Not so long ago Matakana was a sleepy little village that people passed through on their way to coastal destinations such as Leigh, Omaha or Tawharanui.
Matakana started out as a sawmilling area in the 1800s, supplying timber to shipwrights, and had a port on the Matakana River where boats - on the right tides - would pick up and deliver supplies and produce. Once all the kauri in the area had been felled and processed, farming and orcharding took over.
Largely a rural service centre since then, the village has been rejuvenated within the past 10 years - driven by the establishment of a farmers market and adjoining retail and cinema complex as well as wineries in the surrounding countryside. The fact that it is within an hour's drive of Auckland also adds to its appeal.
Matakana has become a destination in its own right and also serves as a popular stop-off for supplies for people heading out to their coastal baches at places such as Omaha.
Property investor Richard Didsbury began that transformation when he purchased the old sawmill site in Matakana and, with the help of architect Noel Lane, redeveloped it to accommodate the farmers market, movie theatre and shops.
About the same time he was mulling over what to do with the site in the mid-1990s, Didsbury began planting grapes at Brick Bay which would eventually supply the winery. He followed in the footsteps of others who began planting vineyards and setting up wineries in the 1980s.
Matakana Community Group chairman Neville Johnson, who was principal at Matakana School for 23 years, says the establishment of wineries as well as the development of the village have combined to make Matakana a popular place to live and visit.
And with that popularity has come more shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and galleries.
Neville says that growth has not been without its problems and tensions - between "old and new Matakana" residents.
"An example is the new toilets and roundabout," he says. "Some people thought that they were way too extravagant but we also got the power undergrounded at the same time and that has really changed the look of the village."
Controlling the growth of Matakana has also become an issue with locals keen to retain the village's character by preventing urban sprawl and "ribbon development up the main road". Neville says while it's not a sentiment he shares, many locals would also oppose big barn retailers or fast food restaurants coming to town.
Richard Wintle, of Barfoot & Thompson, says the area not only has attractive physical attributes and amenities but also has "an eclectic mix of people all doing something including artists, writers and musicians as well as business people, farmers, families and retired people. This all adds to the diversity".
Richard, who is past chairman of the Matakana Community Group, adds, "There is also a great can-do attitude with many people. For example, the Matakana Community Group is building a walkway and cycleway from Matakana Village to the coast - it may seem daunting but we are just getting on and doing it with tremendous support from local businesses, landowners, individuals and our Auckland Council Local Board."
Mark Macky, of Bayleys, says the area will continue to be attractive to newcomers.
"The key thing that has underwritten the values in the area is the proximity to Auckland," he says. "While it is a lovely rural area it is only 45 minutes to the Auckland CBD out of rush hour traffic. There are many people that have moved north to escape the rat race - myself included - and love the lifestyle on offer in the area, while still a relatively easy commute to the city. The further extension of the Northern Gateway road which should be confirmed in August will bring Matakana and all it offers even closer to Auckland."
An entry-level three-bedroom home on a section ranging in size from 600sq m to 800sq m normally sells for between $450,000 and $550,000. An average three- or four-bedroom home on 1000sq m to 2000sq m goes for somewhere in the range of $600,000 to $800,000. A top-end property with a large home on 1000sq m up to 20ha is priced from $800,000 upwards, typically over $1 million. Richard Wintle, of Barfoot & Thompson, says the range of properties in the area is diverse - from brick and tile suburban homes to lifestyle blocks and small farms - making it hard to get a fix on prices. He says in the past 12 months the median sale price was $630,000.
Rentals are scarce in and around Matakana but two-bedroom homes generally cost $300-$400 a week, while three- and four-bedroom homes are $400 to $500 a week.
Matakana School and Mahurangi College.
Matakana Village Farmers Market
The market, with about 40 stalls, draws people from far and wide on Saturday mornings, creating quite a crush around the village centre. As well as seasonal produce, visitors to the market can buy gourmet items such as olive oil, cheese, sausages, preserves, chocolate and pastries. There is local wine and beer to be tried, and usually live music.
Matakana Country Park
The Country Park also hosts a Saturday morning market where you can buy produce as well as crafts, plants and clothes. On site there are also places to eat and drink, a miniature train, pony rides, an animal experience, and a playground.
Ascension Wine Estate
Sampling wines is just one of the experiences at Ascension, which is also something of an entertainment venue with indoor shows and outdoor concerts throughout the year. The estate, which hosts functions and weddings, also has a bistro offering brunch and lunch, a petanque court, a playground and sandpit. Ascension is currently on the market.