Most read story: 'Seriously we just go back to survival mode' - High living costs drive Kiwis back across the ditch

Note: This story first ran on Wednesday May 9

Kiwi families who have moved back to New Zealand after living in Australia are struggling with high living costs and low wages that could push them back across the Tasman.

Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have moved to Australia to try and build better lives for themselves, but the move back home is proving difficult for some.

Rochelle Palmer met her Kiwi husband John in Brisbane and they moved to Whenuakite in the Coromandel four years ago.

"We were caught up in the rat race of busy city life of suburban life - having two boys we thought New Zealand might be a great place to let them be free."

In Australia, Ms Palmer could afford to be a stay-at-home mum - but in New Zealand she split her time between her four sons and working three cleaning jobs.

Her husband John is a mechanical engineer and works full time, but has often struggled to find work in their small community.

Mrs Palmer said she was shocked at the low wages and the high cost of food, power and rent in New Zealand.

"There were moments - and there still are every now and then - times when we have to go 'actually, how are we doing food shopping next week and how are we going to pay the power that's three weeks overdue?'.

"Seriously we just go back to survival mode of 'okay, what don't we use that can we sell to pay the power bill or to buy food next week?'."

Jan Stewart lived in Brisbane for 18 years with her husband Ken after both were made redundant from their jobs in Whangārei.

Last year, they retired and decided to move back to Whangārei, but Ms Stewart said she was shocked to find how much New Zealand had changed.

"Our home over there (in Brisbane) was worth $500,000 - we'd pay a million dollars for the same type of home here in Whangārei."

Another reason Ms Stewart was looking to return to Australia was the poor standard of healthcare she said her husband had received so far.

After being unable to walk, she said Ken was rushed to the hospital only to be discharged a short time later.

"I've picked him up and brought him back home only to find that I've had to take him back early hours in the morning and for them to realise he had five cracked ribs and a cracked lung."

Carmen Brown has lived in Australia for the past 23 years - apart from a brief two-year stint when she returned home to New Zealand.

But it was a stint that made her family quickly hop back across the ditch to Perth.

"It was just struggle street from the time we got home, we couldn't believe how much things were costing," Mrs Brown said.

"Power bills we get them two to three months and pay less than you do a month back home."

Ms Brown currently works part-time at a supermarket and earns $26 per hour and her family has been able to build their own home with grants from the Australian government.

Although she'll always call the Taranaki region home, she said she couldn't see her family moving back to New Zealand unless they could live mortgage-free.

"I loved growing up in New Zealand, I wished my kids had that kind of experience but Australia has been wonderful for them too."

Recent statistics show more Kiwis are making the jump across the ditch.

In the year to March 2018, 20,000 people left for Australia while just 15,000 returned home.

- By John Boynton

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Māori cultural centre for Whangārei hopes for $5 million council grant

The long-held dream of a Māori cultural centre for Whangārei is hanging on hopes of a $5 million council grant.

Work has just begun on the first stage of the project - a big carving workshop and waka shelter, east of the Town Basin in the Hihiaua Peninsula.

But stage two, a theatre, will be competing for council funding with hotel developers across the river.

Master Carver Te Warihi Hetaraka can visualise exactly what the Hihiaua Cultural Centre will look like.

The trust he's a part of has been planning it for ten years, but it's been the dream of his elders for much longer.

"The vision of it started back in the 1980s when the kaumātua realised that kids were losing their culture fast - real fast. They saw a cultural centre as a place where they could retain a lot of the knowledge that used to be handed down and is no longer with us."

Some of those arts and skills - carving, weaving and waka building - would finally have a home in Whangārei by next April.

A former boat-building shed on the Waiarohia Stream is being converted into an art workshop space, with a waka shelter and launching gantry.

Half the $2 million cost has been covered with a grant from the Provincial Growth Fund, and the rest from the Whangarei District Council, Foundation North and Te Puni Kokiri.

But it's the next stage that will be the big one: A 700 seat theatre for the performing arts, a facility Whangārei has needed for years.

It will cost between $10m and $15m according to Hihiaua Trust secretary Janet Hetaraka.

The theatre would be versatile enough to handle many community events, Mrs Hetaraka said.

But the priority for the Trust was kapa haka.

"We have many kapa haka events throughout the year and there is no adequate venue.

"They have to use stadiums or gyms and there's never enough space for the audience. What we've designed is an indoor/outdoor stage, so we can have thousands of people seated outside on the grass with the stage open to the outdoors."

The Hihiaua Trust will apply for resource consent for the theatre in the next fortnight. It hopes to persuade the council to back the project with a $5m grant.

If it succeeds, it would be able to apply to other charities for the rest of the funds, Mrs Hetaraka said.

The Whangārei District Council has long had $10 million budgeted in its long term plan for a theatre but developers planning to build a hotel across the river are also pitching for council funding for a conference centre.

Another Hihiaua Trust member, lawyer Ryan Welsh, said the Hihiaua theatre was more in line with what the city needed.

"Not to say that a hotel wouldn't provide jobs but we are looking to showcase Māori culture and also be inclusive of the whole community in terms of its use."

Both developments are intended to work in with the Hundertwasser Art Centre now under construction at the other end of town.

The Hihiaua Trust said the cultural centre would complement the Hundertwasser, which included a Māori fine arts' gallery.

Hihiaua trustees held off applying for council and charitable funding for several years, to let the $28m Hundertwasser take precedent.

But the trust and the hotel developers could yet be in for a wait.

Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai said the council was in the process of developing a new events and venues strategy and would not be handing out any money until it was decided where the venue gaps were in the city.

- By Radio New Zealand's Lois Williams

Boats moored at Whangarei Marina in the town basin. Northland, New Zealand, NZ.
Whangārei's Town Basin. (file picture). Source: istock.com