Three initial facts about Auckland's newest new town centre: its development chief doesn't yet live there but plans to once a new railway station is built, it's 36km south of the CBD and its te reo Māori name means "breath of life that inspires".
Welcome to the former rolling farmland at Drury West, south of Papakura, alongside the motorway, some of it now being transformed by Dempsey Wood contractors from green to orange as pasture is transformed into clay building platforms, sites now levelled in the busy spring earthworks season as the ground dries out and big-name house builders prepare hundreds of sites.
This new city is rising to meet the demand for affordable new housing and although 29-year-old Auckland-born engineer/commerce graduate Charles Ma lives in Manukau with wife Wendy and 3-year-old son Cyrus, he vows to vote with his feet in about two years' time - once the train station goes in.
Ma, the Shortland St-based chief executive of Ma Development Enterprises (Made) could then take the rail into the city. And although he heads the scheme, he's far from alone in it.
"There are 20 to 30 investors in this," he said, explaining limited partnership structures and mostly New Zealanders putting their money in although, initially, 20 per cent was Chinese and Hong Kong.
Bill Cashmore, deputy mayor and local Franklin councillor, says some of those investors are lifestyle block owners with 5ha to 15ha. The former Papakura District Council allowed the land to be subdivided decades ago. "That's not arable land. Its commercial value has been lost. It's been lifestyle blocks for years."
Ma, who spent about six years of his boyhood in China, only holds 10 per cent of assets across the entire site in a $40m stake. He can't say which sites are his because he has holdings in many of the limited partnership structures which own the land.
He and his mother had the Auranga "vision" after initially identifying Whitford, but he won't name her, citing privacy reasons, nor will he name any of the investors except James [no last name] who backed Auckland CBD apartment project Sugartree where Ma also previously worked.
But he can reveal he is the fourth of five siblings: two brothers, three sisters, and says: "I was born in Howick, was in China for six years till I was 10 and since then spent every year in New Zealand". Education was at Epsom Normal, Intermediate, Auckland Grammar and the University of Auckland.
The first residents have begun moving into the Drury West township where Ma says a $10 billion scheme is planned to bring around 12,000 new homes for around 40,000 people over two decades.
Long Bay is rising at Auckland's north, Hobsonville Point at the northwest, so Auranga mirrors those: the same narrow streets to slow traffic and enhance pedestrian environments as Hobsonville Point and coincidentally around the same land area as that project.
A new primary and secondary school are planned and a large retirement village, Karaka Countryside Estate, is already rising. Three sets of traffic lights are up, a bluestone bridge, footpaths, walkways, rainwater gardens and street lighting are installed.
Cashmore says Kiwi Property, Fulton Hogan, Fletcher Building and Oyster are also big Drury landholders "and there'll be a city the size of Napier built there in the next 25 years - 23,000 homes. The last thing we need is more commuter suburbs but there will be two new train stations built so Drury won't necessarily be a commuter town. It will be a live-work-play environment. It's at the heart of everything - the motorway, rail, gas and high voltage electricity plus it's the apex of the golden triangle between Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton".
Cashmore on Ma: "I like his passion. He spends a lot of time at Auranga too, living in a converted garage. You look at the quality of what he's done. Have you seen the playground, the bluestone bridge, the magnificent coastal walkway? He's built a mini-Champs Elysses with the path to the jetty! That's why sections sell so fast, because he's created the amenity before he's put a site on the market".
Ma is particularly chuffed about the 10,000 tone bluestone bridge on Bremner Rd.
Local MP Judith Collins on Ma: "It's a development that I think will be very popular. It has required vision and persistence from Charles".
At the start, Ma consulted with:
• Ngati Tamaoho which formerly held main occupational sites along the western slopes of the Drury Hills, Patumahoe area and the shores of the Manukau Harbour;
• Ngati Te Ata which once occupied the area around Waiuku, the Awhitu Peninsula, Huia and the Waitākere Ranges;
• Te Aki Tai, the hapu located at Pukaki, Mangere and Wiri on the Manukau Harbour.
As a result, the entire project has a Te Reo Māori kupu, as do streets like Ahunga Rd "but they also related the story of the coast so we have rainwater gardens designed to exceed council standards to meet iwi aspirational standards for the water. Ngati Tamaoho wanted it to be a showcase for other developments so those gardens replace stormwater ponds, a natural drainage system instead of cesspits."
Ngati Tamaoho was particularly influential, particularly chairperson Dennis Kirkwood, Ma said.
Build "partners" are Brant, G.J. Gardner, Jennian Homes, Signature Homes, Generation Homes, Stonewood and Karaka Lifestyle Estate.
A two-level, three-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home is for sale for $600,000. Sections of just 163sq m have been created. Minimum land-alone purchases of 260sq m go for $400,000 and 700sq m sites for up to $900,000.
The first 25 retirement units are up and on October 10, a party was held for buyers of the first 50 homes. The first Auranga residents officially arrived in early October.
Auckland Council says the precinct has an area of 167.67ha, bordered by Drury Creek in the north, the southern motorway to the east, State Highway 22 or Karaka Rd to the south and Jesmond Rd to the west.
The site is gently rolling terrain, with coastal frontages to the upper estuary reaches of the Drury Creek. Two permanent watercourses run through the land, both originating within the site and flowing north towards the coastal edge.
The council noted that although 35km from the CBD, a new railway station is planned on the site's southern border.
"For people wanting to work/visit outside the area or work/visit within it but travel in from another area, the proposed new railway station at Drury West and eventual electrification of the existing rail line will provide viable car-free connections north and south provided that the rail station is within a short drive or walk from home, and otherwise links with the bus network," said the Drury West structure plan prepared by Ma's company for the council.
Asked how much the council or state are contributing to Auranga, Ma struggles to name a cent of public money - overlooking the railway station building costs.
But Cashmore says state agencies and the council will contribute an enormous $5b to $6b in the Drury area in the longer-term, "including Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency working with Auckland Transport on the railway stations".
Ma has now made a plan change application - his fourth - to establish a new town centre at Auranga. Cashmore says "he's got big international connections and he goes overseas to source funds but some come from here as well".
The deputy mayor farmer, who lives 40 minutes from Papakura, also cut the ribbon at Auranga in late September "when 47 social houses were built as part of KiwiBuild. They went to school teachers, police officers - people on middle and low incomes who mostly work locally. And now Charles is planning the new town centre. We have housing shortages in Auckland and it's really positive what's going on."