Unmasking the talented teen with the trademark face that’s become Famously Rotorua

'FAMOUSLY Rotorua - discover hidden secrets.'

So goes the ad that's been popping up on our TV screens for the past three years but there's one secret that, to a lot of us, does remain hidden.

It's just who is this delightfully engaging young woman who fronts it?

Our People indulged in some detective work to unravel this home town mystery.

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For those not already in the know the presenter's name is Te Rina Rachael Anri West, an amalgam of her melting pot of heritages.

The Te Rina part's obviously Maori (that's her maternal side), Rachael signifies Pakeha connections while the Anri stems from her Finnish-born grandmother, Rotorua resident Anri West. The West surname the two share links her directly to her dad's Scottish roots.

With a whakapapa (genealogy) like this who better than this teenager to welcome the people of the world to her home town?

Te Rina's a natural, not just at this TV lark, but seemingly at everything that comes her way.

Academically, she's a top-stream student, her NCEA levels 1 and 2 exams were endorsed with an E for excellence, level 3s still to come. When she sat the notoriously difficult Cambridge English exam in Year 11 she scored an impressive A.

Outside the John Paul College classroom Te Rina is, or has been, a kapa haka kaitataki wahine (female leader), rep basketballer, coach to younger teams, youth councillor, Youth Voice member and Whakarewarewa guide.

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One thing Te Rina's not is a typical teenage social butterfly, even if she had the time for it.

"I'd rather sit at home and read, I've never been to a party, never drunk alcohol, never smoked, I'm sure that's because of good, strict parenting."

Don't anticipate any parental adolescent angst from Te Rina, she's anxious it's recorded hers are her role models.

Her policeman father Mike West is a senior constable, her mother Kirimatao is the fourth generation of her family to guide visitors through Whaka's thermal valley. Te Rina entered guiding on her own merits.

At 14 she joined Te Puia's Pa Acts team, entertaining children. "Teaching poi, stick games, haka, some of them couldn't speak English so it was cool to share my culture."

Two years on she applied to become a guide and was rejected.

"They said I was too young but the night before induction I got a call to come in, I was the youngest by five years. I guide after school, at weekends, in the holidays, it's in my blood, absolutely."

Her kapa haka days began at Galatea Primary. "There weren't many Maori kids at the school so in Year 3 it fell to me to become leader."

When the family returned to Rotorua she led the St Mary's group, continuing the role at JPC.

"This is very much a white school but last year we made it into the regionals, we weren't placed but had so much crazy fun."

Te Rina's played basketball since taking to the court at 6, this year she's an Under 19 rep player. In 2012 she was selected for a New Zealand squad to play in New South Wales. "There were five Rotorua girls in it, we did pretty well, it was January and crazy hot but we were okay because we trained in the Sportsdrome where it gets ridiculously hot and smells of sulphur."

The mention of that distinctively fragrant Rotorua commodity carries us nicely into her life and times as the city's small screen face.

It's a gig she almost didn't audition for.

"My brother Ren's favourite teacher from his school days sent a poster advertising it, saying 'I think you'd be great', "I thought 'that's sweet', then my favourite teacher said she'd thought about me when she saw it. I didn't believe I'd have a chance. My brother took my little sister and me to lunch then to the audition.

"We got the call-back, were emailed scripts. My sister diligently learned her lines, I didn't really bother, I didn't want to try hard at something and fail so I left it until the last minute.

"We went to the audition after church [she attends Destiny], had to say some random lines then didn't hear anything for months."

When Te Rina did learn she could be Rotorua's newest "it" girl she was holidaying in Waihi.

"We were staying with mum's brother, a Catholic monsignor, when a friend messaged saying 'I heard you got the Face of Rotorua, congratulations'. I replied I hadn't, my brother was trying to be nonchalant, then my mother confirmed it. They'd found out about a week before but were supposed to keep it under wraps.

"I was over the moon; I'm not sure if it was because it was Christmas the next day and I could already smell the delicious lunch, or that was the moment my life took a different direction."

She shot her first commercial within days of turning 14; there have been two more, and in the latter she has braces on her teeth. "No one's noticed."

In an age where snarky criticisms run rampant, especially on social media, Te Rina hadn't encountered any vindictive backlash to her telly fame.

That was until a councillor's recent outburst slamming the commercial, criticising her dresses as "op shop" numbers.

"He's entitled to his opinion but in my opinion I think he should re-think what he said. I wrote him a letter asking him to remember Rotorua was where New Zealand tourism began, to look where tourism is now."

What of those dresses? "I have two, they're beautiful, expensive and custom-made."

With her final school year almost at its half-way mark Te Rina is planning a gap year.

"Specifically to learn Te Reo Maori, I want to be able to converse properly in Maori, so maybe one day I can present the news on Maori TV."



TE RINA WEST


Born:

Rotorua, 1999.

Education: Galatea Primary, St Mary's and John Paul College (both Rotorua).

Family: Parents Mike and Kirimatao West, three brothers, sister and sister-in-law.

Interests: Reading "anything with a good plot twist", writing "I've written a little bit of slam poetry to being across controversies". Basketball, kapa haka, acting.

On her performing skills: "Nan Anri was the best skater in all of Finland, so I guess they're intrinsic in my nature."

Personal philosophy: "I'm not sure I've found one yet."