Moving from South America to Rotorua

Reuniting in New Zealand gave long-distance sweethearts Gabriel Morales and Carla Garcia the chance to realise their dreams.


When Gabriel Morales and Carla Garcia decided they wanted to live together, they chose to begin their dream in New Zealand.

Gabriel, from Brazil, and Carla, from Argentina, have been friends since they met on a beach in Brazil in 2001 – though they lived in different countries. In 2005 Gabriel decided to move from the United States.

“I was living in Los Angeles, a very busy place, and I felt that I needed space, like I need to be in nature,” he says. A friend told him about New Zealand, so Gabriel used the internet for research and talked to people who had lived here. The feedback was excellent, so he “decided to give it a shot” and moved in 2005.

Because his English “was not the greatest back then”, Gabriel retrained and used his new qualification to help him immigrate. In Brazil he graduated as a massage therapist. He then came here on a working holiday visa and got a job at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (now QE Health) in Rotorua. The hospital sponsored him for a work visa, and now he’s a citizen.

Carla had lived in Spain from 2005 to 2012, and the couple’s long-distance relationship began in 2011 when Gabriel visited Europe. After several months, she decided to come to New Zealand.

“It was one of the most important decisions for me because I already had a life developed in Spain. I had my own business and friends,” Carla says.

She arrived in 2012 on a visitor’s visa and applied for a partnership visa soon after. When that was granted, she didn’t even go back to Spain to pack up her life there. “I said goodbye to my friends via Skype and emails. It was a very big surprise for everyone,” she says.

Meanwhile, Gabriel was ready for another change. After going to police college in 2012, he began working for New Zealand Police as an authorised officer. This isn’t a front-line job – Gabriel works in custodial management, processing new arrests and escorting prisoners around Rotorua.

He says it’s a challenging job. “You work with people who have lost their freedom and are going through a very stressful situation. But at the same time it is a very rewarding job because we prevent crime and keep people safe. I feel that my contribution does count.”

Carla faced her own challenges while settling in, especially speaking English in everyday life. To meet new people and contribute to the community, she worked as a relief teacher in a day-care centre and also volunteered for Rotorua Hospice as a graphic designer.

“It was one of the best experiences I ever had. I created a campaign to help people who really need help,” Carla explains. That graphic design work also led to paid freelance work.

Gabriel also decided to realise a long-held dream and set up a sports management company. He and Carla run Toro Sports Management, representing rugby players and clubs in New Zealand and overseas, and bringing South American players here to learn new skills and become professional.

Gabriel’s father managed football players in South America and Europe, so Gabriel learned about the industry by working with him in the 1990s. He also studied basic commercial law through the Open Polytechnic, to learn about contracts.

While setting up the business, “I worked 40 hours a week with the police and another 15 hours with our business, so it does put a lot of pressure on us. What does help is the fact that we have beautiful surroundings here, and it is quite easy to disconnect,” Gabriel says.

Gabriel still works 40 hours a week for the police, and Carla works part time on their business, using her advertising and marketing skills. She also works as a relief teacher at a local kindergarten.

They live in a large house alongside Whakarewarewa Forest, known as the Redwoods. “Houses are very affordable in Rotorua,” says Gabriel. Both enjoy many outdoor activities.

Carla also goes to hula fitness classes and meets up with friends, including a Spanish-speaking group she calls the “Latin Girls”. She became a resident in 2014, and is keen to open other offices for their business in the next five years.

Though Gabriel enjoyed living in Auckland when he first arrived here, he’s happy at the thought of staying in Rotorua.

“Living in a small city like Rotorua, 80,000 people, you do miss the social activities that you find in a big city. I don’t think U2 would be coming to Rotorua any time soon!” he laughs. “But that’s not a major problem because we are only 2.5 hours from Auckland.”

For those thinking about moving here, Gabriel advises doing lots of research, and even travelling around the North and South islands to get a feel for which areas you like the most. “If you want to be in a safe environment and grow a family, or start a business, this place might be for you,” he says

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