Does a cubicle prison await your return from holiday? Do you dream of winning Lotto and moving to your happy place in the country or on the coast?

Every year a bunch of New Zealanders will choose to take a radical leap to escape the rat race and do it without Lotto.

Sian Jones ditched a job that others would die for on Lord of the Rings in Wellington to move to the Takaka Hill above Golden Bay.

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The 54-year-old Brit worked as a publicist in the film industry for 20 years and was the person who pressed the button on the announcement to New Zealand media that the Lord of the Rings trilogy would go ahead. It was one of the highlights of her career.

But film is a tough industry, with 15-hour days, and sometimes it's thankless. Jones, who describes herself as a publicist, activist and environmentalist, wanted more out of life.

Her journey wasn't without deviation.

"I moved from London to Sydney to escape the class system, but found myself in a racist, sexist culture in Australia."

New Zealand turned out to be better suited to her temperament, but her work in the film industry meant she was still in the rat race.

She had an epiphany during the summer holidays while sitting on a hill in Takaka. She'd gone to a party on the land, owned by a friend and his brother Clayton.

The "nirvana" was one of the most beautiful vistas she had ever experienced anywhere in the world. The view covered the whole of Golden Bay right up to Farewell Spit.

Instead of smelling the roses, or sea air, she found herself tied to her phone trying to negotiate with Immigration New Zealand to sort out visas for a posse of little people from India who had exhausted their visas but whose presence was essential on the Lord of the Rings set where they worked as scale doubles.


"Lord of the Rings was insane work. They were 12- to 15-hour days, six days a week, mustering scores of extras. The little people took away my much-needed holiday. A black cloud over everything."

When the emergency was sorted, she knew it was time to work on causes close to her heart.

"I decided that rather than just talking about making a difference in the world I would do something."

She travelled back to Wellington and handed in her notice.

"It was incredibly liberating," she says.

Jones worked on a few other New Zealand movies before taking a world tour in 2002.

She then returned to New Zealand, and stayed at the Takaka friend's caravan and to write about her experiences "but got distracted by Clayton", who also had a son, Rowan. She decided to settle in the area permanently.

About three years later, the couple had their own son, Jules. He is now 12 and the family of four live on the land, which now houses a house bus, shed and container which they share. The couple married on their land about four years ago.

Jones still works in publicity but only takes on jobs that align with her beliefs and allow her to live the way she wants to.

Sian Jones worked as a publicist for Lord of the Rings.
Sian Jones worked as a publicist for Lord of the Rings.

Her bread and butter is handling publicity and marketing for AES wastewater treatment systems through Environment Technology, and promoting other causes dear to her heart.

Inspired by the film What The Bleep Do You Know, and Dr Masaru Emoto's theory that water is receptive to emotions, Jones invited him to tour.

"I just contacted Dr Emoto and he agreed to come to New Zealand. It was very satisfying. I did everything [down to] designing the posters."

Most recently she has promoted Paul Bosauder's upcoming nationwide Flamenco dance and guitar tour Tierra y Mar. She also works with Tiny Lifestyle, a group which helps people to downsize into tiny, sustainably built homes with no toxins. Jones hopes to build up the movement.

"It's definitely how I'd like to retire. With all my mates in tiny homes around one main communal house."

She admits her son doesn't love their way of living.

"Of course children always want what they can't have. Jules loves the city ... He adores London when we visit family there and intends to live on the South Bank. But he connects with people all over the world on his device and has a good friend in the Philippines as well as the UK and US."

Escaping the rat race can mean anything from leaving a serious job for something fulfilling (AKA corporate to charitable roles), quitting and starting the business you always dreamed of, or moving to a more tranquil part of the country to do the same job or something totally different such as starting a tourism business.

Nearly 13,000 people left Auckland in 2017, says Brad Olsen, senior economist at Infometrics. Most moved to the provinces, especially to Northland, the upper Waikato area and the Bay of Plenty.

Traffic is likely to have driven a lot of people out.

"Aucklanders are feeling the pain, and delays on many parts of the network are slowly increasing," says Barney Irvine, principal adviser of infrastructure and motoring affairs at the AA.

"The average motorway commuter lost 85 hours to congestion in 2018, compared to 79 hours in 2017."

The average peak-hour speed on Auckland's main motorways was 43km/h in 2017 and car ownership was predicted to rise by about 250,000 cars to 1.5m by 2028.

In Wellington, the journey from Lower Hutt to CBD took 28 minutes in August - four minutes slower than August 2018. There was a 3 per cent increase in congestion across the Wellington network. Equivalent Auckland rates had reduced slightly thanks to the Waterview Tunnel speeding things up from 2017.

Escaping the rat race often happens after a mid-life crisis of some sort. But sometimes, that crisis happens even earlier.

Kendall Flutey was just 22 and weeks out of university.

She had studied commerce after leaving school, simply because that's what her boyfriend at the time chose for his degree. On graduation she landed a plum role in KPMG's graduate programme and moved to Wellington.

"It was all quite exciting," Flutey says. "I had gone from Dunedin scarfie life to having a $2000 corporate clothing allowance. That was enough to get me pretty excited about that future."

Kendall Flutey, creator of online banking platform Banqer. Photo / Supplied
Kendall Flutey, creator of online banking platform Banqer. Photo / Supplied

Today, she uses the word "shallow" to describe her feelings at the time.

The excitement didn't last long.

"By the third week [at KPMG] I knew this path absolutely wasn't for me. It was a bit of a cultural thing," she says.

Not a quitter, Flutey stuck at the job, all the time worrying she had invested a lot in the career path and leaving would mean letting a lot of people down.

One day she looked up from at her buddy, who was one year further down the KPMG career path than her.

"He was a lovely guy [but] I thought 'I don't want to be you next year. I looked at my manager and thought 'I don't want to be you in five or 10 years'. I looked at the partner's office and thought 'I don't want that'. The path was very linear, very clear, and very predictable. There were no surprises," Flutey says.

"Accounting is a fantastic path for someone who it's right for."

But it looked like a giant hamster wheel to Flutey.

Thankfully, Flutey was friends with another Dunedin graduate who was also having doubts. The pair would meet up for regular coffees, or what Flutey calls "peer counselling". They built up the confidence together to quit.

Flutey handed in her notice, not knowing what she would do. She couldn't afford to be unemployed. Reading the book the Four Hour Work Week helped with the naval gazing. Working a four-hour week wasn't realistic for her situation, but it did encourage to imagine a new career in technology.

She chanced upon Enspiral, a DIY collective of social enterprises, ventures, and individuals working collaboratively across the world. She enrolled in its inaugural Dev Academy boot camp to learn about web development. It fitted and she found her calling.

"I found that I had met my people. I joined the first New Zealand cohort for a 12-week."

The course helped Flutey land a job working for a tech company called Abletech. From there the concept of was born. It's an online platform used in New Zealand classrooms to facilitate the teaching of financial literacy. The app was launched by Flutey and her partners in January 2015.

For many New Zealanders, escaping the rat race means moving to a beautiful beach, lake, or lifestyle property. In the case of Flutey, who describes herself as a reformed accountant on a mission, it didn't involve moving to a far-flung part of the country.

She found her happy place out of the rat race in technology, but remained living in the city: first Wellington and then Christchurch, although she admits she could work from the beach on a smartphone if she chose.

"The rat race for me is a state of mind. It's about freedom, choice, and flexibility, not who you are working for.

"I have agency. I have complete freedom over the little things that matter like what I wear and how I express myself, what my day looks like, what I want to invest my time in and where I want to be in five years. Life isn't predictable any more.

"If I had been an accountant I wouldn't have got to meet some of the amazing New Zealanders I have or have the opportunities to travel overseas for work."

For example, she was invited to Uruguay to speak at that country's inaugural financial literacy conference.

Kendall accepts not everyone can escape the rat race.

"The rat race is really interesting because so many of us live in it. A capitalist society is dependent on a rat race. We all idealise leaving it, but a mass exodus is not realistic."

Real estate agents Duncan and Andrea Ritchie loved the Ponsonby/Westmere/Herne Bay lifestyle. But a chance conversation with a client about his lifestyle in a home neighbouring a golf course made the pair think about how life could be different out of Auckland.

Andrea and Duncan Ritchie. Photo / Supplied
Andrea and Duncan Ritchie. Photo / Supplied

The chance conversation revolved around the idea of living next door to a golf course in the Bay of Plenty.

Not long after, the Bayleys agents bought an investment property in Pāpāmoa. It was only after their tenant left and they stayed in the rental property briefly with Andrea's brother that they realised the lifestyle was for them.

Fortunately, real estate agency work is a career that travels.

"I transferred down with Bayleys and joined the team at Mount Maunganui in 2017," Andrea says.

The move has been magical, she says.

"Yes, you can walk in Mission Bay or Takapuna Beach, but it's nothing like walking down a 20km beach and returning along the waterway . It's 10 minutes to go to the golf course and hit a few balls in the evening."

Although the pair could have bought another home to live in, they chose to refurbish the rental because of its perfect location, sandwiched between the beach and cafes.

"You can take the girl out of Ponsonby, but you have to have a good café somewhere near."