Nestled between Westbrook and Mangakākahi, lying west of the Utuhina Stream, and straddling Ford Rd, Fordlands is Rotorua's suburb of two halves. It has a reputation that stretches far beyond the city's borders; an image formed more than anything else by a famous movie and stories about criminal antics. But is that the whole story? Kelly Makiha ventures into a part of town known by some as The Block to find out.
A glassy-eyed Black Power member looks up at me from his car.
"Who you want?"
When he finds out I'm not a social worker, a cop or a busybody wanting to cause drama in his 'hood, he climbs out of the car, stands up, and his staunch demeanour drops a little.
"Come here," he commands.
He's happy to chat. And he does so with a sense of territorial pride.
It's because we're talking about Fordlands, his home of many years.
He boasts about whānau times, having a sense of belonging and days gone by.
While it never escapes me this patched, tattooed man isn't exactly a pillar of the community, his two sides - the gang member and the proud local - are reflective of Fordlands itself.
There's the Fordlands those who don't live there have heard of.
It's the deprived state house-dominated suburb that inspired the book and the movie Once Were Warriors.
Fordlands is Black Power territory.
You see carloads of people drive by with those inside wearing black clothing speckled with the gang's distinctive blue.
Members pass others walking on the footpaths and raise a fist at each other exchanging the gang chant "yoza".
Some houses are derelict, burnt out and tagged. Others just spell deprivation with boards covering broken windows and blankets loosely hanging instead of curtains.
As an outsider coming in, certain streets make me uncomfortable, and there's a disquiet you can't shake.
But then there's the other Fordlands - a place full of good families who have lived there for years and wouldn't dream of living anywhere else.
Their homes are simple and tidy with well-kept lawns.
They live there because they love it and they are staunchly protective of their suburb and take a dim view of anyone who dares run it down.
It's these people who are helping Fordlands pop up in the headlines for the right reasons.
CoreLogic released a list of 50 suburbs with the fastest-rising house values and Fordlands topped the list, rising 23 per cent in the year to March 2019.
What does that mean?
Well, you're not going to make millions owning houses in Fordlands but the prices are affordable.
Ask the locals who they want to see buying their cheap homes and they are quick to say out-of-town investors can stay away. They want more first-home buyers who will look after their homes, settle and contribute to their community.
That's precisely what the Wepa family has done.
The late Matt Wepa and his wife, former Rotorua District Councillor Janet Wepa, started buying property in Fordlands in the 1990s.
Now their daughters have followed suit.
Janet Wepa lives on Meadowbank Cres and owns another rental in the area and four of her five daughters own rental properties in the suburb, with the fifth owning a rental property elsewhere.
The daughters are Ana Phillips, who has one rental, Marama Renata, who has two, Maraea Pounama, who has one, and Amiria Savea who has two.
Most of their rentals are around the Meadowbank Cres area and they love it.
Renata and Phillips bought their first home together on Ford Rd in early 2000s for $60,000.
They did it up and sold it a few years later for $135,000.
Phillips, who has recently started work at the Fordlands Community Centre, said the sisters hadn't rented since they were in their early 20s and that was thanks to Fordlands.
"One of the best things you can do for your kids these days is give them housing security," Phillips said.
Renata, a qualified doctor, has recently put her own family's Meadowbank home on the market after buying a property of their dreams on the lake at Tikitere.
"It was unexpected because I would have been happy living in Fordlands the rest of my life, but we have been able to get this property from owning houses in Fordlands."
But despite their pride for the area, Phillips admits she sometimes avoids being specific when asked where she lived.
"I don't want to be judged, to be honest ... When I bought Ford Rd and Irene Pl, people came over and would mock me and tell me it was a bad investment."
But the sisters said like anywhere, there were pockets of the area that gave it a bad name.
"There are lots of really good homes here for first-home buyers. I like it because the homes are solid and they have really good big sections," Renata said.
Steven van Duyn bought his Wrigley Rd home three years ago for $100,000 and pays just $160 in weekly mortgage repayments.
He's done up the kitchen and bathroom and concreted outside and now estimates he can sell it for $250,000.
But that's not an option. Van Duyn says he loves living on Wrigley Rd and he is happy staying there.
"It's got good sun and a good garden and if I sold it I would have to go somewhere more expensive and I don't see the point in getting a bigger mortgage."
Van Duyn says he loves the financial freedom of only paying less than half market rent.
He says there is the odd "cheeky kid" around, but he has never had any trouble living in the area.
Commonly known as Ford Block, or The Block for short, locals are divided about how they feel about the nickname. Some say it's history and it's always been The Block while others say it is derogatory.
It was in the late 1990s that the stigma around the name was put to the test with locals being asked if they wanted to rename the suburb completely.
A competition was held and the name Waterford was chosen. But the idea never took off and the name Fordlands remained.
One of Fordlands' points of pride is its kindergarten.
Mike France was the Central Kids Kindergarten Trust chairman for 20 years until earlier this year. The trust oversees 56 kindergartens in the central North Island and Fordlands is one of its star performers.
France says the reputation is such, wealthy families in Lynmore would drive their children to Fordlands for kindy.
"I remember it caused a bit of tension with the local families who couldn't get in because the waiting list was so long."
One of the kindy's past parents is Rotorua Crown solicitor Amanda Gordon.
She says the kindergarten has an impressive reputation and she didn't mind taking her son there to get a good start.
"Back then a lot of kindies had a thing called free play where kids could do what the wanted when they wanted, having lunch at 9am if they wanted. I didn't like that structure and Fordlands was one of the ones that had a structure that I felt prepared them better for school. The staff were also amazing."
Gordon says she had no concerns about nearby gang houses.
"There was a burnt-out house or two down the road, but the kindy was all fenced and I had no issues with security or safety. There was a real mix of kids there too."
But of course Fordlands got its reputation somewhere and incidents in the past two years have highlighted the issues.
In August last year, a CityRide bus driver was assaulted on Wrigley Rd. It was said at the time young children linked to a youth gang connected to the Black Power were regularly harassing the driver, throwing rocks and taunting him.
As a result, the bus route changed to exclude Wrigley Rd.
Following a public outcry and a meeting with locals, Maori wardens, police and the local council, the bus route was reinstated.
Domino's Pizza also deemed the area a no-go zone for safety reasons last year after a worker's car was stolen.
Within a few weeks and following publicity in the Rotorua Daily Post, normal service resumed.
Rotorua police acting area commander Inspector Brendon Keenan says the influence of Black Power is the biggest issue for police in the area.
There is, he says, often a mixed response to police attending jobs in Fordlands from being co-operative and helpful to being violent and aggressive.
"We want it to be a safer community for all – everyone deserves the right to live without the fear or harm of criminal activity and those who commit it."
Offenders might live in the area but commit crimes such as burglaries and stealing cars elsewhere in Rotorua. Or the Fordlands area itself can be used as a "crime corridor".
An example of a "crime corridor" is the current issue of trail bike riders evading police and sometimes getting into high-speed chases, putting other motorists at risk.
Keenan says young locals using trail bikes were committing road policing and drug offences, including transporting drugs on the bikes to "traverse multiple terrains and locations".
We spoke to youngsters in Fordlands about what they liked about living in the area and they were quick to say riding trail bikes.
One teen, only 13, says he has "done runners" from police several times on dirt bikes and he found it "good fun". He is proud to say he has only been caught twice.
Another boy, aged 15, says riding along the track beside the Utuhina Stream is his favourite thing about living in Fordlands.
It's these types of youngsters though who are causing some of the tension in the area.
The gang member mentioned earlier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says these young ones "haven't got the gist of being gangsters".
"They are just more trouble makers ... Back in the day, we used to have to stay out here (out of jail) and do whatever they (gang leaders) say. These days you can go to jail and come out and get patched."
He says splits within Black Power are seeing different factions of the gang start up with members who don't follow original gang protocol - such as respecting their own colour.
But he says they all come back to the fact they are from The Block and it will always be home, even if they left.
The sound of young people burning up and down Bellingham Cres could be heard while I was interviewing the optimistic staff at the Fordlands Community Association.
Yes, the trail bike riders get on their wick, but the staff - including Fordlands stalwart and association treasurer Nancy Littler, youth advocate Hone Morris and secretary Brydie Wharerau - have plenty of other things to look forward to.
Within a few months, a major reinvigoration of the area will start with Rotorua Lakes Council upgrading the Huia Lyons Park, bus stations on Bellingham Cres, speed humps in the area and a new shared path from Malfroy Rd to Old Taupo Rd.
Wharerau says they are busy keeping the community spirit alive with free teo reo, weaving and ukelele classes, Pasifika kai nights, free community kai nights every Monday and offerings for the Man Up, Legacy and Youth Nation classes.
Housing New Zealand is about to upgrade the association's Bellingham Cres centre and soon they will offer free services to use a computer and wi-fi, allowing people to apply for government benefits and do their CVs without having to travel to the central city.
One of the suburb's greatest supporters from days gone by was former Sunset Junior High School principal Turi Ngati - aka The Sunshine Man.
The one-time public figure could often be seen championing Fordlands to anyone who would listen - all in the name of supporting the kids in the area.
Now living in Tauranga, Ngatai tells the Rotorua Daily Post that despite its challenges Fordlands will always have a special place in his heart and he often keeps tabs with how the area is doing.
"I found the people to be really good. Many wanted to do better for their kids and it was that that motivated me to push for them."
Fordlands property facts
Fordlands has 450 houses and only about a dozen a year are sold.
This gives the suburb a turnover rate of 3 per cent, which property analysts CoreLogic says is low considering the national turnover rate is about 6.5 per cent.
CoreLogic senior property economist Kelvin Davidson says the median property valuation is currently $217,400, which suggests the lack of sales activity has been about a lack of listings rather than lacklustre demand.
"The tightness of supply has helped values to rise pretty sharply."
In the past five years, median values in Fordlands have risen by 109 per cent, so it more than doubled.
"With values in other parts of Rotorua much higher, I suspect that buyers will have viewed Fordlands as affordable."
He says while care needed to be taken when looking at figures at suburb level because of the small sample size, first-home buyers are a key influence in Fordlands.
"They've made 40 per cent of purchases so far in 2019, a higher share than at any time in the past 15 years or so (previous high was 38 per cent in 2007)."
Mortgaged investors account for a higher share (47 per cent) than first-home buyers currently, but they've been a bigger player in the past, for example in 2009, two-thirds of purchases in Fordlands went to mortgaged investors.
Senior journalist Kelly Makiha recalls a memory of Fordlands.
In the late 1990s, I spent a night working with two Rotorua police constables writing a feature about what it's like in the city on a night shift.
Fordlands was a hotbed for callouts that night.
The first stop was a late-night drug raid on a house in Bellingham Cres. I remember they said it was too dangerous for me to go inside, so they did the raid while I waited in the dark in the car.
Within a short period, they brought a gang member out to the car with big containers of isopropyl alcohol.
I'll never forget the sergeant attempting to drag information out of the gang member and being pleasantly surprised at how easy it was.
"So, why do you have so much isopropyl alcohol?" he interrogated?
The gang member replied: "To make cannabis oil. Why do you think?"
Later in the night, we got more than we bargained for when a call came in to say there was a man with a gun in Fordlands.
One of the constables was back at the station dealing with a drunk driver and it was just the female officer and myself.
The information coming through said the man was stumbling down the road with a gun towards where we were parked near a reserve.
Other police cars quietly surrounded the area for back-up.
The officer with me told me to get down in the passenger seat and stay down.
I could hear a police communications operator saying the suspect with the gun was about to round a corner where we were.
"I-car, are you ready?" the operator said?
My heart was in my throat.
Turns out the man with a gun was, in fact, a happy drunk holding a guitar.
Sometimes I guess things are not always as they seem.