With house prices spiralling in Wellington and the Hutt Valley, more people are making the move to the Wairarapa. Australian academic Dr Geremie Barmé was on holiday in the Wairarapa last year, when a friend told him she wanted to sell her house in Featherston. Once used as the town’s bakery,  the house had plenty of quirky historical charm. It was perfect.

A year on and he couldn’t be happier with the move. “I enjoy being part of the community here. And although the town is close enough to a major city and airport, it also feels apart from it.”

A noted author, film maker and expert on Chinese culture and history, he’s thrown his weight behind Featherston’s Booktown festival, and has plans to run a centre of Chinese studies from his house.

Although most newcomers to the Wairarapa will have moved from over the hill rather than from across the ditch, an increasing number of people are making the move, drawn by value for money and a more relaxed lifestyle. 

“Here you can get a bigger house, bigger garden – basically, there is more bang for your buck,” says Featherston Property Brokers estate agent Erin Nesdale. 

Walk down Featherston’s main street and you see new businesses opening and freshly painted buildings. 

“There’s a new dynamic in the town. People move to Featherston because it not only offers the easiest commute to Wellington, but it has a welcoming, arty community. That’s been strengthened by more creative people moving to Featherston,” says Erin.

According to current QV figures, the median price for houses in the region are: Featherston ($235,450), Greytown ($444,000), Martinborough ($392,200), Carterton ($307,800) and Masterton ($257,650). As a comparison, the Real Estate Institute (REINZ) quoted the median house price in Wellington as $530,000 in December 2016.

But with few houses on the market and increasing demand, prices are being pushed steadily upwards across the Wairarapa. Houses often sell considerably above RV in property hot spots such as Greytown and Martinborough.

There’s strong demand for all types of property, says Martinborough’s Ray White Leaders estate agent Susan Stephen.

“And there’s a whole range of buyers. Weekenders might have decided they want to live here permanently or there could be people looking for a weekend cottage. We’ve also found that people are re-establishing homestays in the village,” she says.

It’s a hot market, with an average of 15 to 20 groups attending open homes. Most property sells fast, and there are likely to be multiple offers.

Susan believes that at least in part, this reflects a nationwide trend as pressure on housing in the main centres spreads to the provinces. However, she says that most buyers are owner/occupiers and many choose to make Martinborough their home base. A trend towards working from home at least one or two days a week has made this an easier option.

“The growth of the village has led to more services, which creates jobs and businesses,” she says. 

“For a community of 1400 people, Martinborough has great facilities – there are the cafés and the cinema, golf course and tennis club. But it’s also a rural service centre so it has vital things like banks and a medical centre. We have a wonderful community of people who get things done,” says Susan.

But there are other attractions, of course, like the vineyards and the beauty of landscape.

“People tell me that they get to the top of the Rimutaka Hill and see all this openness spread out in front of them.”