with award-winning olive groves, at a guide price of NZ$4.5m. Modern properties have become increasingly popular, agents say, slowly replacing old-fashioned bachs, the more modest timber holiday homes once synonymous with New Zealand’s coastline.
The eastern side of the island, around areas such as Man O’War Bay, is far more remote, has worse road access (some properties have helicopter pads) and is sparsely populated. It is less popular with commuters, but conversely appeals to a niche set of super wealthy buyers for whom privacy is a priority. It is here that some of the most impressive houses are to be found, says Thompson. “Properties here tend to range from between NZ$5m up to as high as NZ$15m.”
The most expensive house for sale on Waiheke at present is a NZ$7.5m four-bedroom modern property, with a solar-heated infinity pool, at Oneroa on the island’s northwest coast.
Where Waiheke has the edge over other New Zealand holiday hotspots is not just its island feel and boutique-filled villages, but also its proximity to Auckland. “The other similar area that purchasers are looking at would be Omaha Beach [on the mainland], about one-and-a-half hours north of Auckland,” says Roebuck. “The prime minister [John Key] has his holiday home there and it is quite an exclusive and expensive area. However for many, Waiheke has the edge because of its vineyards, choice of beaches, schools and, of course, accessibility.”
In the past, Roebuck adds, property price rises had as much to do with mid-range family buyers moving to the island for reasons of cost as well as lifestyle reasons. A three-bedroom home 10 years ago would have been significantly cheaper on Waiheke than in Auckland. Now, however, that price difference is negligible.
The NZ Property Report for April 2013 states that the average asking price for property in Auckland has reached a record high of NZ$612,167, compared with the national average of NZ$447,275. The average asking price on Waiheke is just over NZ$600,000. Overseas buyers, some of whom spent time here during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, are beginning to take note, agents say. Roebuck has recently seen prospective buyers from Australia, Switzerland and the US.
Paul Tostevin, an associate in residential research at property specialists Savills, attributes Waiheke’s success with local buyers to the growing wealth across the bay. “Waiheke Island’s rising property market has been fed by the growing wealth in Auckland, where prices are now 26 per cent above their 2007 peak, compared with 11 per cent nationally,” he says. Savills recently included Waiheke in its report for Candy & Candy on the global prime sector as an example of a luxury enclave dependent on domestic wealth.
“Inevitably, when wealth is created,” says Tostevin, “playgrounds for the wealthy spring up nearby. International interest is the likely offshoot in the long term, despite the remoteness of Waiheke.”
● The main hourly ferry from downtown Auckland to Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke takes 40 minutes. A return ticket costs NZ$36 (£18.50)
● Alternatively, it is possible to charter a plane or helicopter from Auckland to Waiheke’s private airport
● Surrounded by the Hauraki Gulf to the east of Auckland, Waiheke is partly sheltered from southwest winds. Average temperatures on the island range from about 15C in July to 24C in January
● Non-residents are permitted to buy property in New Zealand and there is no stamp duty equivalent at the point of purchase
What you can buy for …
NZ$500,000: A modest bungalow with a deck near Ostend
NZ$1m: A three-bedroom, hilltop house with stunning views
NZ$2m: A modern house with four bedrooms and a pool in a prime location, such as Onetangi, with olive groves or an orchard