But alighting passengers aren’t looking for onward connections. Everyone, it seems, is here to stay.

There is a surge of new residents to the region, and it is creating a boom. The demand for housing is at an unprecedented high and everywhere there are tell-tale signs that change is afoot.

Take a tiki tour through the main corridor and you will see that people are on the move from the For Sale signs on display – although the Sold ones may be more revealing. Turn a few corners and you’ll come across neatly laid out sections just ripe for development. While land to buy in Martinborough is now scarce (disappointing for many), Featherston currently boasts space along Western Lake Road. Close by, opportunities to build in Greytown are being snapped up. Sections across the town, as well as around Memorial Park at Kuratawhiti Estate, and Totara Grove, are selling like hot cakes. It’s anticipated too that the newly released sections at Tararua Junction will follow suit.

Tararua Junction

Tararua Junction subdivision. Photograph by Josepha Murray.

Amble through to Carterton and you will see homes going up in a hive of activity off the town side of Brooklyn Road. There is development off Belvedere Road and new subdivisions in Mill Grove, beyond Carrington Drive. There are also subdivisions for sale 10 minutes out of town at Chester Park.

Head to Masterton and it is the same story, with a range of options available – from beautiful sections offering mountain views (and the ultimate in lifestyle living), to low maintenance properties situated a hop, skip and a jump from the CBD.

Gareth Norris, managing director of Jennian Homes, says the one thing all the housing options in the Wairarapa have in common is ‘affordability’ – particularly when compared to other parts of the country. “We are finding that newcomers to the area are coming principally because housing is cheaper. This means they can sell up, move here, buy or build, and still have some loose change in their back pocket.” He adds that the variety of properties on offer means Wairarapa is attractive to a cross section of the population.

For example, Jennian Homes’ latest project is the construction of a centrally located community of low maintenance homes in Masterton’s Casel Mews. Built in partnership with influential developer, David Borman, these private, modern and convenient homes are appealing to older couples and also families wanting close access to the town’s amenities. Young professionals and individuals who enjoy ‘city’ living, but have been priced out of the Wellington market, are also finding them attractive.

Jennian Homes

Low maintenance townhouses are proving popular: Jennian Homes Wairarapa.

Nudge out past Masterton and you will come across the development of a new Māori community, Papakainga – where the soil has been turned for six social houses on the site of Hurunui-o-Rangi, one of Wairarapa’s most significant maraes.

Add to this the building work currently underway at established sites – the Masterton Municipal Building along Chapel Street, the new movie theatre development in Kuripuni and the multi-million dollar upgrade of Wairarapa College, to mention a few – and it is fair to say the construction industry in Wairarapa is thriving. So much so that architects like Victoria Read say sourcing builders and contractors is tricky. For the past 18 months, her business has been exceptionally busy servicing clients coming into the region, mostly from Wellington and Auckland.

“We’ve had to take on more staff because of the increased workload generated by families moving here to give their children a rural upbringing, as well as those on the cusp of retirement who want to build their dream home.”

Victoria also cites affordability as a motive for moving to the region. “The Aucklanders in particular are finding that they can get so much more for their dollar here.”

 

LIFESTYLE LIVING

And once they are here, people are realising that they have, indeed, chosen wisely.

Brent Dowie from NZ Pools, who has a growing client base across Wairarapa, says many people moving into the area only understand that they have made a true lifestyle choice after being in the region for a year.

“Living through the seasons gives newcomers a real taste of what it is like to live in Wairarapa,” Brent says. “They experience the strong winds, the cold winters and the hot dry summers. After the first winds, people typically start planting shelter trees, after a cold snap they sort out their heating and, when temperatures hit the high 20s, they decide they don’t want to go another summer without a swimming pool.”

Having the lifestyle option also affords residents the opportunity of creating a home that really suits the way they live. From Masterton couple Jodie Williams and Matt Bain’s tiny home – just 7 metres long by 2.5 metres wide, which they built themselves – to bespoke designs such as Catherine and Marco de Groot’s grand residence, with its polished concrete floors and photovoltaic panels for electricity.

De Groot house

The de Groot house – a shift away from traditional white weatherboards.

Architect Victoria Read says people’s desire to build a home that truly reflects their way of life is creating a new diversity in Wairarapa housing. “People are really thinking about how they live, how their lives flow and how their day-to-day home environment can best complement that. This is impacting on all the design choices they make from materials to the use of the natural elements, like the abundance of the Wairarapa sun.”

James and Susie Mackie, of Mackit Architecture and Construction, agree. They say the availability of land in Wairarapa means people are more inclined to build. And while off-plan homes suit many, others want a home that is designed for a specific site; a home that defines their lifestyle and enhances their well-being.

“Our customers are aware of the benefits of harnessing natural resources and using sun and shade for heating and cooling. They are also trending toward more honest, functional and enduring materials – timber, concrete and metal – and opting for darker colour palettes,” James says.

It seems traditional white timber linear weatherboards and bricks are out, in favour of a combination of different claddings. Typical boxy floor plans too are making way for simpler buildings that offer flexible spaces that can open up, close off or hide mess with clever sliding doors and versatile storage ideas. He says ‘simple and elegant’ is high on the agenda – as is efficiency, quality and peace of mind.

“Our customers want year-round comfort, they want their homes to last and they are very keen to talk about earthquake and flood risk and repairability.”

 

FEELING THE PINCH

Certainly, Wairarapa’s growth spurt means exciting times. But what about the downside? Is there one? And what about the impact on resources?

Already the buoyancy of the housing market is putting tremendous pressure on rental availability, as second home owners cash-in their property investments (mostly to incoming residents). We are also hearing that many of our primary schools are feeling the pinch as rolls continue to rise, causing them to turn libraries and meeting rooms into classrooms.

And look at Carterton. The town has experienced significant population growth in the last seven years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Once all the sections have been built on and occupied, and all the bespoke homes designed and constructed, what will this mean for roads and commuter routes – not to mention health and leisure services?

Strategic Development Advisor Toni Kennerley of Greytown-based Kennerley Consulting Limited says people shouldn’t be panicked by growth; and should remember that it is cyclical. She agrees that growth – and all that comes with it – is a positive situation for a province to be in. “Growth should not be viewed as a ‘bad thing’; we just need to have a combined strategic plan in place to harness and direct it. This requires a unified vision for the region as a whole and a coordinated approach to development – across all three Wairarapa districts.”

She explains that a combined strategic plan would include population projections to allow better planning for community facilities, as well as infrastructure and roads.

“For example, we need to know how many school-age children will live in Wairarapa by 2025 and how many elderly people will there be? How does this translate to the number of houses, schools, and healthcare centres required? We need to ask if there is sufficient land zoned for these purposes, or are changes needed? Thinking about the future puts us in a much stronger position to meet periods of growth head-on and make smart investment decisions.”

Like many Wairarapa residents, Toni isn’t surprised Wairarapa is experiencing growth; in fact she believes it was inevitable. “We live in a beautiful place, we have stunning scenery, great lifestyle opportunities and good transport links. Also, our towns aren’t hemmed in; we have space. We just need to think ahead, develop smartly and ensure the region grows together.”

 

JOB OPPORTUNITIES

But what is growth without employment? What are the people who are moving into the area doing for work? Unsurprisingly, it seems that Wairarapa’s location continues to lend itself well to self-starters and entrepreneurs.

Lyn Patterson, Masterton Mayor says that while Wairarapa is already a hub of great ideas and home to many remote workers, the mix of people moving to the region is amplifying this and bringing in a fresh wave of innovation. “The fact that seven of our local businesses were finalists in the prestigious Wellington Gold Awards recently goes to show that Wairarapa’s existing residents are doing very well,” she says.

“And if we look at the new residents coming in, we can see that they are just as ingenious. Many are choosing to work from home for part of the week, with some commuting to Wellington – and further afield – for two or three days. Others are bringing new business ideas with them and creating new employment opportunities at the same time.”

Furthermore, a quick look at the job sites suggests high demand for skilled workers across much of region.

Add to this the fact that companies like Powershop, which has recently opened a new purpose built call centre in Kuripuni, are recognising Wairarapa as a viable business centre and the future employment forecast looks promising.

Kuripuni

Take baby and toddler sleepwear company, Merino Kids, for example. It moved its Australasian distribution arm, Woolco Ltd, to Greytown from Auckland 12 months ago. The company receives four shipments a year bringing over 30,000 items, in 20ft containers, into Greytown’s Hub on Main Street. From there, couriers collect orders twice a day to ensure fast delivery for customers throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Woolco Ltd managing director Paula Petrie says the company had been using a contracted third party logistics operator but wanted to bring that side of the business back in- house. “This gave us the opportunity to think about location. It dawned on us that we could move to any region – as long as it had good transport links. When this opportunity came up in Greytown we knew it would be a perfect fit as our goods arrive into the ports at Napier and Wellington and are then trucked to us.”

Paula says she enjoys being a provincial employer, supporting the community and growing the business alongside the region. “Merino Kids is certainly feeling the benefits of the growth spurt. When we run sales events we notice more people coming through, many of whom have moved here from other parts of New Zealand. Also, there definitely appears to be more tourists around. And because of demand we are excited to be opening a weekend show room soon. Importantly, this means our team of five staff will grow too.”

 

COMMUNITY SPIRIT

The current growth also seems to be generating a resurgence of ‘community’ and this is creating an air of optimism in the region. For example, Featherston is forging a new image for itself as perception of Wairarapa’s gateway is changing as fast as properties switch hands. Eketahuna, which has recently enjoyed a town upgrade, emits a sense of pride. Elsewhere, spaces and empty buildings are being eyed for transformation; and townsfolk are being asked for their ideas.

Featherston forging ahead

Featherston forging ahead. Photograph by Rebecca Kempton.

The proposal for a Sports Hub at Carterton’s Howard Booth Park is a fine example of a project which has had much community input and is gaining great support. It also shows good forward planning for future growth of the town.

Similarly, Masterton is in the throes of regeneration. Since Masterton District Council engaged with urban space revitaliser – Urban Dream Brokerage – it is seeking community feedback on how public spaces can best be used creatively.

The Urban Dream Brokerage initiative is about creating more living, usable, and shared space in towns as they change. Interestingly, it recognises that change is more successful when it is citizen-led, when community is connected, has ownership and isn’t dictated to by council plans alone.

The project, which is injecting a new level of creative thinking into Masterton, is still in its infancy – and while it has already received ideas from local school and college students, it is now calling for more ‘dynamic’ ideas that will help create a better-connected community.

 

BUSINESS CONFIDENCE

Growth typically means diversity, new energy and ideas, new business opportunities and economic confidence. And the growth of Wairarapa is no exception.

The Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce, which soon plans to put some figures around the current levels of activity to better gauge local business sentiment, is hearing positive reports. According to general manager, Catherine Rossiter- Stead, many businesses are feeling confident.

“Anecdotally, one retailer told me recently that the last two months had been their biggest-ever months since opening a couple of years ago, and that the month of May had been ‘bigger than Christmas’.”

Mayor Lyn Patterson is also receiving positive feedback. “Local real estate agents are reporting a very busy year to date, with some describing the first six months of 2017 as the busiest they’ve ever seen.”

Story by Lisa Carruthers