Beyond the metropoles
Asian dimension grows in small NZ cities

From Manila and Mumbai to Invercargill and Tauranga, growing immigration from Asia is transforming small cities around New Zealand, a new report from the Asia New Zealand Foundation finds.

A Chinese-style bridge in Napier, which was one of the small cities covered by the report

Beyond the metropoles: The Asian presence in small city New Zealand examines the impacts of  and trends of Asian migration in six areas: Invercargill and Southland; Queenstown; Nelson; Napier-Hastings; Rotorua; Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty. The report was commissioned by the Asia New Zealand Foundation as part of a series of reports drawing on 2013 Census data.  

“The Asian populations of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai and many other groups are increasingly part of the demographic fabric of most areas of New Zealand,” says author Wardlow Friesen, senior lecturer in geography at the University of Auckland. 

Dr Friesen found high proportionate increases in the cities’ Asian populations between the 2001 and 2013 censuses. In Invercargill city, for instance, the usually resident Asian population grew by 170 percent, and the Southland region had the biggest percentage growth of any in New Zealand (233 percent) – from 852 people to 2838.

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says the report shows that the influence of Asian cultures is being felt well beyond Auckland. “Even if the absolute numbers are small, the contribution of Asians from a wide range of countries is having a real impact on the regions of New Zealand, in some cases plugging the gaps of population decline. 

“The mix of tourists, students and skilled migrants is having a very real and positive effect on the economies and growth of regional New Zealand. 

“It’s also great to see that so many local councils and community groups have responded positively to the changing demographics of their cities.”

The report provides an overview of demographic change in each of the six cities and provides case studies of specific Asian communities, such as the Japanese community in Queenstown; the Filipino population of Southland; the Burmese and Bhutanese communities in Nelson; and the Indian population of Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty. 

Dr Friesen says the Asian presence in small cities is not only about the settlement of long-term residents but also about more short-term visitors such as international students and tourists.  

The report discusses Asian “ethnoscapes” (ethnic landscapes), including Asian shops and restaurants and a growing number of ethnic associations and cultural festivals. 

“The physical landscapes of many small cities have been transformed in recent decades in various ways by ‘things Asian’. Where there were once maybe one or two Chinese restaurants or takeaways, there are now a diversity of Asian food outlets including restaurants, cafés takeaways and often Asian mini-marts. In some cases they are mainly patronised by the ethnic populations from which they arose, but in most cases they serve a pan-Asian clientele.”

Places of worship such as Hindu mandir, Sikh gurudwara, Muslim masjid and Buddhist temples have also appeared, as well as Christian churches with significant congregations of Chinese, Filipinos and Koreans. 

The report also examines international links such as economic ties to Asia and sister-city relationships.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is the leading non-government organisation on New Zealand-Asia relations, with a range of programmes designed to equip New Zealanders with first-hand experience of Asia and to forge valuable links to the region. Founded in 1994, the Foundation works in five main areas - business, arts and culture, education, media and research. It also runs a Leadership Network and takes a lead role in track II (informal diplomacy) bilateral and multilateral dialogues in the Asia-Pacific region.