Dirk Weishaupt's passion for acupuncture was sparked by "a midlife crisis". Rather than buying a sports car or dating someone half his age, he opted for a career change.
It was 2005, Weishaupt had been an optometrist for 30 years and was desperate for a new challenge. Stressed and suffering from headaches, he visited an acupuncturist to see if it would help.
"He inserted a needle in my toe and the pain subsided almost immediately.
"The experience completely changed the way I looked at the human body. I decided there and then that I was going to study acupuncture."
Within weeks, Weishaupt had signed up for a four-year bachelor degree at the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Auckland.
"Going back to school as a middle-aged man was scary but exciting. It was also one of the best decisions I've ever made."
Originally from Germany, Weishaupt spent a year in Whangārei in the early 90s and returned for good in 1997.
Over the years he has become a familiar face around town and built long-lasting relationships with the locals.
"Whangārei is a great community and I feel privileged to be part of it. The people here are wonderful. And Northland beaches can't be beaten."
Weishaupt knows many of his clients from his previous life as an optometrist, although his case load is more varied these days.
"People seek acupuncture for all kinds of conditions – musculoskeletal issues, coughs, colds and flu, nausea, migraine, digestive problems, heart conditions. It can offer support for almost any ailment affecting the body or the mind."
Working with people who are trying to conceive, either naturally or through IVF, is also an area close to Weishaupt's heart.
"There's no bigger satisfaction than helping a client achieve a positive outcome. I also work with women to help maintain a healthy pregnancy and prepare the body for childbirth.
"Many people see acupuncture as a last resort when all other modes of treatment have failed. But early intervention can often prevent further complications."
Weishaupt typically sees anywhere between 30-40 clients each week, and this number is increasing all the time. This reflects a growing demand for acupuncture and other allied therapies, as New Zealanders embrace a more holistic approach to healthcare.
A 2004 paper from the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and a 2010 peer reviewed study (by Pledger, Cumming and Burnette) both reported that 24 per cent of New Zealanders had visited a complementary therapist within the past 12 months, and it is likely that this number is now much higher.
With more than 800 acupuncturists practising in New Zealand, finding the right one can be something of a minefield. Acupuncture New Zealand, the country's largest acupuncture professional body, recommends prospective patients select an acupuncturist from their membership database to ensure the highest standards of care.
Although acupuncturists aren't currently bound by statutory regulations, Acupuncture New Zealand members meet and maintain stringent voluntary standards. AcNZ members have completed the equivalent of four years fulltime training in New Zealand or overseas.
To maintain their Annual Practicing Certificate, they are also required to complete 20 hours continuing professional development (CPD) education each year and hold a current first aid certificate.
Weishaupt found that adopting a different mindset towards the human body was one of the biggest challenges of retraining as an acupuncturist.
"Western medicine is very clear cut in terms of right and wrong, black and white, whereas traditional Chinese medicine has a lot of grey areas and apparent contradictions.
''Embracing that uncertainty was a huge learning curve and didn't come naturally at first, but now it's second nature."
One thing which has always come naturally, however, is Weishaupt's desire to make a difference to people's lives.
"For me, happiness and fulfilment in life comes from a sense of belonging to the community, having a purpose and doing something worthwhile. Optometry and acupuncture are very similar in that sense."
Having the opportunity to learn and grow professionally is also a big motivator.
"In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a saying, 'when the patient walks in the door, the teacher has arrived'. Each client is unique. The more people I treat, the more I learn. The more I learn, the happier I am. Becoming an acupuncturist has given me a whole new lease of life."