New Zealand's most expensive new residential project is nearly finished so billionaire Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov can holiday there soon.

Chris Seel, managing director of the project's master contractor Northland Coastal Developments, said more than 80 people were working on the Helena Bay project, estimated to be worth about $40 million.

Four houses have risen on the site south of the Bay of Islands, about 40 minutes from Whangarei down a winding private driveway off the back road to Russell.

Mr Seel said carpenters, electricians, heating and ducting specialists, plasterers and painters were working there and he hoped some could stay on to run the property once building work was finished.

The houses, designed by Greg Jones of Auckland-based Jones Architects, have been described as baches fit for a tsar - a South Pacific coastal hideaway which appears to be more than 10,000sq m (one and a half rugby fields) of floor space, of a size and splendour unusual for New Zealand.

The main four-bedroom, two-level u-shaped house is angled towards the north and Mr Seel said it was laid out like that to provide protection from prevailing southwesterly winds.


The house has a central courtyard outdoor swimming pool, which was under a shrink-wrap cover recently so plastering and tiling could be completed without the weather interfering.

When the NZ Herald flew over the site, extensive scaffolding covered the colonial-style structures. Mr Seel said progress had been so good that most of the equipment was off the site.

"Almost all of it's gone. We'll be finishing probably around the middle of next year. It's really coming along well," Mr Seel said.

Three separate villas to be used by Mr Abramov's family, guests and staff have been built beside the main house, on a rise above the beach,

Joinery throughout all houses is powder-coated aluminium to cope with the marine environment. The villas have big sea-front decks, covered by eaves.

Stepped garden boxes in front of the villas are faced with schist from the Whangarei area.

Mr Abramov is understood to have visited the property in the last few months but Mr Seel was reluctant to say when he would return.

Roofs are topped with grey shingle asphalt tiles which Mr Seel said would tolerate salt build-up. The cream exterior paint scheme was chosen to comply with coastal resource consent conditions.

"It can't be a bright colour because of where it is and dark colours would warp the timbers and wood, absorbing too much sun," he said.

Eight indoor and two outdoor fireplaces have been built - one is gas-fuelled while the others burn wood.

"All but one are high-efficiency wood-burning fires. We have 90ha of pine forest on the property," he said.

Energy efficiency had been a focus in the design of the houses.

"The property is and will remain totally carbon neutral, having registered over 15,000 New Zealand carbon units last," he said.

Grass seed laid last autumn turned the once-muddy ground into pristine lawns, although Mr Seel said landscaping work had only just begun.