Juliet Rowan is a reporter for Bay of Plenty Times Weekend

Is Tauranga the answer to Auckland's woes?

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For some Aucklanders, moving to Tauranga is finding nirvana. For others, it turns to bitter disappointment as they struggle to find jobs and fit in with the locals. Juliet Rowan talks to people on both sides of the Bay migration wave.

THE HAPPY MIGRANT

Kirsten Murfitt and her family moved to Tauranga from Auckland 19 months ago.

"We just absolutely love Tauranga," she says. "It's definitely where we've put our roots down and I'm pretty sure I'll be buried here."

Kirsten is a lawyer and says she loves the ease of life in Tauranga and the escape from Auckland's "diabolical" traffic.

"It used to take me to get from Takapuna to Albany, which is about 11km, 45 minutes in the morning. You're just spending so much time in traffic which creates a whole lot of stresses because you're always trying to get somewhere."

Kirsten says motorists in Tauranga are much more polite ("although they don't know how to zip," she says with a laugh) and road rage is unusual rather than commonplace.

Kirsten knows some Tauranga locals complain about the traffic in their city and she says even she is even falling victim to that mindset.

"I'm so used to it being easy that if I wait in traffic at the roundabout for more than two or three minutes, I start getting a little bit angst-y," she says.

But any journey to Auckland is always a reminder of "real traffic", and she believes the shorter commute times in Tauranga contribute to a greater sense of community.

"Up in Auckland, because you're leaving to get to work and get kids to school, you're jumping in the car at half past seven in the morning, arriving at work if you're lucky by quarter to nine, then the same at night.

"You're quite stressed out and you don't really get to know your neighbours that much because I think everybody's in the same boat."

By contrast, she and her family already know all the locals in their new Pyes Pa neighbourhood either by sight or name.

"We go across for drinks and we celebrate Halloween, Christmas, and the kids ride their bikes up and down the street. And you're comfortable that if any child was in trouble, a neighbour would help out."

Kirsten says the feeling is the same at the shops.

"People actually take the time to really help you out and just seem to have a bit more time and customer service compared to Auckland. And there seems to be quite a lot more honesty."

When she needed some work on her car, she says the mechanic charged her less than the quote because he finished quicker than expected.

"I was a little bit shocked because I'm pretty sure in Auckland they would've just charged me.

"It feels like Auckland maybe 20 years ago when people actually had the time and it was still quite community-based and still small enough that everybody knows there's one degree of separation and you don't stand on people's toes."

Kirsten has recently gone out on her own as a lawyer, but took a job at a local law firm when she first moved down and says although salaries do not necessarily equal those in Auckland, lifestyle has to be factored in when considering pay in Tauranga.

She says Auckland carparking, for example, can cost $15 to $30 a day, while in Tauranga, even when she worked in the CBD, she could drop her son at school and still be at the office in 20 minutes.

"Time's invaluable," she says. "It just means you get to spend more time with your family."

Kirsten Murfitt moved to Tauranga from Auckland 19 months ago with her family and says they love their new life. Photo/John Borren
Kirsten Murfitt moved to Tauranga from Auckland 19 months ago with her family and says they love their new life. Photo/John Borren

Moving to Tauranga had contributed to her decision to become self-employed, Kirsten saying it is not something she would have done in Auckland because of the large number of lawyers in her commercial and property specialties.

"I don't want to sound arrogant but I bring a lot of experience to a smaller place so I just felt comfortable setting up my own practice down here."

The 44-year-old says the only negative professionally is Tauranga's small size.

"There are networks and everyone says it takes 12 to 24 months to really get established down here because it does seem to be about people knowing you."

However, as time goes by, Kirsten believes that can work in one's favour.

"Once you're in, you're in, and once again because it's so small, it's about providing exceptional service because if you do that, people will come to you because people do talk down here."

Kirsten's partner works in property development and consulting and still commutes to Auckland three days a week.

"It's kind of the chicken or egg. All his contacts are up in Auckland whereas down here you have to break into the market and it can be a little bit cliquey."

But Kirsten says they have no regrets about their move, and she believes the quality of life for her 9-year-old son is better.

"Down here, kids are allowed to play in trees and they've got monkey bars, which are banned in some schools in Auckland. It's just a bit more rough and tumble and that's what kids need I think."

When she arrived in Tauranga, she was shocked to see young children riding their bikes and walking to school.

"In Auckland, they do walk to school but they've got the special walking buses, but down here, kids actually walk with older siblings or groups of friends. There just seems that there's a bit more trust in the community whereas in Auckland it's quite paranoid that something's going to happen."

Kirsten Murfitt and her son Sam at their Pyes Pa home. Photo/John Borren
Kirsten Murfitt and her son Sam at their Pyes Pa home. Photo/John Borren

Kirsten's son Sam has a condition called Smith Magenis Syndrome and has had many operations and stays in hospital since he was born.

Kirsten says they have a great relationship with doctors at Starship in Auckland, but in some ways, the service at Tauranga Hospital is even better.

"It's a numbers game. There are just so many kids going through Starship and it's a national hospital where the waiting lists are really long if it's not urgent, but down here, you get seen really, really quickly."

Kirsten stood for the Bay of Plenty District Health Board in the recent local body elections, hoping to build on her long experience with the hospital system.

Although she failed to secure a spot, she was heartened by the support she received and hopes that by 2019 she will have grown enough of a profile in the community to win a place.

Again, she says it is something she would not have attempted in Auckland.

She is also full of praise for Riding for the Disabled in Tauranga, saying Sam got in immediately whereas in Auckland there was a two- to three-year waiting list.

The move to Tauranga had also allowed Kirsten and her partner to buy a house they could only have dreamed of in Auckland.

She says they got their 4000 sq m property in Pyes Pa for only a little more than what they sold a cross-lease in Takapuna for.

Their old house was 170 sq m with "very little land" while they now have 320 sq m of living space, including a granny flat they have added.

They have also built a swimming pool.

"Compared to what we had and what we got, it's just worlds apart. And in Auckland because you're living in a tiny little area and the neighbours are right on you, I found that in the weekends, we were always trying to get out, but down here, we're sort of like, 'Do we have to go out?'"

The granny flat was built for Kirsten's mother, who has also moved from Auckland.

"That's one thing we've really noticed down here as well, that a lot more people live with the older generation to help out. I think it's because you can have bigger houses and bigger properties, it's able to work," says Kirsten.

She says when she first told her friends in Auckland she was moving to Tauranga, they looked at her disbelief, one telling her it was "like Hokitika".

But since visiting and seeing her new lifestyle, at least one has followed in her tracks, and Kirsten says others love visiting.

The only slight disadvantages of Tauranga was less ease of travel and entertainment.

In Auckland, she regularly took Sam to shows and attractions like the museum and Motat, and they would also take advantage of cheap flights to Wellington, for example, to visit Te Papa.

By the same token, Tauranga had lots of outdoor activities and special events, and for Kirsten and her family, there is no going back.

"Life is so much easier and friendlier," she says. "It just feels like home now."

PARADISE OR PARADISE LOST

It is no secret that many Aucklanders are making the most of their city's booming property market to cash up and move to the Bay.

Others are moving to Tauranga because it offers a more affordable option in terms of housing.

Migration to the region is at an all-time high and when Bay of Plenty Times Weekend asked recent arrivals from Auckland what they thought of Tauranga on our Facebook page, we were inundated with messages.

Many, like Kirsten, spoke of Tauranga in glowing terms, including Kendyl Van Dragt, who wrote she had moved from Auckland in November last year.

"I cried when we left," she said. "Now I cry when we go back and see the terrible traffic and expensive housing."

Stu and Di Hill had moved to a Bethlehem retirement village 14 months ago and said it was the "best thing we have ever done".

They liked the drier weather in Tauranga and like Kirsten, said the locals were friendlier.

They also said there was a great motorway system, and they had "no more stress and rushing around".

"We dont have to plan journeys to fit with peak traffic. We have learnt to slow down and take deep breaths."

Julie Beech had moved the other way and said she would shift back to Tauranga "in a flash" it it wasn't for her partner having a better job in Auckland.

"The life style, the people, the quality [of life] that we had is way better," she said.
"Tauranga is our paradise."

Sheryl and Rob Baron are in their 60s and have both been coming to Mt Maunganui on holidays since they were kids.

They made the decision to sell their house in Epsom and move permanently to the Mount 18 months ago.

Asked what prompted the move, Sheryl gives a one-word answer: "Traffic."

The 60-year-old is a teacher and was working at King's School in Remuera, which she says on a Sunday was a four-minute drive from their home in Epsom, but on weekdays took 20 minutes in the gridlock.

"It was just unbearable," she says. "Finally, we looked at each other one day and said, 'Are we really enjoying our lives?' And the answer was no."

With three grown-up children living overseas, they lacked the pull of family in Auckland and decided to buy a townhouse at the Mount.

Sheryl and Rob Baron says Tauranga is paradise. Photo/John Borren
Sheryl and Rob Baron says Tauranga is paradise. Photo/John Borren


They are staying in Sheryl's sister's bach while they do renovations and relishing the seaside environment.

'"I feel like I've died and gone to heaven," says Sheryl.

Says Rob: "When you get down here and you have a view of the sea, it's paradise. It's as simple as that."

Rob says despite coming to the Bay for years, he didn't realise the climate was so fantastic until they came to live.

He is loving the four- to five-day stretches of cloudless weather and says the ocean vista is always changing, with "pods of whales going past the front door and shoals of terakihi working out in the Bay".

Sheryl is doing some relief teaching and says she has a silent giggle when she hears locals complaining about the traffic.

"I don't laugh out loud. I just laugh in my head. I think, you guys have got no idea what traffic is about."

The only real downside for the couple has been leaving friends in Auckland.

Sheryl says it is a lot harder to make friends now they are older, and Rob says they have to make a concerted effort, which they are both doing.

Sheryl breeds budgies and has joined the local Budgie Society and become president, while Rob's membership of the Cossie Club has led to invitations to people's homes and events.

"It happens," says Sheryl, "but it's a very much slower than the easy dependability of friends you've had for a lifetime."

Several people responding to our Facebook post spoke of the difficulty of making connections in Tauranga, while others revealed their intial optimism about moving from Auckland had given way to despair.

We spoke at length with two such people, neither of whom wanted to be identified for fear of jeopardising potential jobs, but following are their stories.

A BITTER PILL

Sarah (not her real name) is a teacher and moved to Tauranga a year ago after her husband was made redundant in Auckland.

They could not pay their mortgage on a single income so, loving sports and having visited the Bay, they decided to move to Tauranga.

"We thought Tauranga is a place that's smaller than Auckland, has less traffic and we'd be able to enjoy the outdoors," Sarah says.

"People had warned us it was a hard one to crack, not just for work but for friendships as well, but we're pretty outgoing and we're fairly optimistic so we moved here in December last year, sold up [in Auckland] and bought a house [in Tauranga]."

As skilled professionals, Sarah and her husband fit the profile of many new migrants to the Bay.

But for the couple, who are in their forties and immigrated to New Zealand from Britain eight years ago, there has been one huge glitch.

"My husband's never moved down here," Sarah says. "He was never able to get a job."

Sarah's husband works in a specialised area of logistics and after no luck finding a job in Tauranga or even Rotorua, he was forced to take a temporary contract in Auckland.

For the last year, he has commuted to Tauranga on weekends, while getting a permanent teaching job in the Bay has also proved impossible for Sarah.

"It's the hardest place in the North Island to get a teaching job," she says. "They reckon there's about 500 people for every job."

Despite 16 years teaching experience, including at management level in Auckland, the only work Sarah has been able to secure was temporary cover at a school for a term.

Not only did it not lead to anything else, it was also emotionally gruelling.

"They weren't welcoming to somebody who was out of town. Maybe being British didn't help. I found it a really, really lonely place to be."

Asked if she thinks people in Tauranga are too cliquey, Sarah replies:

"Do you know what the funny thing is? They even know it, they even tell you that that's how it is here. There's no hiding it. There's a lot of people who are not from Taurnaga and those people have said to us, 'You know, I've been here 15 years and the first five years were really, really hard for us. We didn't make any friends.'

"We've definitely found it really cliquey here, and there's definite tall poppy here. Maybe the fact I'm British and I'm from Auckland on top of it - because they don't like Aucklanders - it's doubly hard, particularly in education because it's almost like they're doing stuff but they don't want anybody from outside to make a suggestion of how things could be done."

She believed not having children had made it harder for her and her husband, but says they had no difficulty making friends in Auckland.

"We moved there eight years ago with nothing. My husband and I had no family, no friends, we just came as skilled migrants [but now] we've got support groups in Auckland, people from all races, not just Brits or Kiwis, so we're really happy to be going back. There's so much more of a buzz in Auckland as well. Auckland's quite vibrant."

She had found a lack of culture in Tauranga disheartening, saying in the one school she taught she was surprised at the lack of te reo taught despite 40 per cent of the students being Maori.

"You would never have known it was Matariki when I was there but in Auckland, I was doing kapa haka in the first year at the school I was at. My last school in Auckland, we did waiata and karakia every day. It was just part and parcel of school."

Sarah says "to just not even get a look in" at other jobs she applied for was demoralising and a month ago, she and her husband decided they'd had enough.

Their house in Tauranga is now on the market and they are moving back to Auckland before Christmas.

"You can have the most beautiful environment, which we have here and I love the beaches and I love the fact we've got a view of the Kaimais and I love the fact there's waterfalls around and hot pools, but we don't have any friends and we don't have work, so we'll never be happy here," Sarah says.

She says moving to Tauranga seemed a no-brainer at the time because they havled their mortgage, but a year on, their savings are drying up, and it has made their priorities clear.

"Tauranga has made us realise what's really important, and there are probably two things - work and friends."

Sarah says she and her husband are not alone in their inability to find jobs in Tauranga, and she has heard of at least 10 other people in their position, including two teachers in Papamoa who are returning to Auckland.

"When people talk about moving here, what they're not talking about is if you're a tradie or a stay-at-home mum, it's great, but if you want a career, it's really, really hard."

Sarah says there are a lot of good things about Tauranga but it lacks big companies and without them "you're just going to keep these low-paid workers and not allow more people from the outside to come and have a go."

She believes other Auckland migrants could end up facing the same situation as her and her husband in the coming years.

"There's a lot of mums that don't work with their little kiddies but once the mum wants to go back to work, I think they're going to find the work really hard to find."

Sarah has already secured a teaching job in Auckland for next year, finding eight jobs to apply for in the space of a week and getting her first interview four days later, when she was hired on the spot.

"They wouldn't let me leave me until I'd signed the contract. They said, 'We just don't want to lose you. You're such a high calibre of teacher. We're struggling to get quality teachers here in Auckland because they're leaving'."

The minute her husband said he was staying in Auckland, he was also snapped up and has a job starting next month.

She says they will not be able to afford to buy a house back in Auckland in the short-term, expecting they will need to rent for at least six months.

"We will have lost out financially but at the end of the day, we've both got full-time jobs, we're able to pay the rent and we're back in a place that wants us."

Sarah ended with a warning to other Aucklanders considering a move to Tauranga.

"You need to do your homework. I would say do not come here unless you've got a job."

A FAILED EXPERIMENT

Tom (not his real name) is another Aucklander who has failed to find a job in his field.

"I've been here a year, and am willing to call the experiment a fail," he says.

In his late 40s with a wife and three children, Tom believes there is a latent bigotry against Aucklanders trying to get a job in Tauranga.

"You need 17 years' experience and to be related to someone," he says wryly.

He and his wife both worked in Government jobs in Auckland and he says they have attended numerous job interviews in Tauranga only to be told positions have been internally filled.

Tom says they made the move to Tauranga for a better lifestyle for their children and while they have achieved that and now get to spend more time together as a family, the city is "not what it's portrayed as".

He says there appears to be two prices for properties in Tauranga, one for locals and a higher one for Aucklanders, prompting him to now say he's from Papamoa when asked.

At the risk he says of sounding like "a stereotypical Jafa", Tom finds Papamoa, where he is living, "homogenised" and central Tauranga "kind of dead".

He has taken a job in a field unrelated to his experience for now and says his first impressions of Tauranga are "great location, shallow population".

Unlike Sarah, though, Tom and his family are not planning to return to Auckland.

"We will stick it out," he says. "I will get over myself. And the kids will grow up as beach kids so on the whole [we are] pretty lucky I guess."

Priority One's Annie Hill says job opportunities are increasing in Tauranga. Photo/John Borren
Priority One's Annie Hill says job opportunities are increasing in Tauranga. Photo/John Borren


Priority One, the Western Bay's development agency, admits that it can be difficult for skilled job seekers in Tauranga.

"We are still a fairly small business community compared to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, so unfortunately it can be difficult for everyone looking for work to find the perfect job," says spokeswoman Annie Hill.

However, she says the area had enjoyed the highest job growth in the country the last two years and there were many more opportunities than a few years ago.

"I think most people feel very lucky to be living here, having often moved here from somewhere else. We have had 48 per cent population growth over the last decade, so are very welcoming to others joining our community."

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless had little sympathy for people who said it was difficult to meet others in his city, saying they needed to make an effort.

He had arrived in Tauranga 30 years ago knowing nobody and headed to the Repertory Theatre and says he immediately felt welcome.

"There are plenty of things on in this community. You actually just have to leave your house and computer to do them."

He was also unsympathetic to complaints from those who said it was difficult to find a job in Tauranga.

"That's all about doing your research before you come to a place."

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