Satellite city: Waikanae booms
In Waikanae there are some pretty nice houses and one of them is Gerhard Ammermann's.
In 18 years at his Puriri Rd property, he and his wife Merle have turned swamp and scrub into a 2.8 hectare garden and native bush paradise.
"Some people buy yachts, some people buy racehorses or just collect shares and some people build themselves nice houses or gardens," he says to explain the collection of magnificent homes in the area.
Year-round warm temperatures, moderate rainfall and less wind than Wellington has made the township one of the region's top retirement destinations.
City executives in particular are fond of buying a bach there until they can move there permanently. The town's nickname is "God's waiting room".
The Ammermanns are typical of the trend. For years they lived in inner Wellington, until Ammermann was deployed by his company overseas. When the couple returned, "most of our friends had moved up to the coast so this was a normal destination".
However, Ammermann has noticed things are changing. There are "many more younger people – I think they're planning another school in here – and the services are fairly good and the rail connection now goes from town right up to Waikanae".
As if to prove the point, the Ammermanns have just sold their property to a younger professional couple who already lived nearby. They were braced for a long wait, but the property was snapped up within weeks.
Waikanae's transformation has been quiet but steady. Until recently its two primary schools were bulging. New air links to Auckland have been unrolled, and the extension of the rail service has made the township much more viable for professionals and commuters.
"The biggest single group here now is the group that wasn't here previously in any large number," says Waikanae Community Board chairman Michael Scott.
"Over the last 20 years what has changed is the two-parent, three-children families that have moved in ... There are so many kids here."
Waikanae's growth has to be seen against the backdrop of the Kapiti Coast, which has long been one of the fastest growth areas in the country.
Its cheaper housing and a climate similar to Nelson's are obvious attractions. But Wellington is where most of the jobs are, and the hour or more journey has always been daunting, made worse by traffic snarl-ups and crashes along a notorious stretch of State Highway 1.
That may change, following a recent announcement favouring Transmission Gully. If the Gully motorway goes ahead, motorists will shave 10 minutes off the journey between Linden and Paraparaumu.
And where it finishes, a four-lane expressway will take over from MacKays Crossing all the way to Otaki.
The New Zealand Transport Agency hopes to have all the consents for the first stage to Peka Peka by March next year.
Will this make Waikanae more attractive?
"Absolutely," says Scott.
He's predicting something similar to the effects of the motorway changes in Brisbane and Melbourne, which made certain far-flung suburbs suddenly fashionable.
"My pick is, it will make Waikanae and the north considerably easier to access."
With or without the expressway, council forecasts predict Waikanae will continue to outpace the rest of the coast.
Over the next 20 years its population is expected to grow 35 to 45 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for Kapiti overall, and it will account for 40 per cent of the district's growth.
The key reason is Waikanae's abundance of land. Paraparaumu is largely built out and the local council is keen to control urban sprawl. However, that growth is hard to see right now because of the global economic slowdown.
Kapiti has long benefited from expatriates returning for the lifestyle and greenfields housing development, but migration and building consents are down.
Waikanae School principal Bevan Campbell has seen the downturn firsthand. He says every term he would field two or three emails from British families wanting to emigrate. "That has just dried up, and with the retrenchments in town, I think internal migration's slowed down as well."
This is no bad thing to Campbell, whose school was overflowing at the end of 2010. The recapitation of another primary school halfway between Waikanae and Otaki has taken his roll back to comfortable levels, but he believes the district will definitely need a new school in time.
So does the Education Ministry, which recently earmarked a piece of land for a third primary school in Waikanae North.
The promise of better transport links does not appear to be sending buyers beating down real estate agents' doors just yet.
But Ray Marshall, of Harcourts, is full of praise for the train, which has "increased the saleability of some places, and it has also had an effect on Otaki".
And with some of the uncertainty about roading removed, local initiatives with an eye to Kapiti's growth are now hoping the economy will pick up to add some substance to the forecasts.
One such initiative belongs to Air Nelson, which last October began three flights a day to Auckland from Paraparaumu.
Eight months on, general manager Grant Kerr says the service had been generally well supported by locals, although the turnaround flight in the middle of the day is under review.
He says the airline will continue to fine-tune the schedule. "Once we have a service that is a reliable service, I'm sure the patronage will continue to grow.
Waikanae also has two large property developments in a state of flux. Plans for a village at Ngarara Farm, in north Waikanae, were affected by the expressway decision and understood to be still under discussion.
The other major development is Waimaru, a proposed 70ha community with consents for 500 sections, lifestyle blocks, shops and medium-density zoning.
Recently the developers made good progress, selling land to the Education Ministry for the school, and to Ryman Healthcare for a $100 million retirement village.
These are expected to be very positive to Waikanae's economy, but the fate of the remaining 55ha is up in the air. The land is on the market following the withdrawal last month of the project's managers, AMP Capital Investors.
Local planner Paul Turner, of Landlink, says there is no reason other developers won't carry on with Waimaru's vision.
"There is real clarity of what can and can't be done. There are no planning risks for the Waimaru project and that's a big element of doubt for developers gone."
Like all property development, he says, it's about confidence.
"If confidence about the future improves, the risk for developers or a council goes down."
WELLINGTON demographer James Newell says the last thorough analysis on Waikanae and Kapiti was based on the 2006 census. He hopes to take a fresh look at what's happening to the district's population soon.
However, when residential housing does pick up, he warns it is just as possible that there will be a slight reduction in Kapiti's population and more growth in Porirua and other places closer to Wellington.
Housing consent figures show Porirua was less hard hit than the suburbs further north.
But all the positive factors in Kapiti's favour make him think Kapiti's growth rate will return.
Transmission Gully "increases accessibility for the commuter population, but Kapiti has a growing internal economy ... It's got its own growth dynamic so it doesn't necessarily always go completely in concert with Wellington".
Kapiti's population: 47,000 at the last census. Tipped to rise to 56,000 by 2026.
Waikanae's population: 10,700. Tipped to rise to between 14,400 and 15,500 by 2032.
Distance from Wellington to Waikanae: 60km.
Average house price: Kapiti district $373,309 (Wellington region $443,070).
Standard adult train fare from Wellington to Waikanae: $12, to Paraparaumu, $11.
Key growth consideration: The long-term price of petrol.