They’ve lived under the bright lights of Tokyo in Japan, in the friendly suburbs of Chicago in the United States, the big city of Auckland, and Hamilton, but the Piper family were looking for greater balance between an exciting career challenge and a brilliant lifestyle for their family, which ultimately lead the family to a new life in Manawatu.
Mark Piper is the Director of the Fonterra Research and Development Centre and has worked for the dairy company for more than 26 years in roles that have taken him and his family of eight around the globe.
Mark says when he and his wife Angela discussed moving to Manawatu, they realised the kind of lifestyle they wanted for their family was possible here.
“We wanted more time with our family. We wanted a lifestyle where we could have chickens running around and some land to kick a ball around on.”
The couple sold their Auckland home to move here, and now live on an almost two-acre property in Summerhill, with the chickens they dreamed of and pet alpacas.
The Piper’s two-acre property in Summerhill
“Palmy is infinitely more affordable than Auckland, even Waikato. Our house was half the price and twice the size compared to our home in Auckland – literally.
“We’re in a nice little cul de sac where everyone knows each other. We get together for dinners, if someone needs a hand you just ring around, and someone will come. We’ve lived in various places across New Zealand and across the globe and have never had neighbours like this. It’s quite a special group of people.”
The family have close friends in the region and an older daughter living nearby in Waikanae, so they knew it was a great place to raise their five younger children, all of whom are under 11 and are home-schooled. The Pipers have found a thriving network of home-schooled children in the Palmerston North area, which Mark says was difficult to find in Auckland, after they moved from Chicago in 2017.
The Piper family enjoying a day out at Foxton Beach
“I’m very much a family man. That was part of the draw for us to come here. Auckland is nice, but it’s such a big, busy and sometimes impersonal city. Palmerston North is a progressive city. We both absolutely love it; the kids have settled in and there’s heaps of activities.”
Their weekends are filled with sports and outdoor adventures and he says the city’s recreational facilities are second to none – from cycling paths to playgrounds, the Manawatu River Pathway and Lido Aquatic Centre – are firm favourites for the family.
“The cycleways are great. You can ride 20km of gravel along the riverfront without ever hitting a piece of traffic.”
The opportunity to move to Manawatu and lead the 350 staff at Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre was a huge drawcard, he says.
After 26 years with Fonterra in various roles, beginning with packing protein onto pallets and working his way up through operations, supply chain, IT, business transformation and more, Mark says he feels very privileged to lead the diverse team in Manawatu, with staff from more than 40 different countries and a third having PhDs.
The diversity extends across the city and he says Palmerston North is a friendly and welcoming place for families who are new to the region.
“It has a small-town feel – but is not too small. The city is big enough to be useful and small enough to make connections.”
“We have had no problems building our life here, from networks of friends and neighbours to starting new activities. We absolutely love our lifestyle here.”
What are your favourite spots to grab a bite to eat?
“Our favourite restaurant by far is Yatai Japanese Restaurant, it has amazing food, amazing service and the food is exactly like we ate in Tokyo. If we ever get a night out this is Angela and my number-one choice.”
What do you love to get up to?
“Cycling is definitely a favourite activity, closely followed by all the amazing walking trails near Summerhill, where we live.”