Two years ago, Christian Gillott and his family traded a tiny two-bedroom flat near Sydney Airport for a three-bedroom house backing on to the Fernleigh Track at Charlestown.
Mr Gillott and wife Zara bought the house for less than half of what a smaller semi-detached house would have cost them in Sydney. Their new yard had plenty of room for their two young children's trampoline and for a new addition to the family, a golden retriever puppy.
The Gillotts are among an increasing number of people leaving behind Sydney's high house prices and congestion for a new life in the Hunter, according to an analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data by Hunter Research Foundation Centre.
HRFC lead economist Anthea Bill told the Newcastle Herald that the data showed a 27 per cent rise in the number of Sydney people shifting to Newcastle in 2017-18.
Moving out of Sydney was a bit of a strategic decision, in terms of getting into property and building some assets.Christian Gillott
That year, an estimated 6967 people arrived in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie local government areas from Greater Sydney, up from 5502 the previous year.
It was a similar story in the rest of the Hunter, where an estimated 5096 people relocated from Greater Sydney, 1000 more than during the year before.
"Given the size of cities like Sydney, it only takes little shifts in the propensity to out-migrate of their population base to produce large population in-flows in the context of our resident population base," Dr Bill said.
Mr and Ms Gillott and their children, Sofia and Hugo, were among those to head north in 2017-18 when they moved out of their rented apartment.
The median price of a unit in Mascot is $880,000, compared with $473,000 in Newcastle. The median house price is $1.2 million, more than double the value of a typical Newcastle house.
"We were in a two-bedroom plus study apartment, and squeezed in there. One of those big apartment complexes, next to the one in Mascot that has been shut recently [Mascot Towers]," Mr Gillott said.
"We didn't have any chance of purchasing property in Sydney at all. It was just not foreseeable.
"Moving out of Sydney was a bit of a strategic decision, in terms of getting into property and building some assets."
The ABS figures show that in 2017-18, at the peak of the housing boom, Sydney lost a net balance of 27,264 people to other parts of Australia, a 47 per cent change on the previous year.
The departures to other areas in Australia were more than offset by net overseas migration, which added another 77,100 people to Sydney, increasing pressure on housing supply.
The Newcastle Herald reported two weeks ago that lower house prices were drawing an increasing number of residents from Newcastle to Maitland and other parts of the Lower Hunter.
The Gillotts' experience suggests house prices are also likely a key driver of migration from Sydney to Newcastle and the Hunter.
Mr Gillott said a semi-detached house in Mascot would have cost about $800,000 when he and Zara moved from Brisbane in 2010, but this had ballooned to $1.5 million by 2017.
"To see it double in price in seven years was astronomical," he said.
"Even the unit prices are creeping up to nearly a million dollars for a two-bedroom unit that's decent in that 10-kilometre ring around Sydney.
"I think our age group, late twenties to mid-thirties, are really focused on building their future and wealth, and a big part of that as an Australian is always owning your own home.
"Unless you've got some family assistance, I think it's very relevant for people around my age to be looking around to these more regional towns on the outskirts of Sydney."
The Gillotts' house in Charlestown has a separate double garage and flat back yard. It also now has four bedrooms after some internal renovations.
"We also purchased a golden retriever when we moved up to Newcastle, which added to the whole lifestyle with the family," Mr Gillott said.
"They really love having him, and he's in the yard and has lots of space."
Mr Gillott left his job as second in charge at The Lakes Golf Club to become general manager of Newcastle Golf Club, but the family's move also reflected the rising portability of work.
Ms Gillott runs an online business, Sydney Strap Company, which sells watch bands and accessories.
"The move was made a lot easier because Zara's business could easily be relocated, so we were not as tied down to Sydney employment-wise as some families might be," Mr Gillott said.
"Newcastle just really fit the bill. Property had increased quite a bit by the time we got here, but it seemed like a good lifestyle, still close to Sydney and close to the beach.
"We hate when we have to drive to Sydney, and we absolutely relish looking in the rear-view mirror when we're driving back to Newcastle."
ABS figures show the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie population grew by 0.9 per cent to 375,931 in 2017-18. The population of the rest of the Hunter grew by 1.6 per cent to 277,105.
These increases replicated over 20 years would result in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie population rising to 450,000 by 2038 and the Hunter population reaching 381,000 the same year.
The Illawarra's population is growing by 1.4 per cent a year and now stands at 311,000.
Geelong is the fastest-growing mid-sized city in Australia, rising 2.7 per cent in 2017-18 to 301,000.
The Gold Coast's population ballooned to 622,048 that year after a 2.6 per cent rise.