The Drakes are ardent supporters of the Waipawa Spring Festival - aka Duck Day - and not just because of the family name.

As in recent years, funds raised at the annual festival - which culminates in a rubber duck race down Waipawa River - will go to Ronald McDonald House in Wellington, a charity the Waipawa family is all too familiar with.

Carter Drake and his twin sister Gabby, now both 9, were born nearly three months premature at 29 weeks. Carter was born weighing just 770 grams while Gabby was only marginally bigger at 1.1kg.

The twins spent the first three months of their lives at Wellington Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).


While Gabby has no ongoing health problems apart from being "a bit small" for her age, Carter had been "in and out of hospital ever since", said his mum Meredith.

"We started off at Ronald McDonald House in Wellington for the first couple of years before he [Carter] was transferred to the specialists at [Auckland's] Starship Hospital," she said.

Carter's stomach has not worked properly since he was a newborn.

Mrs Drake estimated he had visited Starship Hospital "60 or 70 times" over the years, including for numerous surgeries on his stomach. He also had mobility issues and was heavily reliant on a wheelchair.

"He's tube-fed 19 hours day. He also gets a lot of pain in his muscles and his bones so he sleeps a lot.

"He's only awake sort of in the morning and goes to bed at 1pm in the afternoon right through to 8pm in the evenings."

Mrs Drake said Carter still had to travel to Starship in Auckland several times a year to see his specialists, which resulted in more time for her at Ronald McDonald house.

"Normally it's just me and Carter but [husband] Mark and the other kids have stayed at the house quite a few times. They are lovely people up there," Meredith said of the staff.

"They know us as soon as they see us. When you've been on the hospital ward all night and you're exhausted and all you want to do is lie down, they are fantastic," said Meredith, adding they also provided meals, had laundry facilities (washing is a big thing, says Meredith), and saved the family money on accommodation.

"We've used it a lot, a lot of times. You wouldn't be able to do it otherwise," she said.

Though Ronald McDonald House in Auckland is closer to their hearts these days, husband Mark has been helping raise funds for the Wellington facility as a member of the Waipawa Spring Festival organising committee for the last five years.

As owners of Kingfisher Gifts and Waipawa Post shop, the couple also help sponsor the children's prizes in the "Make a Duck" competition for the duck race.

"We try to do everything we can, because they helped us out so much," Mr Drake said.

The couple also host their own fundraising night for Ronald McDonald House in Auckland every November.

Retailers in Waipawa will be selling duck race tickets for $2 in the lead-up to the race.

The Waipawa Spring festival starts at 9am on Saturday, October 14, with stalls along Waipawa's main street, and live music and entertainment in Nelly Jully Park from 10am.

The duck race starts about 1.30pm.