Herald journalists have been in small town New Zealand to talk to voters about their hopes, fears and dreams. Each day we visit a town beginning with one of the letters H, E, A, R and T. Today, Kurt Bayer visits Rolleston.

It was the answer to burgeoning Christchurch's urban sprawl of the 1970s. Town planners decided to plonk the new satellite town of Rolleston 15km southwest of the Garden City and wait for it to flourish.

But the railway connection never materialised. Its social infrastructure stalled. The influx of people never happened.

For three decades, the sight of its road sign on State Highway One, "Rolleston: The town of the future" brought snorts of derision from passing motorists. Spraypaint graffiti tagged it, "Rolleston: Back to the future".

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Until the earthquakes.

The quakes devastated Christchurch's eastern suburbs and many of its people had no choice but to leave. The Government bought out around 9000 properties and sent quake refugees sprawling west, north and south, with many settling on the solid ground of the outlying Selwyn district. Since 2008, the district's population has exploded by 47 per cent.

Rolleston's population now tops 13,000, making it one of the fastest-growing centres in New Zealand.

It's no longer the butt of jokes but rather the favoured nesting spot of many young families.

Nick, 41, and Carissa, 37, Maitland had enjoyed their beachside lifestyle in North New Brighton before the earthquakes.

But they were outgrowing their ageing, and small, home. And when the quakes hit their property escaped with some "minor" damage but the Maitlands saw it as an opportunity to move on.

After considering Rangiora, north of the Waimakariri, the family-of-four plumped for Rolleston four years ago.

"It's a real good family community feel here and that was a big attraction to us," said Carissa, who works in human resources.

With the average house price in Selwyn now at $546,070, the Maitlands feel lucky they were able to get a foot on the property ladder.

They have been concerned by the growing divide between rich and poor.

"There is a lot of poverty in New Zealand and I believe the Government has not done enough to address that. New Zealand has never really had a class system and so that doesn't sit well with me," said West Coast born-and-raised Carissa.

Their two daughters Tora, 7, and 5-year-old Kendall, have settled in well to Clearview Primary School - one of five schools now in the town.

A reduction in government subsidies for early childhood learning centres to employ trained teachers was a major concern for them as their daughters went through daycare.

And now that both girls are at school, education remains the biggest issue for the Maitlands.

Nick, a marketing co-ordinator for University of Canterbury, is impressed by Education Minister Nikki Kaye's push towards digital literacy as his daughters grow up in an increasingly digital world.

"We can't let schools flounder in tradition. They need to prepare our children for the future," he said.

The Maitlands hope for a future where the education system allows their girls to pursue their passion - whatever that is, including university, polytechnic, trades, or travel.

"We were both latecomers to tertiary education and we just want to give them the skills and chance to be able to follow their passion, whatever that may be, and their own path," Nick said.

Carissa added: "I love this country and it's interesting to hear that a lot of Americans are now looking to move here because of what is happening in their country. What will New Zealand be in the future for our young ones? I hope that they'll have the same opportunities that we both enjoyed and also have the courage to be able to just go for it."

One of the big issues for newcomers to Rolleston, and a thing that's kept some people away, was the lack of things to do. It seemed like a place full of houses and little else.

Slowly though, as the people have come, the retail and leisure side has started to catch up.

Rolleston now boasts two supermarkets, shopping complexes with major retailers, cafes, a variety of restaurants, and sporting clubs.

"Pretty soon, we won't have to go into town [Christchurch] for anything," said Nick.

"The ideal thing would be to get jobs out here too."

But the pace of change hasn't enamoured everyone, especially those who have been there since before the boom.

John and Heather Toone moved to Rolleston in 1994, when it had a population of around 1000, and bought the local dairy and post shop the following year.

John Toone and Heather Toone in the Rolleston dairy and post shop which they have owned since 1995. Photo / Kurt Bayer
John Toone and Heather Toone in the Rolleston dairy and post shop which they have owned since 1995. Photo / Kurt Bayer

"We were the only shop in Rolleston. It was just a quiet wee town, and I liked that," said Heather.

They used to deliver mail for the whole of town. Now, there are six posties, three rural delivery drivers, and four couriers.

Building was starting to ramp up before the quakes, the Toones found, but since the 2010-11 earthquakes the town has exploded.

And for John, 66, and Heather, 60, the speed of change has been too great. They feel the town is, in its present state, "too bitty" with retail complexes divided by roads and houses.

"I think the developers have been too greedy and the council have steamrolled through places even where the people have objected to them, like the reserve being changed from recreation to business," said John.

"I can see they want all the shops in one area but they are not listening to the people."

The Toones are also worried at the rise in crime that's come with the rising population and report a "spate" of burglaries and sneak thefts.

Heather, a "country girl at heart", wants to move somewhere quieter. John would happily sell up and retire, and finally enjoy a long holiday - something which they haven't enjoyed for 10 years.

"We've worked hard and now it's time to just live our life in peace and quiet," John said.

This week
Monday: Hikurangi
Tuesday: Eketahuna
Yesterday: Albertland
Today: Rolleston