Two families who left Auckland for a better life in a smaller, more affordable town

Property prices, traffic and the high cost of living forced them out of Auckland - and both families say they couldn't be happier in their new towns.

Tauranga: Tessa and Rowan Dawson

Tessa and Rowan Dawson say they were forced out of Auckland by high property prices. The couple, who run Circus in a Flash, a company that provides circus-style entertainment for events, relocated to Tauranga with their sons Nate, six, and Fraser, three, in early 2016.

“We really wanted to buy our own house in Auckland but we didn’t want to compromise on the area, or on having a garden,” says Tessa, 33, who also works as a lingerie designer.

“Plus we really wanted our kids to be able to bike or walk to school in a place that had a real sense of community.”

But as they watched house prices spiral out of control and slip from their grasp, they realised the only way they could buy a house in Auckland was if both of them worked full-time.

“We didn’t want to do that while our kids were still young,” says Rowan, 35, director of Circus in a Flash and a full-time performer.

“We tried it for a while, but it was too difficult because we had no family support in Auckland; we lost too much time commuting and were tired of paying high rents for mouldy, neglected properties.”

The couple were no strangers to provincial life; Tessa grew up in the Bay of Plenty and Rowan in Napier. They’d also moved around a fair bit: Rowan had studied circus arts in Christchurch and Tessa did a Bachelor of Fashion Design in Wellington, followed by jobs in Sydney and Christchurch, where they met.

“My work transferred me to Auckland in 2009 and I think it surprised us both because we’d heard such negative things about the city but we actually really liked it, especially the beaches and proximity to nature,” say Tessa.

But when they realised they had to get out of Auckland in order to get onto the property ladder, Tessa suggested they look at Tauranga. While on holiday there they spotted their dream house, and within days it was theirs.

“It was everything we wanted: a large split-level home with a double internal garage and a huge established section – all things we wouldn’t have been able to get in Auckland,” says Rowan.

“The area has great infrastructure, including schools, and the harbour is at the bottom of our street. But the best thing is, we have a tiny mortgage compared with what we would have had in Auckland.”

The move also proved seamless. Tessa landed a job with a locally owned lingerie company and Rowan continued commuting to Auckland while he transitioned the business to their new HQ. The timing of their move was, they say, serendipitous – before house prices in Tauranga shot up and while other creatives were moving into the area.

“There’s a new energy about Tauranga and a real sense of growth and positivity, especially in the small business world,” says Rowan.

On the downside, it’s been harder to gain clients in the provinces, requiring more robust networking. “But like most things, it takes time,” says Rowan. “We’ve been lucky to retain our Auckland clients while also seeing 200% growth in Tauranga, which has been fantastic.”

The pair haven’t completely severed ties to Auckland, renting a space for their work and spending several days a month there. They miss the city’s shopping and entertainment, but have a fail-safe remedy for that. “Whenever we start to miss Auckland, we remember it only takes 10 minutes to drive across Tauranga, barring tractors or cows in the way, and that reminds us how good we’ve got it,” laughs Rowan.

Abel Tasman Park: Fran and Daniel Huelsmeyer

If you’d told Fran and Daniel Huelsmeyer three years ago they’d be baking bread and serving it to travellers near Abel Tasman Park, they probably would have laughed at you. Back then, the German couple were raising twin sons Emil and Anton (now four) in a 75sqm rented apartment near Munich and Daniel was working around the clock as a lawyer to support them.

“We were exhausted and unhappy and decided we wanted a change, so I applied for a marketing job in Auckland and in May 2015, we moved there, excited to start our new life,” says Fran, 33, who’d spent some time in the city as a student.

There was much to love about their adopted home: the vibrant restaurant scene, multicultural society, beaches and leisure opportunities. “We took about 1200 photos in the first few weeks because we couldn’t stop capturing the beauty of this diverse city,” says Daniel.

What they didn’t love was the traffic, expense and poor housing stock.

Says Fran: “We signed a lease on a house for 12 months, only to find it was uninsulated, with no heating and holes in the floor. We paid $650 a week for the privilege and the boys got pneumonia twice.”

Moving out of Auckland has meant the Huelsmeyers have been able to achieve the lifestyle they were hoping for in New Zealand.

They managed to get out of the lease and moved to a larger, better rental. But the cost of living and commuting soon wore them down. “With what it cost for four of us on one income, it didn’t take long to realise we’d have a much better lifestyle outside Auckland,” says Fran.

They started scouring real estate listings, pursuing a long-held dream of running a B&B. One in particular grabbed them – Split Apple Lodge in Kaiteriteri, 61km north of Nelson.

This established business – a six-bedroom lodge on 3ha on the shore of the Tasman Sea – cost them less than the price of a three-bedroom home in one of Auckland’s outer suburbs. Around the same time, Fran landed a marketing role with a global software firm that she’s able to do remotely. It is, she admits, the best of all worlds.

“To afford a house in Auckland, we both would have had to work in an office for the rest of our lives. But here we work from home and there’s no commute. Our garden has lots of private native bush, we can’t see the neighbours and the only thing we can hear are the birds.”

Living costs are lower and the juggle of work, kids and life is much easier. They also haven’t run into any settlement issues, saying the local community has been incredibly welcoming, showing up with wine and flowers days after they arrived.

“Everyone has been so friendly, includ-ing the owners of other accommodation businesses in the area, who offered us advice and help. We were speechless at their generosity,” says Daniel.

Fran, who moved around Germany as a young adult, knows how hard it can be to make new friends, so she invited neighbours and tour operators to visit the newly renovated lodge. “It helped connect us to the community.”

Although the couple miss Auckland’s cultural offerings and restaurants, especially those they can’t find as easily in the south, like yum cha and Mexican, that has made them more adventurous in their cooking as they attempt to recreate those cuisines at home. They admit the past few years have been a whirlwind of moves but say they’ve found their “forever home”.

“This is where we want to bring up our children and run our family business,” says Fran. “This area has everything we need, such as schools, supermarkets and infrastructure, but also has the advantage of being in nature. We couldn’t be happier.”

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