Feature article

Top suburbs to buy your first home in Whangārei

It's easy to see why Whangarei is a first home buyer hotspot.

Fans of Whangārei say the country’s northernmost city is just getting better and better. The last few years have seen the redevelopment of the Town Basin into an international marina, cafes, restaurants, and the Hundertwasser Art Centre which includes the Wairau Maori Art Gallery.

All good news for those big city first home buyers wanting to live in a regional city that’s relatively affordable but still has a lot going on.

Why are people living in major cities deciding to move to Whangārei? They’ve done big city living and they want their lives back. They’re sick of the time it takes to get from A to B in cities like Auckland, they want to live in a town where they can live on a lifestyle block that’s still only 15 minutes from town or in an affordable suburb that’s just a waterfront cycle into work.

And if you’re a boatie, then this is your place on earth. Take the boat out and go fishing when the weather’s right or if that’s too much for the budget, kayaking is a great alternative. You can tootle up the bays and inlets along the coastline, says Mayor Sheryl Mai.

And thanks to the improvements being made in the city, there’s more of a buzz about it than it’s ever had, with a steady population growth of 2.2% in 2020 and 1.7% in 2021 to 99,400. At the same time, the city is attracting many visitors from around the country, coming to visit the Hundertwasser Art Centre, part of the Hātea Art Precinct, and spending the weekend in Whangārei.

Town Basin is a real focus point, says the Mayor. There’s the Loco tapas bar, Asian fusion restaurant, No. 8, and paddock to plate restaurant, The Quay. Then you’ve got the city itself with new restaurants and bars. The latest bar to open, AstroBoy is “funky and cool,” says Sheryl. And there’s The Butter Factory, community bar, kitchen, and events hub in a beautiful old building.

“The vibe in town is improving and locals are looking for quality dining experiences,” says the Mayor.

Whangārei Mayor wants more inner city living

With all this going on in central Whangārei, newcomers and locals are being urged to consider living in the inner city. There is good potential for redevelopment and conversion of office buildings into apartments, says Sheryl, and the council has provided a toolkit for helping people wanting to convert commercial buildings to residential.

And the usual problems of living in town don’t feature in Whangārei. Parking in the CBD starts from $2 per day, and if you don’t mind a 15-minute walk, it’s free.

“We want inner-city living,” says Sheryl, who lives close to the city herself in an area known as the Avenues, a suburb that’s walking distance away from the city centre, but still has the backdrop of the hills.

The Mayor, in her third and final term, says the council has had a long-term vision for the city. There are plans for pedestrianisation on the streets which run between the Town Basin and Cameron Street Mall (which are around 500 metres apart). The Mayor has night markets in mind.

The heart of the city will have boutiques and a smaller shopping experience while the Okara shopping centre has all the big retailers you need.

When talking to people thinking of moving to Whangārei, perhaps tossing up between the Northland harbour city and Tauranga or Whanganui, Sheryl says: “Whangārei is a Goldilocks town, it’s not too big and not too small. It’s got all the things you’re looking for in a provincial centre without all the congestion and problems you find in larger cities.”

The city has beaches, bush, rural areas, and that city flavour too, plus useful things like Whangārei Hospital.

76 Western Hills Drive, Kensington, Whangarei.

Working and living in Whangārei

Do you need to bring your job with you? Not a must, says Sheryl. “We’re desperate for people across the spectrum.”

Whangārei District’s GDP was up 6.2% for the year to December 2021 compared with NZ overall of 5.5%, according to Infometrics.

“We’re very focused on horticulture, agriculture, and forestry support services but the biggest area is the health and services sector,” explains the Mayor. The city also has a good reputation for IT. Whangārei was the first city in the country to get ultrafast broadband throughout the town so you can live coastally and work. 

The marine sector has a strong presence in the city, adds Sheryl. So boat builders and those working in the professional services in this sector are welcome. Local company, McKay Electrical, developed the electrics for the electric ferry operating in Wellington and coming to Auckland, says Sheryl.

Meanwhile, if you’re setting up a small business or are bringing your small business to the city, there’ll be a lot of support for you, she adds.

The Orchard business hub is there to help the growth of business. It’s a very cool space with workstations set up and the regional economic agency, Northland Inc, is based there too, says the Mayor.

The city also has an active arts scene, and community areas for artists to work together, as well as sculpture and art trails. It has talented jewellers too. Whangārei was where jeweller, Michael Hill and his wife Christine opened their first store in 1979.

As for housing in the city, building consents are going through the roof. “We’re building as fast as we can,” says the Mayor. There are still some gems for first home buyers and while houses might not be as affordable as some other smaller regional centres, you can catch a fish for dinner, and grow fruit and vegetables thanks to the subtropical climate in the city, says Sheryl.

What does your money buy you in Whangarei?

Buying your first home in Whangārei won’t break the bank, although it's certainly not the cheapest real estate market in the country. Whangāre’s median house price hit a record $828,000 in March 2022 according to REINZ, but there are plenty of homes to be found in the $700,000s and $800,000s in the Northland city. And if you pay a bit more, you’ll get a lot of house for your money.

Whangārei isn’t a hard real estate market to navigate. There are 23 suburbs in the city whose population still sits just under 100,000. And for those with a budget that can go from $800,000 to the early $1 million, your choice of homes will range from nicely kept bungalows near the city centre, in Kensington, Regent, and the Avenues, to beautiful lifestyle properties that are an easy drive into town.

You’ll not be alone thinking of moving to Whangārei from one of the big cities. Ray White agent, Fiona Fraser, says around 55% of sales of the Ray White Whangārei office have been coming from Aucklanders, either buying homes for themselves or as investments. People are also buying from Tauranga and Wellington, she says.

What’s the appeal? “We’re a community of fishermen (and women),” says Scottish-born Fiona. “People love their boats here, whether you’re taking it to Tutukaka or out to Whangārei Heads. It’s very much the lifestyle, she says.

And the Bay of Islands is just 45 minutes away, she adds. A lot of people go to wineries in Russell from Whangārei, she says.

3 Panekaira Road, Mangapai, Whangarei.

Kamo East and West

If schools are important to you, the small township of Kamo is a good place to start your search, though Whangārei has 56 schools to choose from. Kamo is the only suburb in the city with schools that take children from primary to intermediate and onto secondary, says Mike Pero agent, Jenny Martin.

You’ll discover there’s Kamo East and Kamo West, the latter more expensive. Selling a home in Kamo West’s Granfield Place, Jenny says she’s had a few Aucklanders looking at the attractive elevated property which is like a Lockwood home and has a good separate space downstairs.

The Mike Pero agent, bringing on 13 new listings at the beginning of May, also has a larger family home in Kamo East, 57 Fisher Terrace which is you’re getting more for your money at inquiries over $849,000.

Another suburb worth considering close to Kamo, is Tikipunga, an affordable, family area where new subdivisions are going in. It’s got a mix of brand new and brick and tile homes. Woodhill, which is near Whangārei Hospital, Is another good location. People moving to work at the hospital will buy in the Avenues or Woodhill if they can’t afford Maunu, says Ray White agent Janet Bradfield.

57 Fisher Terrace, Kamo, Whangarei.

Looking for something edgier?

For those who want something a bit edgier, Janet suggests Morningside or the Avenues.

Morningside is close to the central shopping centre, Okara shopping centre, and the CBD.

Bayleys agent, Beth Tweedie of Bayleys is selling a chic, three-bedroom home in Morningside’s Anzac Road, likely to sell in the $700,000s.

“Morningside is like the Ponsonby of Whangārei,'' says Beth, “its proximity to town is perfect, she says. “It’s just down the hill with views of the city and the harbour.”

Morningside is north facing and gets all-day sun, she adds.

Another up-and-coming area in Whangārei is Raumanga, says Jenny Martin. Homes there have beautiful views, it’s a bit like old Otara, explains the former Aucklander.

54 Anzac Road, Morningside, Whangarei.

The delights of Onerahi

If you’re moving to Whangārei for the beaches, and you want to be as close as possible to Ocean Beach and Whangārei Heads, for instance, Onehari is the city’s only seaside suburb, around 8 km from the city centre. From Onerahi, you can cycle into town, it’s close to the airport and it's the gateway to Whangārei Heads.

Formerly known as Grahamtown, Onehari is, in essence, a peninsula connected to Whangārei via the Onerahi Causeway. It looks out to Limestone Island and you can launch your boat from five minutes away.

The homes are an eclectic mix, some looking like upmarket beach houses, others 60s and 70s homes. Ray White agent Fiona Fraser is selling a stylish three-bedroom, two-bathroom property on a good site in the mid $700,000s.

Barfoot & Thompson’s Jade Christie-Smyth is another agent selling in Onerahi. You can get a lot of house there in the $800,000s, she explains.

With Onerahi, you have a coastal feel, easy access to Whangārei Heads, there’s a supermarket, takeaway outlets, and a doctor’s, she says.

The agent, herself, moved back from Auckland, and she believes Whangārei has been continuously improving over the last 10 years.

“It’s a great place to live and bring up kids, there’s not any of that horrendous traffic of a big city,” says the Barfoot’s agent who lives on six acres in the country, 15 minutes from town.

1 Hill Street, Onerahi, Whangarei.

Lifestyle properties abound outside this Northland city

Ray White agent Janet Bradfield finds that while everyone’s got their motivation for making the move, people coming to Whangārei from bigger cities are often interested in rural properties.

And if it’s a lifestyle property you’re dreaming of for your first home and you have a $700,000 to $1 million-plus budget, Whangārei has them in spades. A lot of the established agents live on lifestyle properties, so can give real-life advice on what it’s like. Janet is one of these. And the good news is Whangārei Boys and Whangārei Girls aren’t zoned so the kids won’t lose out.

Glenbervie and Maungatapere are popular locations for homes with a bit of land. Maungakaramea and Hikurangi are other good areas to think about, says Janet. Hikurangi is just ten minutes drive from Kamo and en route to the north and east coast beaches

125A King Street, Hikurangi, Whangarei.

Waiotira, where Janet has a current lifestyle listing, is another location to consider.

And there’s very little sacrifice to living “out in the sticks” in Whangārei. Says Janet, “What Whangārei’s got going for it is you don’t have to go far to be in the countryside and lovely bush. I’ve lived all around New Zealand and in other cities, you have to go some way to get to the native bush. Here you’ve got the coast, the beach, our town is big enough to provide everything, but it’s small enough to be friendly.”

A good range of new or near homes to choose from

As the Whangārei Mayor noted, the city is trying to build as many homes as it can to keep up with demand. Looking at Trade Me Property, there are new homes dotted all over the city within some well-known subdivisions.

New housing can be found along Three Mile Bush Road, in Kamo. In many cases, these homes will cost in the late $900,000s to early $1 million. Totara Parklands in Tikipunga is another well-known new housing subdivision.

Totara Parklands is being extended out Vinegar Hill Road, says Mike Pero agent, Jenny Martin. New subdivisions like these are attracting Aucklanders, priced from $700,000 to $800,000. These family homes are on around 500 sq m of land, says Jenny.

12 Okaihau Place, Tikipunga, Whangarei.

A near new home will cost in the $900,000 range, while new build homes bought off-plan start from $749,000.

You’ll find other new homes closer to town in Morningside at the Kotātā Heights subdivision. In Suncrest Lane within Kotātā Heights, there’s been the development of new brick and tile homes priced in the $800,000s. Those with a Suncrest Lane address are built down “cool lanes” and there aren’t too many, says Jenny.

Morningside has gone from being quite average to quite exclusive, thanks in part to these new homes, says the Mike Pero agent.

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