Irina Kapeli says Auckland put her in hospital.

"Literally," the dance teacher says. "From overwork, the pressure of paying $60,000 a year lease and expenses."

So late last year the dance instructor left Auckland after 21 years and moved to Whanganui, following a path her partner had cut a few months earlier.

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"For about four years, I had my own dance school in Auckland CBD and worked myself literally into hospital.

"Then I worked for someone else and I find I'm working up to 11 hours a day sometimes and in the end I'm still just making enough for the cost of living, maybe saving up a little bit but never for a house."

For many, Auckland is becoming too hard to live in and it's one of many reason why, 445km away, Whanganui is going through it biggest population growth in a long time.

"Part of it is age," Irina said. "But part of it is feeling like you work and work, you can't save anything because living costs are insane.

"You're only making enough to survive so you kind of think, okay, maybe a small town is not that bad.

"It was a financial choice but once I've actually moved here then I really appreciate it now."

Auckland's crisis is helping Whanganui leave decades of stagnation behind and mayor Hamish McDouall welcomes it.

He said Whanganui needed to attract those who were looking for a regional life and get them to move to Whanganui ahead of places such as New Plymouth and Napier.

"We don't want to seem needy and it is a balance."

McDouall lived in Auckland too before returning to his home town with his family a decade ago.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall left Auckland a decade ago and now enjoys Whanganui life with wife Elinor, son Bede (left) and daughter Elise.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall left Auckland a decade ago and now enjoys Whanganui life with wife Elinor, son Bede (left) and daughter Elise.

"Part of the reason we moved out of Auckland was we couldn't afford the deposit. And that was 10 years ago."

He believes Auckland is congested and he's not talking motorways - it's hit a limit of what it can cope with.

"That's why people will start moving out of the golden triangle – Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton - and I think we've clearly seen that with people moving here.

"I'm not somebody who bags Auckland. There are a number of good things about Auckland. It is a really diverse city, it really is and I love the energy that brings.

Ardon England will tell you that too.

He's gone in the other direction, shifting to Auckland from his Whanganui in 2016 because the opportunities he sought simply weren't available in his home town.

"It's obviously the biggest city in New Zealand, especially being in the entertainment industry, it is a place I have to be," Ardon said.

The moved has worked out for him but he gets that some are being pushed out of Auckland.

"Families and people who work 9-5 jobs, they really struggle but I suppose the people I'm around have good money and have good jobs."

Ardon still misses the community and the pace of Whanganui but he needs to be in Auckland.

"That's the hard thing because Whanganui has so much going for it, community wise and the people, and that's why I try come home every few months because it's very grounding.

"I feel like too much of the city can be too much but then it can be the same with Whanganui. I like both."

The move south has worked out for Irina who is running a dance school again... but not ending up in hospital.

Irina Kapeli left Auckland for Whanganui late last year. Photo / Bevan Conley
Irina Kapeli left Auckland for Whanganui late last year. Photo / Bevan Conley

"I started my own school straight away with Rene my partner and even though at the beginning no one knows me and it's slow, the living costs are so low it's not as stressful," she said.

"Now that it's picking up I'm actually starting to relax. I have more opportunity, not in an aggressive way, but less competition because fewer people are offering what I'm offering so I feel like I can actually establish myself better here."

She has also left behind a moulding, converted granny flat with a sink but no kitchen for $245 a week for a three-bedroom house by the river for $220.

Irina's case is what Whanganui and Partners new general manager Philippa Ivory talks about; the lifestyle struggling Aucklanders could create for themselves if they got out.

"If you can take a similar salary and come to Whanganui and buy a house, you've got time and you've got money - the two things that make life worth living," she said.

"And if you want to go to a concert, you jump on an Air Chathams flight."

Ms Ivory has also just shifted to Whanganui from Auckland and said people needed to change their mindset about living in regional New Zealand.

"[Now] I think what I've noticed is it just feels like a really funky go-ahead place. It just feels like a really great place to be. Places like Auckland are a harder place to live than when I went there, that's for sure."

Philippa Ivory has returned to Whanganui after nearly three decades to head Whanganui and Partners.
Philippa Ivory has returned to Whanganui after nearly three decades to head Whanganui and Partners.

Irina said living in a place such as Whanganui was not conceivable for some Aucklanders.

"Everyone is just too afraid of it," she said.

"People are so worried about having something to do."

She wondered what they did anyway.

"Okay, so you're working eight hours a day, you then have breakfast, you have dinner, you maybe go to the gym. What do you need to do? Yeah, you have all these things to do but do you have time to do it?

"I think I am just as busy here as I was there because I have my hobbies and my project which it doesn't matter where I am.

"I think if you're the kind of person who's afraid to be bored you'll be bored everywhere.

"You can always create you're thing. If there's something missing here, start it. If you have a hobby that doesn't exist here, start it. There's your business and your hobby."

What about friends and family?

"Really these days with social media you can stay in touch and when you go every few months you catch up with everybody because again, when you live there, how often do you see them?

"We would catch up once every few months anyway. It's the same."

And then there's a property obsession which Irina believed was also keeping people in Auckland.

"I think property is a big drive because the Auckland mentality is literally for everybody to save up, buy a house and that's your retirement," Irina said.

"I think through advertising, property press, TV, through internet so everyone is brainwashed into the fact that they have to buy property.

"For this you have to get a good job and the general mentality is there are no good jobs in small towns. But people forget to compare the cost of living to the salary. You can earn a bit less but you spend way less."

With Whanganui benefiting off Auckland's squeeze, McDouall hopes Whanganui can grow by about 500 people a year comfortably.

"Property prices go up which is a good and bad thing," he said. "Obviously if you want to enter the market it makes it harder but I think overall it's a good thing.

"There's an increase in jobs because of the increased population and the more people the more services there are."

He said Whanganui could grow without having a big impact on those already here.

The Whanganui District Council is opening up land for development over the next 10 years and McDouall said with infill housing and moving people into the city there was plenty of space.

"We are well short of having enough people.

"Overall I think we're looking pretty good but we've just got to keep working. The Long Term Plan is all about planning for 10 years and thinking about 50."

AUCKLAND:

Population:

1,657,200

Unemployment rate:

5.1 per cent

Average house value:

$1,054,974

Average residential rate:

$3620

Average weekly rent:

$530

Average household income:

$120,000+

WHANGANUI

Population:

44,500

Unemployment rate

(includes Manawatu)

:

5.9 per cent

Average house value:

$238,248

Average residential property rate:

$2336

Average weekly rent:

$320

Average household income:

$68,300