Yesterday was Australia Day. There were fires in New South Wales, floods in Queensland, and a crocodile tried to eat a boy in Kakadu. Cobber, why would anyone want to go there?

In a week's time Pele Lolesi and her family will be standing at a check-in counter at Auckland Airport.

She's yet to pack and the cat and dog need to be rehoused, but she's excited.

For the first time in two years, Lolesi and her children will be together again as a family. They'll be joining husband Damian who left their rural Waikato home two years ago to work in the mines at Wollongong, lured across the Tasman by promising pay packets and better prospects for their six children.

When Damian left, he was part of tidal wave of Kiwis washing up on the beaches of Australia. Now, that flood is barely a trickle. New immigration figures show that, increasingly, Kiwis are returning home from around the world. And a Key Research-Herald on Sunday poll reveals only 13 per cent of New Zealanders want to follow in the Lolesi family's footsteps and move across the Ditch - the vast majority are happy where they are.


Pele, a self-employed portrait photographer, says the shift is something of a trial. The family are going to give it six months. If anyone is not happy or the kids don't settle then they'll head back home.

But her hope is the so-called Lucky Country will give their young boys a future. "In the beginning it was about the money and providing for our big family and not finding a job locally that could pay more than $1000 a week," she says. "But now it's not really about the money; it's about being together and jobs for our boys."

The latest immigration statistics tell an encouraging story, a turning of the tide: for the first time in two years, more people are moving to New Zealand than are leaving to make new lives in other countries. The figure aren't quite so good for transtasman migration, but they're headed in the right direction.

"I believe it's a turning of the cycle," says BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander. "I wouldn't call it significant or large, but I believe it's a turning of the cycle partly being driven by people being less enamoured about Australia in terms of housing costs, job availability, stories of Kiwis not getting benefits."

Alexander is watching the figures carefully and warns Aucklanders in particular to expect greater pressure on housing.

"If there's one thing we know in New Zealand, it's that during inflows most people go to Auckland. The housing crisis and the housing affordability situation are going to get a lot worse, and prices will go up a lot more in Auckland than last year."

According to the poll of 1000 eligible voters, two out of five Kiwis still believe the standard of living in Australia is better than in New Zealand - but that doesn't mean they're going to move there. Four out of five people said that if they had a choice of living in New Zealand or Australia, they would stay in New Zealand.

As for the Lolesi family, the Australian dream is already dulling.

Her husband was forced to leave their rural Waikato home after a downturn in the native logging industry. He figured the Australian mining industry looked attractive: he had hoped to land an Australian job contract that meant he could still live in New Zealand.

But he timed his run too late, arriving at the end of the open-cast mining boom. Instead, he ended up working in an underground mine in New South Wales.

"We were naive," says Pele. "We thought you would walk from one job and into another but it wasn't like that. It was a real battle really for those other jobs." She said he had only returned home once a year and she had visited three times. The pair had relied on Skype and phone calls to keep in touch.

"We haven't seen each other much at all but we've got a good relationship. We're really best friends. He was doing it for us and I think that we just focused on this was the best thing for our family."

Pele is not looking forward to leaving close friends and family, especially her grandfather, but she is hopeful she will be able to pick up photographic work in Australia. At this stage, she doesn't feel like she's leaving permanently.

"New Zealand is always going to be home. We've got our house and our little bit of land here that we'll come back to," she says.

"I'm sorry that it hasn't been my ideal dream but then there might be a really great reason, that we'll get there and we'll feel like this is really important or this is really good for our children, so I feel we can just come back if we have to."

Many Kiwis don't want Charles as head of state

Barely one-third of New Zealanders want Prince Charles to be their next head of state, according to a poll taken after his million-dollar royal tour.

The verdict has shocked monarchists, who insist the royal family are witnessing a resurgence in popularity thanks to the marriage of William and Kate and the Queen's year-long Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

According to a Key Research-Herald on Sunday survey, 37.4 per cent of New Zealanders want Prince Charles to succeed to the throne and reign over New Zealand. More of the 1000 poll respondents - 43.3 per cent - oppose him ascending our throne. The remaining 19.4 per cent don't know who they want.

Charles's biggest group of supporters is, literally, dying off: more than half of respondents aged over 65 want to cheer the coronation of King Charles III.

New Zealand Republic Movement chairman Lewis Holden said there is still fondness for the Queen but the divorce dramas and celebrity culture of her offspring is putting many off. "There's a lot of nostalgia and good feeling towards the Queen but with her children it just isn't there. We just regard them as celebrities and sideshows."

As New Zealand forged an economically and culturally independent identity on the world stage, Holden said, the popular perception of the monarchy is changing.

"During the 90s we saw the first signs of the Asian century which challenged the idea of New Zealand being just a former British colony at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean."

Figures obtained by the Republican Movement reveal taxpayers forked out more than $200,000 a day for last year's royal tour - nearly $1.2 million in total. The air force bill for transporting the royal entourage came to $425,000, on top of the $760,000 met by the Department of Internal Affairs budget.

Monarchy New Zealand's Sean Palmer said the poll results were surprising,
and he was witnessing a new wave of monarchists born after 1980. The royal family was enjoying interest and affection, Palmer said, especially with a new baby on the way.

- Lynley Bilby