Many options for massive Muriwai farm

7:45 PM Friday March 8, 2019 Colin Taylor

The land comprising Muriwai Downs Farm is roughly indicated by a red border in this aerial view. Photo / Supplied

Muriwai Downs Farm, a 500ha property located 42km northwest of Auckland City, and farmed since 1919 by five generations of the Houghton family, is on the open market for the first time.

“This is a multi-faceted property with a proud farming heritage and recreational prospects,” says Layne Harwood, director of Bayleys capital markets team who, with John Greenwood of Bayleys’ special projects team, is marketing 451-710 Muriwai Rd for sale by expressions of interest closing at 4pm on Thursday April 18.

Harwood says the sale relates to ‘all or parts’ of a portfolio encompassing six titles which span both sides of the road leading to Muriwai Beach on Auckland’s West Coast.

“It’s one of a few remaining sizeable tracts of farmland in a wider once-bustling dairying district which has since largely transitioned to lifestyle development,” he says.

“Muriwai Downs is a working farm with dairy, sheep and beef, and sandstone quarrying operations; along with commercial destination tourism or event hosting potential, and approved subdivision options. While the productive elements of the farm are proven, there are unrealised possibilities  for substantial portions of the land.”

The property encompasses total grazing land of around 419ha currently supporting 2282 sheep, 302 beef cattle and 214 dairy cows; 56ha of bush and wetland; and 25ha of mainly sandstone with some clay quarrying operations. “The quarry contains hard-fill clay that can be used to make bricks for building eco houses, but material from this quarry can also be found under Alexandra Park, the Auckland Zoo, Waikaraka Park Raceway, in horse arenas, house basements, baseball, volleyball courts and BMX tracks across the region,” Harwood says. “The quarry has sufficient resources to last another 25 years at an annual average extraction rate over the last five years of 16,807sq m.” 

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The property includes the 5ha Lake Okaihau. Photo / Supplied

In addition the farm has resource consent in place to create 12 new separately-titled lifestyle blocks on land having a rolling contour to the highest point that features panoramic sea views - along with looking out over the adjacent Woodhill Forest, wetlands, waterfalls, a lake and undulating countryside. 

Ten of the sub-division blocks would be 1ha to 2ha each; one would be 94ha and one of 133ha. “The lifestyle blocks would be contained entirely within Lot 1 and Lot 5 and include covenanted bush and protected ecological and wetland areas,” Harwood says.

Special property features include two waterfalls: Okiritoto and Toroanui Falls; Lake Okaihau with wharf and boat access and camping areas; restored wetlands; multiple dwellings and farm improvements.

“This sale presents an exciting opportunity for forward-thinking commercial investors, development companies, high net-worth individuals, farming families or entities, and land bankers looking at the land’s future potential,” says Harwood.

“The well-established, faithful farming operations of this property could continue in part for now with the right buyer, in parallel with well-planned and cleverly-managed change.” 

The six titles in brief comprise:                 

Lot 1 of 143.9175ha – made up of 85ha in pasture with a generally easy-rolling contour; two fenced bush areas totalling 41.5ha; Lake Okaihau of 5ha with a balance of 12.4ha wetland; and Toroanui Falls on the northern boundary. Buildings within this lot include a three bedroom 1960s’ house, a two bedroom 1940s’ workers cottage, and garaging.

Lot 2 of 140.8011ha – largely in pasture, comprising 133ha of easy undulating contour; the balance of 7.8ha in wetland includes Okiritoto Falls on the northern boundary. This lot contains the original four bedroom 1920s’ homestead; a main workshop, two additional workshops, tractor bay, main stockyards and woolshed complex dating from the 1920s; and garaging.

Lot 3 of 64.9045ha – forms part of a dairy unit and underpass for stock below Muriwai Rd to the main dairy unit and is mostly of an easy undulating contour with the Raurataua Stream on the eastern boundary. It houses a 1960s’ hay barn and has small largely gorse-clad area on the southeastern extremity.

Lot 4 of 47.7526 ha – comprises the main dairy unit with about 40ha of pasture, classified as flat to very easy. This lot has three different road frontages to its four boundaries and is bisected by wetland of 2.9ha, with a steeper 5ha area to the northwestern corner. Buildings on site are a three bedroom 1920s’ workers’ accommodation, cow shed, wintering barn, hay barn, calf shed and garage complex.

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The main stockyards date from the 1920s. Photo / Supplied

Lot 5 of 101.4371ha – a quarry block of around 5ha is located in the centre of this title which has a long boundary road frontage and 5.8ha of wetland bisecting the block. It includes 45.6ha of easy undulating grazing land in pasture; 20ha of pasture linked to the quarry and forming part of quarry use potentially; and 25ha of moderate to steep land adjoining the wetland area. The owners’ three bedroom 1950s’ dwelling is on this lot; along with garaging, quarry workshop constructed around 2000, chattels, plant and machinery. 

Lot 6 of 1.1919ha  – a small title of easy contoured land with a long frontage to Muriwai Rd and narrow in depth; it was created when the road was re-aligned, is opposite the quarry entrance and includes a small swampy area.

Harwood says farm water is supplied from an artesian well on Lot 1; a second well on Lot 2; a third well for dairy on Lot 4; the Raurataua Stream and many springs throughout the farm. “Water is distributed via gravity feed and pressure tank facilities.”

He says the stream runs the entire length of the northeastern boundary from where the neighbouring land rises significantly and provides for a pleasant rural outlook. “From the northeastern boundary, neighbouring land is more intensively developed with rural-residential blocks in the main and rises over the hill to Waimauku.”

Greenwood says unlocking the full commercial value of the property will take time. “However, a long-sighted investment entity will recognise the land’s potential for a master-planned development that includes the farming activity, working alongside a comprehensive lifestyle residential component.

“In addition, and from a tourism perspective, there are numerous recreational possibilities that could include a lodge or destination wedding venue, golf course and the conference or retreat market is wide open,” he says.

Nearby attractions and amenities include Muriwai Beach; the region’s only gannet colony; the neighbouring Woodhill Forest; Muriwai Regional Park; Muriwai Golf Club, Muriwai Surf Club;  a licensed cafe and store; Waimauku Village and Kumeu Town Centre.

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The hugely varied property features two waterfalls. Photo / Supplied

“The film industry has already recognised the magic of Muriwai Downs with scenes from Xena: Warrior Princess, Heart of the High Country and many other productions filmed on the property due to its impressive array of natural features and the historic homestead.”

Harwood says enduring farming practices have served Muriwai Downs Farm and the Houghton family well for generations, but it’s time for the property to be released to the market.

“Land values in the broader Auckland region have escalated and traditional city and town boundaries have spread,” he says. “Leaving emotion and tradition out of the equation, the highest and best use for some of the Muriwai Downs land is yet to be realised.

“Aside from the approved lifestyle block components, this is a long-term asset hold with a range of potential uses. It will be a strategic purchase – it’s the largest block of land of its type within 40km of central Auckland.”

Octogenarian Selwyn Houghton, who, with his wife Hilary, heads the Houghton farming family, says he’s seen plenty of change in the Muriwai district in his lifetime and he knows that realistically, there’s a lot more change in store for the family land.

“We were one of 30 dairy farms in the Okiritoto catchment area supplying cream to the Waimauku Dairy Factory, which is now the Settlers Country Manor restaurant and function centre,” says Selwyn, who took over managing the farm with his late-brother, Stuart, around 1968.

“Blood, sweat, tears, explosives, long days and nights and many horses helped to clear manuka, bracken fern and kauri stumps to shape the farm into a productive unit; while stone from the farm’s quarry on was laboriously pick-axed out to create tracks and roads on the property.”

In 1960, the family gifted 35 acres of bush land to the Presbyterian Church for the establishment of Houghton's Bush Camp which still operates today.