Type in the "most expensive street in Auckland" to that annal of collective wisdom, Wikipedia, and it will spit out the answer most people would expect: Paritai Drive. It's there alongside New York's Fifth Avenue, the Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris and Kensington Palace Gardens in London. The average house price on Paritai Drive is $2.91 million.
But as the Herald on Sunday reported last week, the sweeping Orakei street with clifftop mansions overlooking the Hauraki Gulf, has lost its gloss over the past decade - marred by architectural eyesores, rundown homes abandoned to squatters, tenancy disputes and an exploding P-lab. It would never crow about it but the most expensive street goes to a quiet corner on the other side of Auckland in Herne Bay. To get your foot in the door at Cremorne St you will need a few bob - the average house price is $5.83 million. According to data supplied by Quotable Value Limited, that puts Cremorne St at the top of the list for the most expensive residential street in the entire country. (Quotable Value calculates the average house price by measuring the mean CV value for houses, excluding home and income properties and units.)
The North Shore is home to the second most pricey street, Gibbons Rd above Takapuna beach, where the average house goes for $4.48m. Takapuna has four of the top five most expensive streets in the country. Audrey Rd ranks third with an average house price of $3.95m, followed by Minnehaha Ave ($3.81m)
Quotable Value's research director Jonno Ingerson says quality waterfront properties attract a premium in cities the world over. "Auckland is no exception with the most expensive streets typically being very near to the waterfront and often elevated with views," he said. "In these areas, dead-end streets with a relatively small number of high quality properties are often of the greatest value due to the lack of through traffic and greater privacy."
Buyers need less dosh to acquire property in the top-priced street in Wellington. An average house at Oriental Parade costs $2.3m. In Tauranga, the most prestigious address is also on the waterfront. Houses on Marine Parade, a 4km stretch along one of New Zealand's most beautiful surf beaches, sell for an average price of $2.1m. And in Hamilton, it is river frontage that is prized with the average home in River Oaks Place, on the banks of the Waikato, going for $1.1m. House prices in Christchurch are difficult to determine following the two recent earthquakes and for this reason Quotable Value was unable to supply data.
"With evaluation of damage to individual houses still underway it is not clear how values in Christchurch may change," says Ingerson
It is the high concentration of top value properties in a short street that puts Cremorne St so solidly at the top of the list. The road is home to two properties valued over $10m and six valued over $5m.
Yet Cremorne St wears its opulence discreetly. The huge modern mansions are tucked down long driveways on large patches of land with views across the Waitemata Harbour to Chelsea Sugar Refinery.
From the street, passers-by can catch a glimpse of sprawling Victorian villas that have stood since the late 19th century when the area was James William Tibbs's estate. Tibbs was headmaster at Auckland Grammar school and died at his home in Cremorne St in 1924.
Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney likes the street so much that when he moved house, he moved next door.
His first Cremorne St abode was at No 8. Built in 2004 for the surgeon Dr Mark Gray by architects Stevens Lawson, the home won the New Zealand Institute of Architects supreme award in 2005. The house, valued at $3.8m, features a pool but not much garden, so when Swney's neighbours asked if they could erect a for sale sign on his front wall 18 months ago, he nabbed the opportunity to stay in the street but upsize to a bigger property.
Now Swney and his wife Ange Marshall, founder and designer of Briarwoodfootwear and accessories, are planning to bowl the 1980s faux Spanish casa at No 10 and make the most of their view of the Waitemata by building a futuristic glass box designed by architect Andrew Patterson. Swney says the concept behind the new house is to create
a "machine for living" for the couple and their two daughters, Stella, 10, and India, 8.
New house, old street. Swney has no desire to leave. "It's 10 minutes to the city, there's a water view, it's a quiet street and there is a great sense of community."
Every year the residents get together for a street Christmas party - usually organised by Mary Eyre, who lives at No 3 with her daughter, Kirsty, 10, and son, Brodie, 8.
Eyre, too, loves the friendly feel of the community. Shemoved to her 1908 two-storey villa five years ago,wonover by the north-facing front lawn, view of the water and a wide-limbed tree that is the perfect location for a children's tree house and adventure playground. And the Christmas party? Do they throw a lobster or two on the barbie? It's just like any neighbourhood Christmas party, says Swney. "Everyone gets silly."
Graham Wall, a real estate agent who specialises in multi-million dollar homes, says the most desirable streets in central Auckland tend to share three characteristics-northfacing, views of the water and in touch with a village. He names Crescent Rd in Parnell, Arthur St in Ponsonby and Wairangi St just around the corner from Cremorne as some of the most sought-after addresses today. More and more buyers are looking for a sense of community, says Wall. "It's what brings joy to life, thoughtful and caring neighbours." Over tea in dainty floral china cups, Jack and Marilyn Nazer reminisce about the 20 years they have spent in Cremorne St. Jack made his fortune selling Japanese spare autoparts and bought the property in 1992. He replaced the small existing cottage with a spacious home. The pool room has a gallery of black and white photos of Jack's motor racing days. He was New Zealand saloon car champion in 1975 and 1976.
Now in their early 70s and retired, Jack and Marilyn are kept busy looking after Nahla, a 10-month-old golden labrador they are training to be a guide dog. Their fenced property down a driveway makes a great home for the active puppy.
The Nazers have watched neighbours come and go over the years as business empires rise and fall and royalty has come and gone. The Sultan of Brunei bought up 11 nearby properties in 1999, renovated them then sold
them in 2005. "We used to be in the middle of Sultansville," says Jack.
The Nazers' dining roomlooks on to the prime site of the street, an expansive section right on the waterfront at number 15. When the Nazers moved in, the property was owned by Theo Johannink, founder of T&T childrenswear. Ross Munro, former owner of active clothing label Line 7 and current chief executive of Canterbury NZ, transformed number 15 into the most expensive address on Cremorne St, building a Brent Hulena-designed mansion complete with guest house, boathouse, tennis court and swimming pool.There is also a temperature controlled wine cellar, home theatre and four-car garage.
In another game of Cremorne St musical houses, it is now home to businessman Steve Lockwood who used to live at No 20. Lockwood is the name behind insurance brokerage Crombie Lockwood. He picked the house up for nearly $13m when Munro put it up for sale after Line 7 went into receivership in 2009.
While some properties on the street have exchanged hands quickly between neighbours, the mansion at No 20 has sat on the market for six months. Wall is back in the breach as the real estate agent of Cremorne St. The asking price is $8.5m. The Noel Lane-designed home was built for Richard Craddock QC, known for his work representing EuroNational in the Winebox inquiry as well as many other high-profile commercial cases. Craddock died in April at his home in Wanaka from a brain tumour, aged 76.
Like Lockwood's current property, No 20 has a premium waterfront position with harbour views. It is the only property to front onto the beach reserve at the end of the street. "It's built to an exceptionally high standard," says Wall. "Richard Craddock was a pedantic, fussy guy and he wanted it exactly right, with three separate beautiful living spaces."
Up the road at No 6, a prominent businessman is practicing what he preaches. Phillip Mills is chief executive and owner of the global fitness empire Les Mills and an advocate on environmental issues. Change begins at home: Mills recently installed solar panels on the roof of his garage which provide all the heating and hot water for the house. Mills lives in the Tibbs estate homestead - a grand, wooden house with a turret that was built in 1892. It incorporates an earlier house built by pioneer kauri sawmiller William Swanson in 1858- the first house in Herne Bay.
When Mills and his wife Jackie bought the property in 1982 it was a derelict boarding house. "We paid the princely sum of $94,000," says Mills. It was in such a state of disrepair, Mills was advised it would have to be pulled down. But, with the help of historic design specialist Stephen Cashmore, the couple managed to preserve it and spent 10 years restoring it to its former glory.
As well as the solar panels there have been some other modern additions - a pool, tennis court and home gym where Jackie, group fitness director for Les Mills, can devise her classes. But living in the richest street in the country does not protect you from the crime. In 2004, Phillip's son Les (named after his grandfather Les Mills, the former Auckland mayor) was carjacked not far from home. Les, then 15, was stopped at traffic lights in his 1994 Mercedes Benz when two men jumped into the back seat. One held a knife to his neck and ordered him to drive. Les was forced to take them down the Northwestern Motorway and only escaped when the car came to a standstill in heavy traffic on Great North Rd. Les made a dash for it, leaping into a car with a stranger who drove him to safety, back home in Cremorne St.
In 2007, police "saturated" the area when a driver in a stolen Holden Commodore sideswiped two cars on the harbour bridge then crashed into the stop sign at the top of Cremorne St. The dog unit was brought in but the fugitive disappeared. Police chases and carjackings are not usually de rigeur in this tranquil corner. "It's a very regular set up," says Swney of the most expensive street in the country. "That's what I love about it."
While Cremorne St may have quietly knocked Paritai Drive from its perch as New Zealand's most opulent street, it is doubtful the tour buses will be diverting their route to take in the high walls and long driveways of the Herne Bay hideaway. If sightseers do come knocking, the residents will wave them on -"nothing to see here" - then laugh about it over a cuppa with the neighbours.