To new Aucklanders, the central city suburb of Freemans Bay probably seems misnamed. It's back from the waterfront, there's not even a small inlet, and it's largely occupied by restaurants, bars, retail and service businesses - and Victoria Park.

But once upon a time, Victoria Park was actually Freemans Bay - you can see a map of the 1841 shoreline on the Wikipedia entry for the suburb. Victoria Park and all land on the harbour side of Fanshawe St have since been reclaimed.

The suburb's history has been a rather chequered one - for many years it was definitely the wrong part of town, and housed enterprises such as the abattoir and gas works. It was also home to the city morgue and rubbish incinerator - which has since become Victoria Park Market.

What a difference a century makes. It's now a wealthy, fashionable suburb, largely inhabited by single professionals. In 2006 it had a median income for all residents aged 15-plus of $41,400, compared with an Auckland-wide median of $26,800. More than half (56 per cent) of those residents have never married, and two-thirds of those people do not live with a partner. Another 17 per cent of residents are separated, divorced or widowed. Thirty-two per cent of all residents live in one-person households.


Property in the suburb is mixed. "Freemans Bay properties run the full gamut of price categories from one- or two-bedroom apartments in the $300,000s, to grand villas over the $1 million to $1.5 million mark," says Angela Saunders of Ray White Ponsonby. "In the middle, are the many 1970s and 1980s former council townhouses."

Unsurprisingly given their demographics, proximity to the city is a major drawcard for residents, says Shaun Luyt of Harcourts Ponsonby. "For a lot of people who live in Freemans Bay it's an easy walk to work, whether it be via Wellington St or Franklin Rd."

One of the suburb's better-known residents, former journalist and PR man Bill Ralston, confirms the suburb's closeness to everything is part of its attraction. Now that he lives and works there, he says he walks everywhere.

"I never use the car now - in fact I don't know why I own the car."
When prompted, he says he has noticed the urban professional demographic ("One of our neighbours has a baby, but it's a rarity in the street"), but another of his neighbours is in her nineties and has lived in Freemans Bay for many years.

However, he is concerned about how businesses are taking over, especially in Franklin Rd. "There are more of these houses becoming commercial properties." He suspects in 10 years many of his neighbours will be businesses.

Central Auckland MP Nikki Kaye identifies a similar challenge, meeting the needs of residents, tourists and people travelling in for work. "Freemans Bay faces the challenge of balancing the needs of residents with those visiting and working in the city for example, the challenge of improving the public transport available to both these visitors and residents."

Chrissie Gannaway: Why I bought in Freeman's Bay

Chrissie Gannaway can't say enough good things about living in Freemans Bay - she absolutely loves it.

She moved in the middle of May, crossing the harbour bridge from Northcote Point, and is already raving about the area - and her house.

Chrissie had owned a large four-bedroom home on Northcote Point for 12 years, but for nine of them had rented it out as her work meant she travelled a lot. When she settled back in New Zealand, she decided it was time for a change.

"I've always had a bit of a hankering to live over the other side, but it had to be very close to Northcote Point," she says. After all, many of her friends and family are still there.

So she looked in several suburbs, including Parnell, Westmere and Grey Lynn. But they seemed a bit far away. Freemans Bay, on the other hand, was not only just a hop, skip and jump away from Northcote Point via the motorway, but was also within walking distance of Queen St, Ponsonby, the Viaduct and Karangahape Rd. Perfect.

Then she found her two-bedroom, 1970s, concrete-block semi-detached townhouse on Napier St and there was no looking back.

"It just grabbed me... It just had a lovely feel about it."

It is, she says, "quite the 1970s building", and although it's been renovated it retains the essence of the era, which is "quite cool". It also has private courtyards at the front and back and backs on to a private park shared with 30 other homes on Napier St, Hepburn St, Gwilliam Pl and Sheridan Ln.

Chrissie bought her home for around $500,000 through Angela Saunders of Ray White Ponsonby, and almost immediately experienced the friendliness of the area. "The morning I moved in three of the neighbours introduced themselves. I feel safe as houses here."

Since then she's come to love everything else about the suburb, such as its "zillions of little places" and "cheap and cheerful BYOs" to enjoy dinner with friends - all within walking distance. She also loves the views of the city and that, within minutes, she can be on the Northern, Southern or North-western Motorways.

Indeed, Chrissie loves talking about how much she loves what was once regarded as the disreputable part of town.

"It's obviously been discovered and it's not cheap to get in here, but it's just such a fabulous place."

* From the New Zealand Herald's quarterly 'Property Report' - a guide to house prices and great places to live.