The latest Census has shown a continuing exodus from parts of the Far North, with some towns and rural areas - especially in the west - losing more than 10 per cent of their populations since the last count in 2006.
The biggest percentage drop was in North Hokianga, where the population slid by 14 per cent to 1689. Other falls were in Russell (12 per cent), Kaitaia East (8 per cent), Moerewa (6 per cent), Kaikohe and Kaitaia West (5 per cent). At the same time, Kerikeri and areas inland from the Bay of Islands saw the biggest gains.
The Census does not indicate where those leaving the district have gone but anecdotal evidence is that the bulk have moved to Australia and Auckland with smaller numbers shifting to Whangarei.
Newly elected community board member Louis Toorenburg, of Waiotemarama in South Hokianga, said lack of jobs and educational opportunities were the main reasons behind the exodus. Many moved to Australia when mining company agents held recruitment drives in towns like Kaikohe and Kaitaia a few years ago.
"Many people living in smaller towns and rural Hokianga feel they've been forgotten, job prospects are low, education is not too good and many have left to further their children's education where more is offered.
"Hopefully the North will see the kids return. Several of my kids want to return to a less stressful lifestyle, but they need jobs and better education for their children," he said.
Posting on the Advocate's Facebook page, Krystle Wano said her family had moved from the Kaikohe area to Brisbane.
"There was just no work and there are far better opportunities for us and our kids here."
Overall, the Far North's total population has remained almost static since the last Census, dropping by 0.2 per cent to 55,734. Kerikeri gained 651 people or 11 per cent, pushing its population to 6507. It is now easily the Far North's biggest town, ahead of Kaitaia's 4887. Kaikohe's population, which had been hovering at about 4000, slipped to 3915.
Other big gains were in Houhora (11 per cent), the largely rural area along State Highway 1 between Hupara and Waihou Valley (11 per cent) and Kapiro (10 per cent).
Waikato University demography professor Natalie Jackson, who spoke about the region's population trends at a recent panel discussion in Kerikeri, said changes in the Far North reflected what was happening elsewhere in the North Island as rural areas emptied out. The South Island, by contrast, was growing everywhere except the west coast. Possible reasons included the amalgamation of farms, meaning fewer jobs for young people in rural areas, and an ageing population moving closer to health services.