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4 Americans moved to New Zealand for safety, scenic hikes, and the small-town feel. 'I just felt this calm, like, 'I'm home,'’ one said.

Jordan Pandy   

4 Americans moved to New Zealand for safety, scenic hikes, and the small-town feel. 'I just felt this calm, like, 'I'm home,'’ one said.
  • An estimate of Americans living in New Zealand has more than doubled since 2022, from 1,479 to 4,264.
  • Four former Californians relocated to New Zealand for safety and a calm atmosphere.

Garvey Daniels first moved to Auckland, New Zealand, in 1996 for a job at a newly opened casino.

"I fell madly in love with the country and started the immigration process within two days," Daniels, 55, told Insider.

He moved back to his home base of Irvine, California, in 2003 but always hoped to return to New Zealand. In June 2022, he got his chance.

Daniels — now joined by his wife and two children, 14 and 13 — put almost everything his family owned in California into a storage unit. They brought two suitcases each to Auckland, New Zealand, for a one-year trial run. A year later, they've decided to stay for longer.

"It's a magical country," Daniels said. "There's something about it. When I landed, I just felt this calm, like, 'I'm home.'"

Daniels and his family are a few of the growing number of Americans trading life in the US for life down under. Provisional migrant arrivals from the US to New Zealand jumped from 1,479 in 2022 to 4,264 in 2023, according to a dataset provided by Stats NZ, New Zealand's official data agency.

Overall, New Zealand's population has increased steadily for decades and has an estimated population of 5.2 million as of March 2023, according to Stats NZ. The island country to the east of Australia has a surface area similar to Colorado, but fewer people than Colorado's 5.8 million.

Others following the same path as Daniels have found safety, friendliness, and natural beauty in New Zealand. Four Americans who moved to New Zealand told Insider their reasons for departing the US.

New Zealand's beauty made him want to come back, but the safety made him stay

New Zealand had been in the back of Daniels' mind since leaving in 2003, but it took some convincing to get his family on board.

"I knew I wanted to come back, but my wife and my kids had never stepped foot in New Zealand — they knew nothing about it except my stories," Daniels said. "It was a little bit more of a challenge for them to say yes, but they love the idea of the adventure and trying something new."

Daniels and his family decided to stay at least until his kids finish high school. The initial reason for returning to New Zealand was simply Daniels' admiration for the country, but since he's now there with his family, he's discovered other reasons to love New Zealand, like its safety.

"My kids just get to go and have an education," he said. "They can walk to the dairy with their friends and if they decide they want to go eat ice cream on the beach and they're not home right away, I don't go into a mad panic."

"It doesn't seem to be as fraught with the kind of anxiety that you have back in, for us, California," Daniels said.

A Los Angeles resident visited for 20 years before making his move more permanent

Jon Kroll lived in Los Angeles for 35 years and visited New Zealand on and off for 20 years as a break from the congestion of Los Angeles. He didn't make the move full-time until December 2022, when he came with his partner.

"We just liked the vibe, we liked the people, we liked the environment, and we felt like we could breathe here," Kroll told Insider. "In LA there was a lot of tension. There's traffic and everyone's always working. Here it just felt like it was a more relaxed attitude."

Kroll, who's in his 60s, moved to Wellington — the capital of New Zealand at the southern end of the North Island, nearly 400 miles from Auckland — into a 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home. He downsized from his four-bedroom home in Los Angeles.

Kroll owns his home. The average cost of a home in Wellington was 1.02 million New Zealand dollars in July, or $607,338, according to CoreLogic NZ.

New Zealand is often regarded for its scenic landscapes, and Kroll takes full advantage of that.

"You can go 10 minutes in any direction and there's an amazing hike to go on with my dogs," he said. "There's so much natural beauty everywhere."

Kroll also pointed out that the charm expands beyond the landscape, to the Kiwis — or locals.

"Just last week I bought a bookcase and was trying to load it into my car and this stranger said, 'Do you need a hand?,'" Kroll said. "He helped me load this bookcase in, and I've never had anything like that happen before. It was just such a cool thing."

He added, "And that's just normal. I think it's an overwhelming feeling that people help each other here, and I think that's really nice."

The slower pace in rural New Zealand helped this tech worker enjoy more time with family

Heather Gadonniex left the San Francisco Bay Area and went on what was supposed to be a quick vacation to New Zealand in March 2020. Accompanied by her husband, who is originally from New Zealand, and 1-year-old son, they ended up hunkering down with family for the duration of the pandemic-related lockdowns.

"We had a suitcase full of clothes and a suitcase full of wine. We trade wine back and forth, being from Northern California," Gadonniex told Insider. "Six months turned into eight months, and we were still there."

Gadonniex, 42, settled in Matakana, New Zealand, a small town about 42 miles outside of Auckland, and lives in an intergenerational home with her husband, now two children, and her father-in-law.

Matakana is more rural than Oakland, where she lived before moving, and while Gadonniex does miss the innovation and hustle and bustle in the Bay Area, she's enjoyed the change of pace.

"We live a very different existence," she said. "It's really an idyllic place. We're five minutes from the beaches, it's really safe, my kids go to a school down the road that's surrounded by cows."

Gadonniex is an executive at a venture-capital firm in Auckland and still enjoys the fast pace of the tech industry, but now enjoys the balance between work and time with family that New Zealand has allowed her to practice.

"The ability to have more balance is something that I don't think I realized how much I needed, but now that I have it, I think I'd be pretty hard pressed to give that up," she said. "I just don't know how I would've done that in San Francisco."

Wellington, New Zealand, provides the small-town feel his family was looking for

Native Wyomingite Ryan Rogers departed for New Zealand more than a decade ago for work.

Rogers, 43, mulled over cities like London, San Francisco, and Vancouver, but ended up picking the furthest option.

"At the time I didn't honestly know a great deal about New Zealand, but it just seemed to me like it was this interesting place that was different from all the others," Rogers told Insider.

Rogers worked in the film industry — specifically special effects — and explained that New Zealand was an attractive market in that space at the time.

Rogers has grown to love the small-town feel that Wellington, which had a population of 202,737 in 2018, the most recent Census estimate, is able to offer.

"I do miss some of the nightlife in Los Angeles — nightlife in Los Angeles is just off the charts, so it's hard to compare to that — but my favorite thing here by far is that it's a great place to raise a family."

Rogers has two children, one that was born in the US and the other that was born in New Zealand. Raising his family in Wellington has been a great experience for him because the community is tightly knit, and he knows everybody.

"I know all of my neighbors, and it feels like how things were in the '80s when I was growing up in a small town in Wyoming," he said. "It just has that small-town vibe yet it is a big city."