For more than 25 years the New Zealand Herald has honoured those who have made our country a better place, with our annual New Zealander of the Year award.

Last year, for the first time, we introduced a People's Choice Award to allow us to recognise the truly inspiring stories in our communities — and give you the chance to vote for your favourite.

This year we're doing it again. Read their amazing stories then vote for your favourite.

Voting is open for one week only so get your vote in before midnight next Saturday,
December 9.

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The winner will be announced when we unveil our New Zealander of the Year in the Weekend Herald on December 30.

Bronia Tindall & Fabrizio Clementi

Bronia Tindall and Fabrizio Clementi tied the knot in Auckland in January. Photo / Ben Franks/Steve May/one2one Photography
Bronia Tindall and Fabrizio Clementi tied the knot in Auckland in January. Photo / Ben Franks/Steve May/one2one Photography

Precious memories and heartfelt moments go hand in hand with weddings.

That was certainly the case when Bronia Tindall and her husband Fabrizio Clementi tied the knot in Auckland in January.

It wasn't just the happy couple and their friends and loved ones who gathered to witness their big day at The Community of St Luke in Remuera who were left with smiles on their face.

In a touching gesture, the couple spotted a homeless man — known only as Miller — as they left for the wedding photos, and presented him with a slice of their wedding cake.

The man was brought to tears by the gift.

The beautiful moment was captured by their wedding photographers, Ben Franks and Steve May.

The Herald covered the story and both it, and photos of the couple's generosity went global.

"It's really amazing, really nice. I'm blown away," Tindall said of the reaction to the gesture.

"My friends are just saying 'That's why we love you' and a lot of people said that it's something nice and positive on the front page of the paper."

It wasn't just Miller who was moved to tears by the newlyweds' generosity, so were the
wedding photographers who said they had witnessed nothing like it during their careers.

"[There] are not many people who can make me cry," May said.

"It was only a piece of wedding cake, but it meant so much."

Nathan Spitzer

Volunteer Nathan Spitzer jumped into the Waikato River to rescue an 8-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied
Volunteer Nathan Spitzer jumped into the Waikato River to rescue an 8-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied

Hero is a word bandied around too often. But it's a worthy description of volunteer firefighter Nathan Spitzer.

The builder, a contractor on farms in the Waikato, become the toast of Ngaruawahia when he jumped into the fast-moving Waikato River in November to rescue an 8-year-old girl who was near-hypothermic and clinging for her life to a pier.

A rescue boat was on the way, but it was quickly apparent the girl was unlikely to survive that long. Armed with a life jacket, Spitzer plunged into the river and swam to her aid.

"She looked pretty cold, but I told her everything was going to be alright," he later said of his selfless actions.

"I put the life jacket on her and we drifted back."

The girl was taken to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition but has made a full recovery.

Among members of the local community who heralded Spitzer's life-saving actions was Ngaruawahia fire chief Karl Lapwood.

"Quite often [with] these jobs you're under the pump to make a decision one way or another and if you've got the skills or the training and the confidence to swim, it's a call you make a the time," he said.

"He's a bit of a machine this boy. It's quite a swift river and once you get a few logs around the piers it does have an element of danger to it.

"You can't just let anyone go in there, you need someone who has really proficient swimming skills; who's had experience swimming in the river."

Lance O'Sullivan

Dr Lance O'Sullivan stormed the stage at a local screening of an anti-vaccination documentary. Photo / George Novak
Dr Lance O'Sullivan stormed the stage at a local screening of an anti-vaccination documentary. Photo / George Novak

Dr Lance O'Sullivan isn't wanting for accolades or recognition over his tireless efforts to
help his Far North community.

But admiration and respect for the Kaitaia GP was renewed when he stormed the stage at a local screening of an anti-vaccination documentary.

The film — Vaxxed: from Cover-Up to Catastrophe — attempts to make the long-debunked link between vaccines and autism.

O'Sullivan leapt before the audience, telling them their mere presence would "cause babies to die". He warned of the harm caused to non-immunised children and others in the community, pleaded with other health professionals to leave the viewing, and performed a passionate haka.

The move drew personal threats and "vile" comments from the anti-vaccination community, he said — but also widespread praise.

Prominent microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles, said the film was "dangerous" and came at a time when there was an outbreak of mumps in New Zealand.

"There's a whole generation of children who are not protected against these horrendous diseases, so we really need people of high profile like Lance stepping up and protecting their community."

Already, O'Sullivan's impact on local public health has been immeasurable, including setting up a low-cost health clinic at Kaitaia Hospital and the MaiHealth programme, which offers a remote consultation to people without ready access to primary healthcare.

He has also been instrumental in establishing programmes aimed at improving child health, including the Manawa Ora Korokoro Ora (Moko) foundation and the Kainga Ora (Well Home) initiative.

Marnie Prickett

Marnie Prickett and fellow advocates launched a charitable trust that became Choose Clean Water. Photo / Supplied
Marnie Prickett and fellow advocates launched a charitable trust that became Choose Clean Water. Photo / Supplied

The ongoing decline of many of New Zealand's rivers and lakes isn't a new problem.

But the issue has only recently become enough of a national outrage to attract headlines in major international news outlets and put polluting industries on the defensive.

By the time this year's general election rolled around, the drumming had built to a crescendo.

Much of that shift in awareness can be put down to a group of young New Zealanders, fronted by Massey University student Marnie Prickett, who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Prickett, 33, a former staffer at Auckland Council programme Wai Care, and fellow advocates launched a charitable trust that became Choose Clean Water, which has proven a powerful and influential voice for our waterways.

She and others travelled across the country, hearing from people who had watched their cherished rivers turn dry or green, before presenting a 10,000-strong petition to Parliament demanding tougher laws to make all waterways swimmable.

This year, her group and others proposed its own seven-step Freshwater Rescue Plan.
Former environment minister Nick Smith rejected it — but the widespread demand for action compelled National to aim for a new goal of making 90 per cent of rivers swimmable by 2040.

For Prickett, that wasn't bold enough — and she helped ensure the welfare of our rivers was a matter voters took to the ballot box.

Massey University freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy, who is supervising Prickett's Masters studies, said her impact had been "unbelievable".

"There's been no part-time thing about it — for her that's been everything, she's so passionate about it, and that's why she's made such a difference."

Sarah Thomson

Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson captured the country's attention after attempting to become the first person to take the Government to the High Court. Photo / Peter Drury
Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson captured the country's attention after attempting to become the first person to take the Government to the High Court. Photo / Peter Drury

When young Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson grew angry at what she saw as a lack of action by New Zealand on tackling climate change, simply protesting wasn't enough.

So she decided to become the first person in our history to take the Government to the High Court — a bid that ultimately failed legally, yet succeeded in capturing the country's attention.

Among other points, Thomson alleged the Government had failed to review its climate targets, and that those New Zealand had pledged — slashing domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 11 per cent below 1990 levels and 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — were "unreasonable and irrational" against the seriousness of the issue.

First dismissed as a joke by former prime minister John Key, the case drew widespread support from climate advocates also unhappy at New Zealand's contribution to the
international effort.

Justice Jillian Mallon eventually acknowledged that former Climate Change minister Paula Bennett had been required to look at whether targets should be updated, and that this never happened.

But she rejected Thomson's bid for a judicial review, finding the minister had not made "any reviewable error for which the court may intervene", and that the new Government had since set fresh targets.

Thomson told the Herald after the ruling: "You can never measure these things in a concrete way, but I really hoped it had been at least successful in bringing peoples' attention to the issue and making them aware that we are not doing enough about it."

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick, who was among those who turned out to support her, said that part of the effort to make change was "citizens of countries demanding that their governments and businesses ramp up the ambition around reducing emissions".

"So the sort of court action that Sarah took is right in line with what citizens of every country should be doing. I really applaud her courage."

Andrew Little

Minister of Justice Andrew Little signed off on an inflation adjustment for Teina Pora's compensation. Photo / Getty Images
Minister of Justice Andrew Little signed off on an inflation adjustment for Teina Pora's compensation. Photo / Getty Images

On his first day as Minister of Justice Andrew Little said he would look again at the compensation given to Teina Pora for his wrongful conviction and 20 year imprisonment.

Within a fortnight he had done just that and signed off on an inflation adjustment for Pora's compensation — adding almost $1 million to bring it to a total of $3.5m.

Pora is the victim of one of New Zealand's worst miscarriages of justice.

He was declared innocent of the 1992 rape and murder of Susan Burdett, a crime he was
arrested for in 1993 and finally cleared of by the Privy Council in 2015.

It took a team of people dedicated to justice to finally free him — but even then, under the national Governmebnt, he had to fight for a fair compensation deal.

Little said boosting the payout was the right thing to do.

Tim McKinnel, a private investigator who worked on getting Pora released from prison, said Pora was "absolutely thrilled and quite emotional" about the additional compensation and was keen to "thank the Andrew guy who is fixing it all".

Just three months earlier, Little had acted on another 'right thing to do' by stepping down as Labour leader.

Little's was not the easiest decision to make and may well have been made for him had he
not handed over the job himself to Jacinda Ardern.

But his decision, and endorsement of Ardern, made it a smooth handover — and gave Labour a chance at the election.

Now as well as Justice Minister, Little is Minister charged with the Re-Entry to Pike River Mine, Minister of Treaty Negotiations and the spy agencies — the GCSB and SIS. He has moved to set up the Pike River Agency to oversee an attempted re-entry, pledging to take the families of the 29 dead miners with him along the way.

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson won the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials in May. Photo / Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography
Andrew Nicholson won the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials in May. Photo / Stephen Bartholomew / Libby Law Photography

Comeback hero Andrew Nicholson showed supreme courage when he won the prestigious Badminton Horse Trials in May.

The superstar rider conquered the international three-day event less than two years after breaking his neck in a horror cross-country fall.

It was his 37th attempt at Badminton, and at 55 years, nine months and six days old he became its oldest-ever winner. His mount Nereo, 17, was the oldest horse.

"It just shows you doesn't it, age is only a number," Nicholson told the Herald before his return to New Zealand in November to inspire new generations of equestrians with a masterclass at the Equitana Auckland event. "He doesn't know he's the oldest horse and I don't know I'm the oldest rider."

The modest champion made the comments with a hearty laugh. The six-time Olympic competitor's achievement, however, is breathtaking.

He broke three vertebrae in the accident in August 2015, and a surgeon would later tell him "98 percent of people he would see with my injury would be totally paralysed from the neck down before he started (surgery)".

Nicholson, who went from a schoolboy riding and selling ponies in Kihikihi to an eventing world No.1, was certain he would not only recover but ride again.

Love and support of his family, superb skills of his medical team, and his iron will and bravery put Nicholson not only back in the saddle but riding high.

Steve Askin

Helicopter pilot Steve Askin died fighting the Port Hills fires. Photo / Givealittle
Helicopter pilot Steve Askin died fighting the Port Hills fires. Photo / Givealittle

Decorated ex-SAS soldier and helicopter pilot Steve Askin died when his Squirrel chopper crashed while fighting the devastating Port Hills wildfire above Christchurch in February.

The 38-year-old father-of-two was drafted in to combat the sprawling blaze that threatened hillside houses in hot, blustery nor'west winds.

On Valentine's Day, February 14 at the height of the fire, the experienced pilot was heading to a pond to refill his monsoon bucket when its cable struck the tail rotor causing the helicopter to crash near the Sugarloaf car park.

It is still unclear what caused the accident — but what is clear is that Askin chose time and gain to put himself in harm's way for the good of others.

His tragic death resulted in an outpouring of grief from his family, his former military brothers, and the wider community.

At his funeral service held at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram in Christchurch, tributes flowed for the dedicated family man, mischievous prankster, adventurer, helicopter pilot, and man of the land.

In 2014, he received the NZ Gallantry Star for his efforts fighting in Afghanistan.

While stories of his courage and selfless derring-do in fighting the Taliban — he was wounded in a five-hour shootout on June 29, 2011 after the Taliban stormed the InterContinental Hotel in Kabul — were shared, mum Leslie spoke about true heroes making a difference in people's lives.

"No mother wants a dead hero," she said. "It doesn't take going overseas and being an SAS warrior to be a hero. It's to do what is right."

Sarah Cato

Detective Sarah Cato has been battling breast cancer for the last three years. Photo / Michael Craig
Detective Sarah Cato has been battling breast cancer for the last three years. Photo / Michael Craig

Detective Sarah Cato is battling incurable cancer — but that hasn't stopped her battling major crimes.

And it hasn't stopped her raising money for other cancer sufferers.

Three-and-a-half years ago Cato, then 31, found a lump in her left breast and tests confirmed it was cancer.

The mother-of-one underwent a mastectomy, but a scan later showed the cancer had spread — travelling through her lymph nodes and blood into her bones.

Cato was then diagnosed with metatastic — also known as secondary — cancer, which is incurable. She underwent five months of chemotherapy and then a month of daily radiation.

The whole way through, apart from a few weeks at the end when she became fatigued from the intensive treatment, Cato carried on working.

She was heavily involved in Operation Nepal — the brutal sexual assault and murder of 69-year-old Cunxiu Tian in her family home in Te Atatu in January last year.

In May Jaden Lee Stroobant was jailed for life for the crime, described in court as "callous and depraved".

Cato is also instrumental in the ongoing investigation into the abduction and sexual
assault of an 11-year-old boy in Ranui.

The boy was taken and assaulted after he got off a train at the Ranui Railway Station on November 17 last year.

Cato said giving up work while she had treatment was not an option.
In November she dedicated her swim across Waitemata Harbour to the cancer Charity Sweet Louise, raising more than $18,000 to support people dealing with incurable cancer, and their families.

The people of Kaikoura and Waiau

When the shaking finally stopped, they gathered in the dark. Lit by cellphones without coverage, safety came in numbers.

And when day finally broke on November 14, 2016 they could survey the damage: broken homes, scattered shelves, torn farmland, raised seabeds, lives changed.

Over the next few days, the people of quake-hit Waiau and Kaikoura rallied together and started picking up the pieces. They cooked for each other, offered up spare rooms, helped shore up chimneys.

But it soon became apparent that there was no quick fix. The tourism lifeline was cut-off by damaged roads and then began the insurance and EQC processes.

Many locals would say the last 12 months have been the toughest of their lives.

And the only way they've got through it, is by standing together as a community. Looking after each other.

"If it wasn't for the community, we would've struggled," says Courtney Ridings, president of the quake-damaged Waiau playcentre. They've moved to temporary premises and are now looking at building a new playcentre.

"We've had to do it all ourselves, and at times we've had to say, 'No fundraisers for a few weeks, we just need a break'."

Kaikoura hair stylist Jane Hill of Crazy Jane's says it's been like living in a different town.
But despite the turmoil, the town's community spirit has shone through.

"It has brought us all a lot closer together but we've lost a lot of really cool people, and I miss their faces. I hope they come back."