In 1982 Lyn Macdonald was determined not to move into Universal Drive. A low-cost subdivision, developed by Universal Homes between 1965 and 1975 and designed as one of Henderson's future motorway feeders, the Drive did not have much to offer.

But back then, with five children and a recently broken marriage, Macdonald didn't have much choice.

"It was the tail end of the street's bad days," she says. "It had a shocking reputation, there used to be packs of six or seven dogs running up and down this street."

No 9, perched on a small hill at the dead end of the road, with a view over the Massey bush and a glimpse of the Waitakeres, was different.

It had only been on the market half an hour, had fences to keep her children and animals in, was a three-minute drive from the supermarket, close to the Waitakeres and Piha - and it fitted her $39,000 budget.

As Macdonald said instantly: "This is my house".

Twenty-three years later the area has changed. Homes have lost their backyards to infill housing. The Drive's grass centre strip that Macdonald and her neighbours hand mowed and planted with liquidambars now blocks her view. The traffic, to and from Swanson, Ranui and Massey, pours past in a never-ending stream.

The real drawcard for Macdonald, now 54 and known as the Bird Lady of Henderson, is the bush and the beaches of the Waitakeres just up the road. Every day people bring her wounded birds and animals to heal.

There's a galah with a bandage round his pink-feathered neck on the deck, a sulphur-crested parrot with a disconcerting way of asking "D'you wanna go outside?" in the sitting room, a garage full of ducklings and recuperating birds out back.

When the children were young Macdonald would head out for bush walks, the beaches of Karekare and Piha, or the hot pools at Parakai. Now her day job, as an animal welfare officer with the Waitakere City Council, plus her voluntary work with Wild Care, part of the SPCA's Birdwing service, keep her busy all the time.

Macdonald points out how five homes now overlook her place.

"The house next door got three houses out of it [the section] ... Since that's happened the community's not so tight. But it's still pretty close. You ask the neighbours or their kids to do something and they do."

In many built-up suburbs, you would also get complaints about a backyard full of ducks, tuis, hedgehogs, and a baby petrel covered in fluff - but not West Auckland. That's another thing Macdonald likes.

"There are lots of nice people out there," she says. "They really care - bring birds, seals, turtles to me. I've had an albatross as big as my rottweiler. People in the West don't have a lot of money but they're really kind. And people who go out of their way to help an animal are like gold."

Four of her children live locally and send their kids to "marvellous Henderson Valley School with its country feel" where they went.

Macdonald lists the forward thinking in Waitakere City that makes her a confirmed Westie:

* The Falls Hotel, which the council restored and moved.

* The silt ponds that clean up the city's waterways and stormwater.

* The transformation of Henderson Square [drab and dowdy] to West City.

* The Waitakeres Protection Bill, "I think that in the long term the properties [of landowners in Swanson and Waitakere who wanted to subdivide] will be more valuable because they're not able to be cut up."

Macdonald's $39,000 home has a GV of $260,000 and a market value of around $290,000, which would probably go higher if she sliced the backyard off for another house.

"It'll never happen."

BEST AND WORST

Loves:

* Being close to the Waitakeres, Karekare, Piha and Muriwai; the generous Westie spirit; the Waitakere eco-city approach.

Hates:

* Traffic noise "If only I could put a silencer on every car"; tiny sections where the children have to play on driveways.

THE PROUD, NEW WEST

Although Henderson, with its movie industry, smart new stadium, new "General Hospital" status for Waitakere Hospital and slick West City is the undisputed CBD of West Auckland, the West offers far more. This is the home of the Waitakere Ranges with their kauri, clematis, cliffs and dams, the village of Titirangi, beloved by artists, writers and actors, the fabulous and ferocious beaches of Piha, Karekare and Muriwai and Auckland's first wine-growing region.

The imprint of long-term mayor Bob Harvey on the region has been indelible. A proud Westie, he has created a clean, green, well-run city all Westies can be proud of.

Who lives where?

* Cosmopolitan low cost: Henderson. Attracts: diverse groups including Maori, Pacific Island, Chinese, Korean and Indian migrants. $500,000 buys a quality 4-bedroom home with $50,000 left over to renovate.

* Cheap and cheerful: Helensville includes Parakai, Kaukapakapa and South Head. Attracts: refugees from city life, young families. $500,000 buys: 3-bedroom villa on lifestyle block.

* Rare lifestyle: Kumeu/Huapai. Attracts: Lifestylers, would-be winemakers, horsey types - including those lured by the local showgrounds and trotting track. $500,000 buys: 1ha bare land.

* Smart buying: New Lynn includes Glendene, Kelston and Glen Eden. Attracts: families, developers looking to subdivide. $500,000 buys: 4-bedroom executive home.

* Bush bargains: Swanson includes Ranui, Waitakere and Massey. Attracts: greenies, creative types, large families. $500,000 buys: a 2 to 4ha lifestyle block (with a $100,000 mortgage).

* Best of the West: Titirangi includes Oratia, French, Green and Wood Bays, Konini, Kaurilands, Waiatarua, Parau, Huia, Cornwallis, Laingholm. Attracts: refugees from Britain, serious greenies and creatives, commuting professionals. $500,000 buys: 3-bedroom house with a decent view.

* Smart bach-buying: Piha, Karekare, Anawhata, Muriwai beaches. Attracts: Bold beach-goers, surfers, greenies, arty types. $500,000 buys: 2-bedroom bach near Karekare beach (no view).

* Upwardly mobile: West Harbour includes Hobsonville, Whenuapai, Herald Island. Attracts: lifestylers and families prepared to trade the lack of local schools for country living; Asian investors looking to land-bank. $500,000 buys: half an executive house with views.

* Extra research from Where to Live in Auckland (Barbican Publishing $39.99).