A $20,000 university scholarship has given a Far North teenager the chance to begin pursuing his dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.
Seventeen-year-old Whiti Hoori (Ngāpuhi, Te Kapotai), who lives at Waikare, on the back road between Kawakawa and Russell, won the University of Auckland Top Achiever Award on the back of his school results.
The Year 13 student spends three hours a day travelling to and from school because he specifically wanted a Catholic education. Pompallier College in Whangārei was his only option in Northland.
The scholarship includes $15,000 to cover the cost of accommodation in a hall of residence, and $5000 for other expenses.
In February he will begin a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, with a view to studying medicine and eventually becoming a neurosurgeon.
"I want to specialise in neurology. I've always been fascinated by the nervous system, it pretty much keeps the whole body running," he said.
Whiti is currently studying biology, chemistry, physics, English, calculus and religious studies. Next month he will sit scholarship exams in the three sciences.
The initial response to his scholarship application actually told him he had not been successful.
"I was pretty gutted for about the first five minutes. It felt pretty awkward. But five minutes later I got a second email saying the first one had been a mistake. I was stoked to be honest. I went and gave my mum a big hug," he said.
"It means I don't have to worry about accommodation, so that's a huge financial strain gone. I can focus on doing well in my first year so I can hopefully win some more scholarships."
Mum Vicky Lawson said it was "pretty much unheard of" for a young person in an isolated rural community like Waikare to win a top study award.
"We need to let kids in these kinds of communities know that anything is possible," she said.
Whiti's advice to other young Northlanders pursuing academic success was simple: "Study smart and manage your time".
And when he isn't studying he can be found at the National Shrine of St Peter Chanel, in Russell, where he plays the organ every Sunday.