As a youngster in Social Studies class, I remember being regaled with stories of the Northward Drift, that well-known phenomenon of people moving from the South Island to the North Island, and to Auckland from everywhere that wasn’t Auckland. How we thrilled to the tales of those intrepid folk, heading north on their oxen-drawn wagons (we assumed) to the land of plenty. However, by the time I was learning about it in the late ’90s or thereabouts, it wasn’t really happening any more. Tables from Statistics New Zealand show that, on a net basis, people have been moving from the North Island to the South Island since the late ’80s (and the good people at Stats NZ have also written a good “mythbusters” article on it). It took a devastating earthquake to reverse the trend, with the South Island finally losing people to the North Island again in the five years to 2013:

South to North

As for Auckland, it took a little while longer to follow the trend, but Auckland has been losing population to other regions since the late ’90s. I wrote last year that

[Auckland has] had a decade of negative migration, in domestic (or “internal”, i.e. within NZ) terms. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues when the 2013 census results come out. The “northward drift” of population, which certainly has been a factor in the past, doesn’t seem to be happening any more.

Well, the 2013 census results are out, and they do indeed show a continuation of this trend – although it has slowed significantly.

Internal Migration for Auckland

This leads to the inevitable media coverage on “Aucklanders moving to [insert other town or city here]”. Google this for Tauranga or Hamilton and you’ll see these articles getting written at least once a year for each city – it’s a reliable page-filler and it’s easy enough to find a couple of case studies to interview.

Now, the “net” numbers shown here represent the difference between two much larger numbers – total internal immigrants, and total internal emigrants. These numbers were each around 60,000 for the five years to March 2013 – what we’re seeing is just the net result of fluctuations (or trends) in each of these numbers.

The articles (and the people mentioned in them, including real estate agents and so on) usually make the mistake of thinking about these migration flows as being one way. They’re not. Of course real estate agents in Tauranga will notice home buyers moving from Auckland – and vice versa, if anyone had bothered to ask the agents in Auckland. However, the effect will be much more noticeable in the smaller city, because Hamiltonians will notice a couple of thousand new residents coming from Auckland, whereas it’ll be a bit harder to see that when the new residents get spread around a city with ten times the population.

Even so, we’re now looking at a fairly well established trend which has generally been heading in one direction for the last 30 years. It’s probably safe to say that overall, more Aucklanders will keep leaving for other parts of New Zealand than the reverse.

However, it’s worth pointing out that these numbers just aren’t that big in the context of Auckland. We’re talking about a net loss of 4,653 people over the last five years, whereas Auckland is generally growing at 20,000 to 25,000 people each year (and probably faster at the moment). In the graph below, I’ve broken down Auckland’s overall population growth into gains from internal migration, international migration, and “natural increase” (births minus deaths). Note that my data for those other two items only goes back 20 years.

Overall Population Growth for Auckland

Compare those three elements of Auckland’s population growth, and it becomes pretty obvious why it’s much more important for us to analyse and understand the factors behind international migration, and natural increase. For other towns and cities, internal migration can be pretty important – it’s a key driver of growth in Hamilton and Tauranga, for example – but for Auckland, it’s pretty small stuff.

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35 comments

  1. I would wager a good sum that if anyone was game enough to look into this they would discover that we are seeing a London effect here – native born New Zealanders are leaving Auckland if at all possible, with their replacements being migrants. The net result could be NZ ending up like England, where the Anglo-Saxon English live anywhere except in London. And it is more often than polite society would have it being done for explicitly racial reasons. For example, one young couple I know spent four years actively searching for work anywhere in the North Island outside Auckland before recently finally getting a job in Taupo, where they are loving being able to buy their own home for their three kids and getting away from all the Indians and Chinese. I know three other couples who did this (to Napier, Palmerston North, and Morrinsville) over the last five years. All were native born European New Zealanders, and I think all had moved to Auckland after university before fleeing again as soon as possible.

    Of four white native born New Zealanders I know who moved to the South island in the last five years (to the West Coast, Stewart island, Central Canterbury and Queenstown) three went explicitly to get away from all the foreigners in Auckland.

    I guess this just means cities are not for everyone, but it also courts political disaster if you end up with the biggest New Zealand city not being very New Zealand at all, but rather full of people who don’t share the cultural values and aspirations of the nation as a whole because the cultural heartland isn’t interested in them.

    1. Anecdata isn’t data at all.

      That’s not to say that I don’t believe you may have a point about the White Flight – it’s happened time and again throughout history, so as repulsive as it is, I’m sure it’s likely to occur again now. But you correlation doesn’t equal causation. Your anecdata is worth nought, until it’s backed up by some solid empirical data.

    2. So you know a lot of racists; that about sums up your post.
      I lived in London for 7 years and I always said one of the best things about London was that you could go for days without meeting any English people.
      If the racists want to move out of Auckland then I couldn’t be happier.

      1. Sanctuary didn’t say anything racist. He said native born New Zealanders, which is NOT a reference to race. If native born New Zealanders want to be around other native born New Zealanders, that too is not racist. It’s a love of ones country and culture, which is race-irrelevant.

        1. “where they are loving being able to buy their own home for their three kids and getting away from all the Indians and Chinese. ”

          Not racist, just won’t live in the same city as Indians or Chinese.

  2. Are you really trying to define what is and what isn’t considered ‘New Zealand’, and what & where the ‘cultural heartland’ is? You seem to be implying that a browner, or less-European Auckland, will somehow be less ‘New Zealand’. I don’t think you get to make those definitions. I also think that it is offensive.

    1. I was born in Auckland, but moved to Chch in my early teens, then back to Auckland in my ’30s (for work), and will likely move away again when the kids have left the nest. Not because I don’t like “other cultures”, but because a smaller centre offers a lifestyle that appeals more to me.

      But “Sanctuary” is right, “white flight” is a significant problem, not just for those leaving Auckland, but also within Auckland. One of my Indian colleagues would prefer to live on the Shore, but moved to Sandringham for the benefit of his “arranged” bride, although he hopes she’ll acclimatise quickly so they move back to the Shore.

      The census data highlights the issue of migrant “communities”, whether they be Islanders in the south and west or Indians in the inner southwest or South Africans on the Shore (and so forth). A perfectly rational approach, from a shared language and culture and social support perspective.

      1. ‘But “Sanctuary” is right, “white flight” is a significant problem.’

        What exactly is the problem? If racists want to leave good luck to them, and good riddance.

        I don’t really see much point in framing these movements entirely in racial terms, all the evidence here is anecdotal, so you know, whatever.

        I completely get wanting country life, it’s not for me, but I get the appeal, and what a beautiful country it is. I travel a lot all over NZ and meet are a lot of people with fabulous and enviable lifestyles out there. Great for those that can make good and satisfying living there, or who don’t need to…. I love dropping in but know I wouldn’t last a fortnight outside of perhaps Wellington, but then the winters, and the scale; I do tend to bump into everyone I know there in about three days…. it’s no place for a secret…!

        1. The Stats NZ evidence is empirical, from the ethnicity questions in the census. It’s on their website.

          I was referring to the “white flight” within Auckland, as reported recently in the Herald, where those who can afford to, move to an area with a “better” (higher decile) school. I’m quite happy to send my kids to the very multicultural decile 3 local high school, which has an excellent principal and staff and above average NCEA results. 🙂

        2. For what it’s worth my eldest daughter got the top mark in the country in Scholarship Art History and a another award, money, reception at gov. house, met the PM and the GG, from a totally brown state school in central Auckland. No disrespect meant for other better funded schools in Epsom but, you know, they ought to take every one of these prizes, if teacher pay and resources were the only things that matter in education.

          The NZ state school system is bloody good, ain’t broke, and in the words of the very Republican US economist Ed Glaeser: ‘ NZ has nothing to learn from the US about education’.
          He was referring to Charter Schools, saying how they work in the US because the social contract is broken there, but are not required here, and I was in the room when he said it along with hundreds of others.

  3. Don’t be an egg Raffe. I am just pointing out what happens when you allow a “London effect”. Ask an Englishman or woman if they think of London is English.

    1. I assume when you say “an Englishman or woman” you are thinking of a white person. Not the Black or Asian people who have been in England for generations.

      NZ has even less of a claim to somehow claim that being white is somehow a NZ thing. I mean for a start, Maori people I am pretty sure were here first. Yes, I am sure I read that somehow.

  4. gentle gentle people. Sanctury you’re right, cities aren’t for everyone, and surely it’s a good result for all that those nostalgic for a quieter, smaller Auckland do the rational thing and move to one of those many parts of the country that have those features. Especially lucky for them that the numbers who want to live in the new Auckland are so strong that those who decide to leave are able to get full value on their AK property so leave cashed up.

    Like your anecdotal evidence i know a number who have cashed in and gone provincial only to find a few years in that they’re bored with small town life but now priced out of returning to AK… so it pays to be sure!

    Anyway, it’s all good, increasingly there’s something for everyone in NZ, not so long ago you had to go overseas for any kind of urban life, now we have a fuller range of places from empty to urban. And although there will always be those who resist it Auckland is not going to go backwards to provincial town styles now.

    This is indeed a city ‘on the cusp of something special’…..

    1. And what is this “something special”?
      It sounds meaningless, like that classic word “vibrant”

      Will Auckland win the next 10 NPCs and the Blues the next 5 Super 14s?
      Will the average wage in Auckland skyrocket to 150k/pa?
      Will Auckland implement a 3-day working week?
      Will the UoA suddenly become a world top 10 institution?

      Or, as I suspect, is “something special” a rather banal term for an increasingly “cool Britannia” city that actually has no clear benefits for anybody. Just looks a bit hipper. Maybe we’ll get another Moustache milk and cookie ™ bar.

      1. I suggest it means that Auckland is about to mature to become a real big boy grown up city, not an overgrown country.

        So a strong centre where people from all parts of the city can interact, good frequent public transport and more housing choice – like real cities do.

  5. Drilling deeper into the census figures shows the area of NZ losing population is the eastern/southern North Island, and the decline starts about an hour south of Hamilton e,g. Te Kuiti, Tokoroa.
    it’s the districts which can’t convert to dairy and have few alternatives (New Plymouth-hydrocarbons/ Palmy with brainpower) and are a long way from Auckland.
    Wellington’s city region has only limited pull.

  6. If you do ever move away from Auckland just don’t sell your Auckland house or houses as you wont get them back again. I know a number of people who have gone to Wellington for a few years and then come back and can’t afford to buy where they used to live. Even if the move really is permanent then you should keep the Auckland house to make your kids wealthy.

  7. It’s reality that the Chinese and Indians are setting up camp. Sanctuary is correct in saying they aren’t to everyone’s taste (no pun intended). It will be bloody sad if these migrants don’t integrate better because we will lose that ‘kiwi’ way of life and there will just be pockets of communities within our great city. It isn’t racist, it’s a realist reality that is a bit scary.

    1. “the” Kiwi way of life (singular). Is that the one where we are all supposed to worship the All Blacks, enthuse over overpriced coffee made by somebody called a “barista” and aspire to a bach at a beach somewhere, etc etc?

      **** that. I make my own way of life and expect others to as well. To paraphrase Monty Python: just remember, we are all individuals…
      except me.

    2. HV making sweeping generalisations about race then following them up with the disclaimer ‘It isn’t racist’ doesn’t actually work. Nor does just claiming to a ‘realist’. As MFD points out you even manage to limit kiwis by claiming that we’re all the same, just as you do to the Indian and Chinese communities. Isn’t it all a great deal subtler than that?

      1. I’m not a racist , but so long as you pay your taxes and don’t cause grief; I couldn’t give a monkeys where you claim to be from.

  8. Hmm Im not sure where this idea that white Englishmen dont like London comes from?
    Not true if you ask me, and I am a Londoner…

    But with London being one of a handful of global metropolises the price of accommodation is steep. Moving to Essex, Kent, the home counties etc allows you to commute (30-60 mins commutertrain) and have a great lifestyle for your family.
    I think that when people discuss issues such as these its important to understand that while a lot of blue collar Londoners have moved outside the city limits they are still part of the London economy. Londons city-limits aren’t big enough for the increase in population.

    While migration in and out of Auckland is presented in numbers the reasons for why this has happened are murky. Quantitative data never explains why. qualitative data is needed to understand whats presented here.
    Could it be that quite alot of people cant afford Auckland?
    Is it because they get more for their money outside Auckland?
    Is it because they prefer a rural / townstyle lifestyle (living in cities such as say Hamilton or Tauranga)
    Is it provincials who return to the provinces after spending their youth in the big city?

    I dont know a single person who have left Auckland for another place in NZ. I know quite a few who went to Aussie though. My Anecdotal review tells me that people leaving Auckland are probably provincials who want to return to town life, who weren’t made for the city. Who knows whats true, until we get qualitative evidence we can all come with our guesses.

    1. Some of them will be retirees selling off their nestegg and “escaping the ratrace” – heading off to the beach or bush. Some are returning from working overseas, and wanting a quieter lifestyle. The young will continue to head off to the “bright lights” of Sydney or London, as they always have. 🙂

      Magazine editor/publisher Alan Dick sold a Mt Eden cottage and bought a substantial place in Oamaru, with enough left over to top up his Super.

      1. Yup, I know a bunch of stories like that, and I love Oamaru, but remember that it has an average age of about 101; I love visiting but wild horses couldn’t get me to sell up here and move… as mfwic said above, only do it if you can afford to hold your AK property too. You sure gotta be sure when sawing off the bridge behind you.

        1. Many of those retiring south only came north because they had to for work, so when they no longer have to work, they go back to where they felt comfortable. And they sell up because they have no desire to return. Which is fine, as it releases another house in Auckland, and utilises a house in “the regions” – win/win for all. 🙂

        2. Yes, I my experience the happiest movers out to the sticks were from there in the first place. So a return is probably the most successful journey. But even then I can think of a few of these that still didn’t last, including one very high profile artist who returned to the Hawkes Bay and gave it go, but is now back in Auckland trying to rebuild some property equity.

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