Success Stories

Read about people who have been here a while, or have recently moved and find out why they love living and working in Rotorua.

from antwerp apartment to rural rotorua

For Florian Graichen and Kelly Anderson, packing up their apartment in Antwerp and moving to Rotorua was a no-brainer. Having both grown up in rural areas, Florian in Willmering, a small village in Bavaria, Germany and Kelly in Leithfield north of Christchurch, they wanted to find somewhere rural to raise their two year old son Max. Having also lived in Germany, Australia and Belgium, they knew that New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world to raise a child and set about finding the perfect place to call home.

move to rotorua

With an extensive background in developing renewable and sustainable ‘green’ products, Florian landed a role as the Biopolymers and Green Chemicals Science Leader at Scion, New Zealand’s Crown Research Institute for Forestry.  His work is around bio based products, polymers and chemicals which he finds really satisfying. “There is also such a welcoming environment here at Scion and the people are fantastic. I work in a young, dynamic, international team with people who have come here from all over the world. The setting of the Scion campus makes it the most stunning place that I’ve worked.

The family quickly settled in to an amazing new lifestyle in Rotorua, discovering more of a region they had only visited previously on holiday. “With Rotorua, everyone always talks about the geothermal and adventure activities, but no one ever mentions the beautiful lakes and forests.” says Florian. “They are on a par with the lakes and forests that are so famous in Bavaria, Germany.”  Living in the Lynmore suburb makes it easy for Florian to ride his bike to work through the neighbouring Whakarewarewa Forest.  The decision was also swayed by the great reputation of the local primary school.

According to Kelly and Florian, they now wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “We are so happy here.” says Florian, “My wife and I found it so easy to settle and we’ve really enjoyed watching our son change from an apartment boy into a barefoot, outdoors kid.”
They have also been surprised with just how much Rotorua has going for it, especially for a young family. Rotorua’s central North Island location means it is less than an hour to the sea and only 2.5 hours to either Auckland or the country’s largest ski fields on Mt Ruapehu. With countless activities, attractions and beautiful places on their doorstep, there is always something exciting for the family to do together and they are constantly discovering new local spots.

Living in RotoruaOkere-falls-store Bier Festival New Zealand

When asked about what secret gems they have found in the region, Florian listed the natural beauty of Hamurana Springs and quirky Okere Falls Store – his German heritage obviously appreciating their stunning bier garden. The family also love to watch the rafters pass by as they make their way down the Kaituna River.

Work, life and fashion in rotorua

In 2007, Nerida Johnstone, her husband and three young children packed their belongings and left Wellington to experience a life in Rotorua. The ability to set their own pace, enjoy life and watch their kids grow up with Rotorua’s scenic backdrop made the decision to move an easy one.

“The hustle and bustle of the city had become too much.” says Nerida. “We wanted a life that centred on raising the kids in the best possible environment. I can remember when we first arrived that they couldn’t believe the amount of grass and open space. We immediately knew that we had made the right choice.”

Visiting Te Po Te Puia Rotorua

Having previously studied fashion design, Nerida used her move to Rotorua to return to her first love of art, and completed study in sculpture and a casting internship. She worked at two local bronze cast foundries, and extensively in lost-wax metal casting (cire-perdue), to hone her skills. A year ago, she launched Henare, producing spectacular handmade jewellery pieces. Since then, the venture has grown to supply select stockists across New Zealand and even a New York Gallery. With the launch of the new website and online store, and a showcase of her jewellery at Melbourne Fashion Week 2016, the future is looking bright.

Henare Set up a business in Rotoura

Setting up her own business in Rotorua has enabled Nerida to achieve the work: life balance that is so important to her.  “I even do business while walking my dog and watching the kids’ sports games.” The Johnstones are a keen sporting family and were able to immerse themselves quickly in the community. Their sons have competed regionally for all the sports they have been involved with and son Billy has been selected for the New Zealand volleyball team. “I found the nurturing nature of the coaches here was like nowhere else I’ve seen and the community support is superb.”
The family settled in the charming suburb of Kawaha Point. “Just in our street alone you will find a good curry at Maharaja’s, you can be pampered at the Black Swan day spa or dine in style at the Peppers on the Point. I can go running to soak in the amazing views, play squash at the local rugby club and walk my dog at two dog parks without having to use my car!”

Their chosen location has also provided the family access to great schooling, from primary to high school. “The schools my children have attended, and in particular the teachers and coaches, have played an important role in encouraging my children to thrive academically, culturally and in the sports arena. Instilling these values was vital and we have been very fortunate and made many connections and long-life friends through Rotorua’s great school systems.”

Rotorua’s central location is another bonus for the Johnstones, for both the business and for their family life. “I grew up in Gisborne, so the beach invokes many childhood memories. To be able to throw the stuff in the car and be at some of NZ’s best beaches in under an hour is amazing.”

When asked about some of Rotorua’s hidden gems, Nerida confessed that the family are still regularly discovering new ones. Lake Okareka’s camping ground however was singled out as a family favourite, “It is managed by local, proud and passionate volunteers. You can pitch a tent and stay the night for a small fee or just lounge there for the day and watch your family and friends water ski on the lake.”
Rotorua has offered the Johnstone family the opportunity to get real perspective on what’s important in life. With a healthy balance between nature, work opportunities and lifestyle, the family continue to thrive, loving life in Rotorua.

Lifestyle gain moving from the big city

Starting his career as a waiter at The Plaza International in Wellington, Edward Judd has climbed the hotel industry ladder on the back of a strong work ethic and positive can-do attitude. His experience has included opening iconic hotels in Auckland and Wellington and managing a number of independent and affiliated properties across the country.
Edward met his wife Maree a decade ago, when they were working together on the opening of the iconic Hilton Hotel on Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour. Since then they have lived in a number of big cities in Australia and New Zealand.  Prior to moving to Rotorua, Ed was the General Manager of three properties for Accor in Auckland, and when they announced to friends and family that they were moving to Rotorua, a lot of people asked them why.

Ed ranks the family’s decision to move from the big city to Rotorua as one of the best they have ever made. “What people don’t realise is that you don’t lose a lifestyle moving here from Auckland, in fact you actually gain one,” says Ed. “Living in Rotorua I get to spend so much more time with my family. We loved our time in Auckland, but we definitely don’t miss that cost of living or the 40 minute commute.”
The move south was relatively stress-free for the Judd family. They were initially accommodated by one of the properties that Edward now manages, the Novotel Rotorua Lakeside, before finding an amazing family home in the peaceful suburb of Springfield.  With a strong family vibe, Edward refers to his new street as ‘old school’. “It’s the type of place where everybody knows each other, with the community even coming together for street parties.” Their two young daughters were quick to settle into a slower pace of life, loving that their new yard backs onto a working farm where sheep graze in the paddocks.
Over the past year the family have embraced Rotorua and all that it has to offer. Edward has even taken up mountain biking after learning that Rotorua’s trails are rated as the best in the southern hemisphere.
“I started mountain biking last summer, quickly realising just what an asset the Whakarewarewa Forest is for the region,” he says. “It is great that I can get out on the bike, ride some of the best trails on the planet and be back home spending time with the family within two hours.”
More than anything, the Judd family appreciates the amount of time that they have earned through the decision to move to Rotorua. With less than a 10 minute commute and the city providing everything that they need, they have embraced a life out of the big city. Looking back, it’s hard for them to imagine living anywhere else.

a vintage life in Rotorua

In 2015 Brett Furlong moved down to Rotorua to start a new life. After 20 years managing a contracting earthworks company in Auckland he was ready for a fresh challenge and having recently started a relationship with Rotorua girl Jess, the decision to move south was an easy one to make.

“I was definitely ready for a lifestyle change,” says Brett. “I was sick of losing three hours every day travelling into the city from South Auckland. It also just seemed to be getting worse as more and more people start to live further out from Auckland’s city centre.”

Brett moved in with Jess to a home on a lifestyle block in Hamurana, a peaceful area just outside Ngongotaha, which is a small town 10kms north-west of Rotorua. Awed by the beauty and tranquillity of the region, not only does he get to sleep in every morning, but now Brett wakes up to amazing views of Lake Rotorua.

Start a business in Ngongotahah Rotorua

Last year, the couple opened their dream retro lifestyle shop and hairdressers in Ngongotaha. Kulture Shock is based out of a unique 1930’s gantry building and is fast becoming many New Zealanders’ favourite place to shop. With an ever-changing range of vintage and retro goods from the 1920’s through to the 1980’s, including big boys’ toys, vintage furniture and clothing, it’s no wonder that people are flocking there to see what new collectables Brett has sourced. “Kulture Shock has something for everybody.” says Brett. “Whether you are after vintage dresses or something for the man cave, we’ve got it. We’ll sell anything from a hairpin to a Cadillac!”

At the rear of the building Jess has set up a ‘hair lounge’. A hairdresser with over 10 years’ experience, the salon looks straight out of the 1950’s, but Jess is quick to point out that she doesn’t just specialise in vintage hair styles. “A lot of people assume that all I do is vintage, but I also specialise in any sort of modern hair styling,” she says.
Brett and Jess chose the location for their business because they felt it would fit well in a small, tight-knit township like Ngongotaha.  They have been warmly embraced by the local community, but also play host to a large number of national and international visitors who come through Rotorua.  Brett is quick to recommend that others follow suit in setting up businesses in Rotorua. “Obviously, like with any business you really need to do your homework, but we found the Council great to work with. It’s a young team there and it was really helpful for us to go in and meet with them face-to-face. They were really reasonable and actively worked with us to find solutions to problems instead of just throwing the book at us.”

The couple have also joined the Sulphur City Hot Rod Club and started ‘Vintage Friday’, every second Friday of the month. This free event has car and motorcycle enthusiasts coming from all around the region for a fun day out. “This has been a great way to get to know the community,” says Brett. “We normally have a variety of cool cars and bikes out front and will often have local organisations like the scouts fundraising with a barbeque.” 

When asked about their favourite things to do in Rotorua the couple raved about all of the natural assets that they have on their doorstep in the central North Island. They also noted that they love to cycle around the lake on their days off….on their funky retro bicycles of course!

A forest of opportunities

Mention the Redwoods in Rotorua and most people’s thoughts will turn to the magnificent 55,000 hectare Whakarewarewa Forest which dominates the landscape in the eastern suburb of Lynmore.  It is home to some of the best mountain biking in the world and a recreational area that sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.  Tapping into this jewel are Stacey and Sheldon McEwen, who, along with their two young sons, have chosen to make Rotorua their home and the towering Redwoods (sequoia) the backdrop for their new venture, the Sequoia Eatery.

This family have lived in Rotorua for less than a year, having packed up their lives in Napier in August 2015.  In that time, they have found and bought a house, moved city, settled children into school, renovated a building, recruited staff and opened their stylish café.  Stacey is full of enthusiasm: “At the time it was all go, go, go and very exciting as things fell into place!” The decision to move was heavily swayed by a desire to live closer to family and to the outdoor facilities they love.  Sheldon is an avid long distance trail runner, including ultra-marathons, and has recently joined the local Trail Running Club.  The whole family enjoys water skiing and wake boarding, which has become a whole lot easier now they can get to the lakes in 10 minutes after work. 

Family in Rotorua

The couple had for a while been thinking about going into business together for themselves.  Stacey recalls, “Rotorua’s attraction for us was the business prospect, the lifestyle, the opportunities for the children and being close to family.  We looked at a couple of other cafés in Rotorua and Taupo, but we preferred the size of this one and the great location close to the Redwoods and lakes. We wanted something that could be a bit of a challenge as well, with potential to do something remarkable with it.  We don’t want to be ‘just another café’!  My sister and her husband run Quest Rotorua Central and have been great mentors helping us set up the business.  It’s really all just fallen into place.”

In the short time the café has been operating, the couple have already introduced seven-day opening and tapas evenings with live music and local beer and wines.  With the leaves turning and the days shortening, their thoughts are now turning to opportunities for customers to hunker down over the colder winter months.  The recent employment of a Restaurant Manager will give them some breathing space.  “We literally arrived and started straight away with the day-to-day running of the business.  In the first few months we’ve had a lot of support from the locals who really want this place to go well.  We haven’t done much marketing, but we’re now going to focus on trying out our new ideas.” Stacey’s energy is infectious.

Sequoia Eatery Rotorua

Living just a few minutes up the road from work and school has freed up a lot of time for the family to spend doing the things they love.  In addition, the boys can bike to school or walk with the Walking School Bus; they live a few minutes from the park and the forest, and they hang out with all the neighbourhood kids.  Stacey and Sheldon both agree that it feels really safe; like a real community.

When asked if they would recommend that other people move here, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.  “For us,” says Sheldon, “Rotorua is not just about tourism, although our business will benefit from the large number of visitors here for holidays or events.  For us, it’s about lifestyle.  It ticks the boxes for work and play, and it’s also close to everywhere.  When we moved here, half the people we told thought we were crazy.  We felt it was good timing for our young family and with both of us having trades we can always fall back on, what did we have to lose?  Some good friends came down from Auckland for mountain biking the other day. They’re keen to leave Auckland, so we told them to do what we had done and ‘Just do it’.  Our sous-chef has moved down from Auckland with his young family to work for us.  He admits that they didn’t think they’d ever be able to buy a house in Auckland.  He’s only been here eight months and now they’ve bought their first home.  How awesome is that?”

“Rotorua has so much potential,” Sheldon says. “It is also so central and there’s so much stuff happening. We haven’t even had the time to explore much of the tourist stuff, apart from the luge which the boys love.  We can’t wait to have more free time to discover what other treasures Rotorua has to offer.”

moving to the big wide open

Walk into the Wide Open headquarters in Rotorua and you would be forgiven for thinking you’re visiting a high-tech office environment on the US West Coast.  The office space is fresh and modern, the walls are decked with high performance bike parts and action photography, and the staff are young and animated.

This is the home of one of Rotorua’s quietly up and coming, small business success stories.  It is run by Matt and Alice Whitaker, a dynamic husband and wife team who have for the last 9 years made Rotorua their home.  They moved here with a fledgling business in tow, in search of the dream that was becoming elusive in Wellington – a piece of land and an outdoor lifestyle.  They now live with their children on two acres of land in a residential park just outside Rotorua.

successful small business start up

Wide Open is a bike component wholesaler providing mid to high end products for both road and especially mountain biking.  Their market is bike retailers all over the country who stock the brands they import, including bike parts and accessories like helmets and clothing.  Customers are looked after by sales staff operating out of Rotorua.  As Matt says, “It’s great having the airport and plenty of flights in and out to access Wellington and the South Island.  Rotorua’s central location makes it ideal too for sales trips round the North Island.”  As well as operating a national distribution hub, they also have a local workshop where they custom-build wheels and do suspension servicing. 
Matt has been mountain biking since he was 13 and it was this passion that eventually led to five seasons in California working as a bike mechanic for a professional downhill team.  Almost on a whim, he started a business with another Kiwi who was racing in the States, importing handlebar grips into New Zealand.  The business started very much part-time, and for four years Matt also worked on building sites for four days each week, with a hammer in one hand and a phone in the other.  It was the sign up of a couple of big brands that prompted Matt, and within a year Alice, to enter into running the business full-time.

The couple are still fully involved with the business, but now employ four other staff members.  A significant part of their work is relationship building, with Matt attending several international trade shows and distributors’ meetings each year.  The company has also just finished exhibiting at the world famous Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival held in Rotorua in March, which included hosting a number of international guests from brand companies.  “The people we brought over loved it all, including Rotorua.  They all went out riding in the forest every morning and were buzzing with what was on offer.” says Alice.


The Whitakers enjoy going out mountain biking as a family, but they also make time in their busy working lives to take advantage of Rotorua’s convenient location to Mount Maunganui and the Coromandel, and indulge Matt’s new passion, surfing.  With beaches close by, 18 lakes on tap and skiing just a couple of hours down the road, Rotorua really is a place for outdoor entertainment.

When asked what little gems they would recommend in Rotorua, Matt is quick to answer, “The Ciabatta Bakery on White Street.”  Alice laughs. “We tend to do the tourist stuff when we have visitors, but we still regularly use the Gondola, the Luge and visit Waikite Valley Thermal Pools with the children.  We enjoy Eat Streat too. If you have visitors, they are just blown away by the variety of experiences and the laid back nature of this place.”

What does the future hold for this enterprising family?  “Since we moved to Rotorua, there’s been a lot of growth in the mountain biking industry, and it has been very beneficial to have built up our business here.  It’s just amazing how populated the forest is and if you pull up at the mountain biking car park, it is full of families and people who are relatively new to the sport.  Events like Crankworx also provide great opportunities for us and for the City”. 

Would the Whitaker’s recommend Rotorua as a place for their friends to live? “We don’t have to sell the benefits of Rotorua as many of our friends from out-of-town love visiting.  They love the riding, the culture, there are nice places to eat, plenty of things to do.  They can see there have been some really positive changes in Rotorua and the place is definitely moving forward.”


In a quiet cul-de-sac in Rotorua’s eastside lives Leon Thomas, with his wife and three young daughters.   Leon is a talented graphic designer, with 18 years’ senior experience working in the TV/film industry under the name Digital Elements.  He moved from Wellington about 8 years ago, with plans to use his previous training in adventure tourism to manage an outdoor recreation camp and create a different lifestyle for his growing family.  When that didn’t work out, Leon went back to his first love as a graphic artist, providing services from Rotorua for clients across New Zealand and offshore.  He is one of an increasing number of designers who know that their business will work wherever they are located, as long as they have a good internet connection. 
Leon’s forte is motion graphic art, which in laymen’s terms means he’s a very clever graphic artist with the ability to make presentations that are totally interactive.  For instance he has done a lot of work for Lockwood round what makes their componentry unique.  “I’m building an entire house piece by piece in 3-D and then we’re going to animate it actually building, so the clients get to see what’s so different about the Lockwood system as opposed to any other system.  My specialty is turning Lockwood’s information into a visual display rather than a static presentation.”  In addition to architectural projects, his work has included visual presentation contracts for Weta Digital, animations for Te Wananga o Aotearoa and the NZ Kidney Foundation, and safety and training videos for NZ Police, Ministry of Justice and the EQC Earthquake Commission.

Digital Elements
What projects does Leon want to be working on over the next couple of years?  “We are on the verge of a technology shift where we could be using people’s personal devices to give them information in an engaging way when they are visiting tourist sites, or trying to find their way around Rotorua.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could pull out your ipad and use an app to see not only what’s available around town, but to know how much time you’ve got to spend at things and how much time to get between places. The way forward is to use digital, but with the tactile experience. Everyone’s embracing technology, so there are lots of opportunities for tourism”. 
The Thomas family love living in Rotorua.  “The kids go to a great school, we live in a really good neighbourhood, with my parents just down the road, and overall it’s an incredible area to live.  In our spare time we hang out with friends and we always have the option of using the lakes and the forest.  As the girls get older, we have been doing more and more tourist stuff.  I have to take off my hat to the local tourist market and the fact they look after locals so well. So much is available either really cheap or free which is incredible.  The Museum is wonderful – we probably go there five times a year; I also love the Buried Village”.  In Leon’s opinion, Maori culture is definitely Rotorua’s hidden gem and he loves the fact that his children are embracing their Maori heritage.  The second is Rotorua Lakes Council.  “Coming from Wellington, I’ve seen what a good Council can do.  In the last couple of years Rotorua has just gone ‘Look at me!’ and done exceptionally well with everything they’ve started.  I love Eat Streat and then we’ve got the Night Market; we’ve also got a revamp of the City Focus underway.  I’m actually very proud of the fact that these things are happening in our town”.
Would Leon recommend that other people move to Rotorua? “I would say Rotorua’s a fantastic place to live and bring up a family.  We couldn’t afford to buy a house anywhere else, but we’ve bought this house which is massive in this day and age.  I like Wellington but it’s just too expensive - Rotorua wins because of what I can do and provide for my family here.  We’re always trying to convince our friends to live here, especially those looking to buy a house.  Come to Rotorua and enjoy great facilities, without the negatives of big city life.”