The population of the South Island has topped one million for the first time, new census figures released today show.

The number of Christchurch dwellers has dropped by almost 7000 since the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquake sequence - but have not necessarily left the region, with the number of people living in Canterbury jumping by 17,000.

The new data provides the first snapshot into the population shift since the quakes.

Read our live chat with Statistics NZ's census general manager Sarah Minson.


The Christchurch city population has gone from 348,456 in 2006 to 341,469 this year - a drop of 2 per cent.

The Canterbury region numbers have gone from 521,0832 in 2006 to 539,433 this year.

Auckland's population has grown by 110,000 people to 1.42 million people since the last census seven years ago.

Census night data showed that all 21 local board areas in Auckland increased in population, and Waitemata, Upper Harbour, Rodney, Howick and Franklin were the fastest-growing areas.

Government statistician Liz MacPherson said Auckland's growth was the equivalent of adding a population the size of Tauranga over the last seven years.

After Auckland, the fastest-growing region was Nelson, followed by Waikato. Southland turned around its population decline by gaining 2000 people in the last seven years.

Overall, 47 out of 67 council areas grew in population. The fastest growing regions were Selwyn, Queenstown-Lakes District, Waimakariri.

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Selwyn District has experienced the largest population growth in the country, up nearly a third to 44,595 people.

Waimakariri is up 17 per cent to 49,989.

The New Zealand census was taken on March 5 this year.

It was the first since 2006 after the 2011 government survey was postponed because of the fatal February 22, 2011 quake.

Ms MacPherson said one of the surprising features of the census was that while Christchurch city numbers were unsurprisingly down, people "do seem to be staying in the Canterbury region".

"So the broader growth in the Canterbury region was interesting to see."

Of the 10 areas with the fastest population growth since 2006, half were in the Canterbury region - the second-largest region in New Zealand after Auckland.

Eight of the 10 Canterbury territorial authority areas experienced population increase between 2006 and 2013.

The census data also showed that New Zealand gained 7000 people a year from migration between 2006 and 2013 - less than a third of the 23,000 gained per year between 2001 and 2006.

New Zealand's usually resident population was 4,242,048 in 2013, up from 4,027,947 in 2006 - with just over one million in the South Island, and 3.2 million in the north.

In the North Island, Carterton was the fastest-growing territorial area, increasing its population by 16 per cent to 8235 people.

Apart from Canterbury areas which were affected by earthquakes, the largest population declines were in Kawerau and Ruapehu.

Ms MacPherson said that these declines were not alarming and were part of normal population fluctuations.

Asked to respond to Labour leader David Cunliffe's claim that people were fleeing the regions in droves, Ms MacPherson said that the new data showed steady population growth in most of the regions.

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- APNZ and NZ Herald