For many of us, Tokoroa is a place you drive through ... quickly. But the timber town has heart, and house prices to make Auckland eyes water, writes Bruce Morris.
Pam Harrison is what you'd call a Tokoroa convert. After training to be a teacher she found her first job there 30 years ago, intending to stay a couple of years and save some money before heading back to Auckland. She's still there.
Through her eyes, Tokoroa is the greatest town in the land, and there's no surprise at the first words you find when you hit her website: "Tokoroa - New Zealand's best-kept secret."
Outsiders could be excused if they raised their eyebrows at such a claim. Tokoroa? Really? Isn't it just a tough old timber town you race your way through - always in the headlines for the wrong reasons?
Suggest that to Harrison and you're quickly put in your place. She's licensee of Century 21 in the town and there's no fiercer defender of Tokoroa and its attributes.
"This is an honest town of old-fashioned values," she says. "Here you are judged according to what sort of person you are and not by the sort of car you drive."
She talks of a town brimming with community spirit and pride which has been unfairly mauled by a media interested only in bad news and never focusing on good news.
But when Tokoroa hits the news this time, filling two of the top three spots in the list of North Island properties selling for the lowest prices in the June quarter, Harrison is happy to take advantage of the opportunity.
Her company sold a house in Liberton Pl for $32,000 in April - the sort of money it takes to stick up a decent kitset garage these days. But it was a run-down old "mark one Forest Products' workers' house" and, even with competitive bidding at auction, it was never going to go for much more.
So what do you get for $32,000 in Tokoroa when the market's flat? "You couldn't have lived in it," says Harrison with that Tokoroa honesty. It was a 70 or 80sq m cottage made of untreated pine and definitely not built to last forever. But a local bought it for her son and, after some restoration work, it will be just fine, Harrison says.
Like most places around the country, sales are slow in Tokoroa at the moment, with the boom of 2002-2007 a distant memory.
"At the beginning of the boom prices here were very low, so things just went crazy," says Harrison. "Investors poured in, even from Australia, and the place was humming. We had a great few years."
But Tokoroa hit a brick wall in 2007 and it's been tough going since then, although general prices would make Auckland eyes water. The Auckland-wide median of just over $500,000 would buy four middle-of-the-road places in Tokoroa (with a bit left over for a new car), and most of the best houses in town would give change from $400,000.
Why would people without a connection to the place want to buy there? Apart from the real estate spending power, Harrison talks of the pleasure of living in a town without parking meters and just two or three minutes' drive from home to work. Then there's the nine primary schools, two secondary schools, passionate teachers, hospital, excellent shopping (with two new supermarkets on the way), clubs, cinema, sporting facilities and outdoor playground offering hunting, fishing and skiing (two hours away at Ruapehu). Tauranga and Hamilton (each an hour away), Rotorua (35 minutes) and Taupo (50 minutes) are all within striking distance.
"It's a place with heart, and it's a great place to live," says Harrison. "You learn to mix with all sorts and you are accepted for who you are and how you regard others."
For an insight into the chalk and cheese of the North Island property market, head north. As the table here shows, the high-flyers' list is dominated as usual by Queen City sales, with two Whangaparaoa properties and an intruder from Karori breaking the Auckland city grip on the 10 most expensive sales for the quarter.
The priciest came in the most expensive street in the country's most expensive suburb - topping $8 million in Herne Bay's Cremorne St - but they won't be worrying too much about such fancy stuff at the Tokoroa Cossie club this week. They know when they're on to a good thing.
* From the New Zealand Herald's quarterly 'Property Report' - a guide to house prices and great places to live.