They've made us proud, gasp in admiration, and cheer from the rafters. They have in their character the essence of what stamps us as New Zealanders — a willingness to step up to the plate, to take on the toughest, to find an inner strength and to succeed without shouting about it.
They're the Kiwis who we think deserve to make the shortlist for the annual Herald New Zealander of the Year Award. The list was settled on by senior editorial staff at the Herald. There was a fair bit of debate over who to include — and who to leave out.
As is clear, the number of individuals on this year's list exceeds 10 because we've included two world champion teams and a couple whose partnership in fighting for justice is inseparable.
But as we've learned, one of the enduring challenges of drawing up the list is that it involves tough calls. As always, some decisions were touch and go.
In the end we've made choices which, we feel, reflect the abundance of riches our country produces year after year. We'll announce the winner on Saturday, on nzherald.co.nz and in the Weekend Herald.
For three frightened, freezing boys, Andrew Field was an angel in the darkness.
It was 8.20pm on an early September Sunday and the boys — aged six, nine and 11 — were in big trouble after the car their dad was driving crashed through the wooden railings of a bridge crossing the Otututu River, 36 kms north-east of Greymouth.
The badly damaged car was upside down in the waist-deep, cold and fast-flowing Grey River tributary.
And the terrified boys were alone — their dad, 32-year-old Kaikoura man Tamati James Rae, had died in the crash.
But help was on the way.
Field was driving home to Greymouth when saw Rae's car.
Despite the danger, there was no hesitation. After calling police, the 17-year-old drove his ute across the river to get to the car. Rae was trapped and "already gone", Field told the Herald at the time.
But he couldn't leave without knowing if anyone else was in the car, so he walked into the "f***ing freezing" water and yelled into the back window.
The response was two, heartbreaking words.
"I heard a voice saying 'help us'."
Using a rock to smash a window he was able to pull the boys to safety.
Others called Field a hero, but it was a word that didn't sit comfortably with the humble diesel mechanic. The boys were alive, but life would never be the same.
"It's hard to feel like [a hero] when you know the boys are going to grow up with no father."
Before there was me too, for many, there was just me.
The first voices against injustice can be the most powerful, because they give strength and support to those who also suffered, but who feel alone or fear they won't be heard.
Zoe Brock was one of those first voices.
An explosive New York Times story, detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, was ringing in the Kiwi model and actor's ears when she started tapping her keyboard.
The headline she gave her blog — published three days after the New York Times story — was: "Harvey Weinstein and I at The Hotel Du Cap".
In a raw and confronting post, soon picked up by media, she wrote of being cornered by a naked Weinstein asking for a massage in a hotel where a group of people were celebrating after the Cannes film festival 20 years ago.
The then 23-year-old found herself alone with the mogul after others made excuses to temporarily leave the room.
She fled to a bathroom, as Weinstein banged on the locked door, only emerging when he promised to leave her alone, she said.
She said the experience left her feeling "betrayed, disbelieved, [and] cheap".
Brock is now one of more than 80 women to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, revelations that have sparked the growing #MeToo movement for social change as other women, and some men, found their voice to accuse dozens of powerful figures of sexual misconduct.
The Black Ferns
The world-conquering Black Ferns have made their thrilling mark on and off the field.
A fifth World Cup crown received global recognition with World Rugby's team of the year gong for the first time.
And that was backed up at the New Zealand Rugby awards in December, the Black Ferns taking out the team, coach and try of the year honours.
Achieving spectacular success playing an exciting brand, while keeping their feet on the ground, the team have become beacons for inclusion and equality.
Being awarded team of the year at the World Rugby Awards in Monaco in November – a first for a women's side – is testament to their skill. It is also historically significant in a formerly male-dominated code.
The Black Ferns triumphs and flair have captured the public imagination. The 13-try effort by flying winger Portia Woodman – World Rugby's women's player of the year – at the Women's Rugby World Cup included eight in one game.
And the tournament's final between the Black Ferns and England was so electrifying, one writer called it "easily the best 80 minutes of rugby all year".
Women's rugby has grown substantially in recent years, with more than 24,000 now playing in New Zealand. The Black Ferns are role models to continue that momentum and inspire new generations.
Kristine Bartlett waited a long time for wage justice. The Lower Hutt rest home employee became a working class hero when a pay equity settlement was struck in April, lifting the income of thousands of low paid workers — mostly women — in three government-funded service sectors: aged residential care, home support, and disability services.
Bartlett was the primary litigant in a court case taken by her union in 2013. The case progressed through several tribunals, with Bartlett's arguments being upheld. Finally the Government stepped in and announced the deal.
The grandmother of six was thrilled with the settlement though acknowledged that, at 68, she was not going to reap the rewards. She campaigned tirelessly along with union E tu to get better pay for care and support workers, arguing the job was underpaid because staff were predominantly female.
The struggle resulted in a $2 billion pay rise for about 55,000 workers from July 1, with employees getting rises between $4 and $7 an hour. The deal delivered momentum to other pay equity talks.
"Hallelujah," Bartlett exclaimed when the news emerged. Carers worked long hours "for friggin hardly anything," she remarked.
"It has just made me so happy for the girls that are starting this career."
It started with tears, this unlikely friendship between a 59-year-old man fallen on hard times and an 11-year-old boy whose quiet nature belied a lion of a heart.
When so many of us find it all too easy to look away, and to judge, Uili Papalii didn't look away, and he didn't judge. He offered his lunch, his money and — most importantly — his friendship.
Rob Millar was depressed, his marriage was over, his job no more and his home gone when Uili saw him sitting outside the Leabank shops, in Manurewa, in August, crying.
Uili gave Millar his lunch and his money. But he didn't stop there.
For two weeks he continued to give Millar his lunch, telling no one.
It was not until Millar walked with Uili to Manurewa Intermediate one morning that anyone found out about his acts of compassion.
Millar told the Herald just what that meant.
"I was in the pits of despair and then Uili picked me up."
Showing that the actions of just one person can spark the reactions of so many more, others then stepped in to help Millar stay up.
A West Auckland woman offered the painter a job and a bed in Kawerau.
Others simply stopped in the street to talk to Millar, something they may not have done had a soft-spoken boy not shown them the way.
Team New Zealand
Comeback kids Team New Zealand united a nation with their heroic capturing of the America's Cup.
The team's stunning win in Bermuda included high-seas drama and high-tech wizardry.
They recovered from a dramatic capsize during the challenger series, and went on to victory using pedal-power to help propel their super-fast hydrofoiling catamaran.
It was a great redemption story after the pain of San Francisco four years earlier, when Oracle Team USA won the last eight races to come from behind to beat Team NZ 9-8 and break Kiwis hearts.
Those same hearts were beating with pride and joy throughout the 35th America's Cup and when the team arrived home to parade the Auld Mug around the country.
Some 80,000 fans gathered around Auckland's waterfront to welcome their heroes, including unflappable Peter Burling – at 26 the youngest winning helmsman in the Cup's history.
And with the world-class event set to be held in the City of Sails in 2021, benefits of Team New Zealand's win will also be felt in Aotearoa's economy.
When we wanted a final story of hope to end the first phase of Break the Silence, our campaign to highlight New Zealand's shocking youth suicide figures, Hailey's was an obvious choice.
The Tauranga teen is using her own battle with mental illness to help and inspire other young people in similar situations.
Hailey told her story in August to conclude an initial six weeks of coverage.
We have the worst youth suicide and the second worst teen suicide rate in the developed world.
Our campaign prompted changes to official guidelines, made international headlines and ignited a national conversation. New Health Minister David Clark has given a strong commitment to tackling the problem.
Hailey – who told her story alongside her friend Milly – is from a loving home. She's attempted suicide and self-harmed. She's not proud, but not ashamed either.
She believes she's finally got to grips with the root of her condition and is eyeing a positive future.
She hopes one day to be a nurse so she can help young people like her. Next year she will tour schools around New Zealand with Mike King – himself a tireless campaigner to destigmatise the issue and help young people.
Hailey and Milly met in hospital. Hailey sent a message to Milly: "Nobody can save you but yourself - and you are worth saving," she wrote. "It's not a war easily won, but if anything is worth winning ... this is it!"
In August she told us: "It's really nice to feel like I have all this time ahead of me now. I believe there is a reason why people go through horrible things like this and I believe the reason why I have to go through this is to help other people that may be on the same journey."
To watch one of the multi-talented writer-actor-director's audacious films is to delight in the charming mixture of the fantastical, and the moments of truth so real you smile in recognition.
And not just any truth, but Kiwi truths.
Those funny and sweet truths, and those that are a bit sad and tragic, are now being seen by eyeballs around the world, thanks to Waititi.
New Zealand humour's never had so much love. And there's more to come.
Waititi, who grew his star with Kiwi tales Boy, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, made the big time this year when he directed American superhero film Thor: Ragnarok.
The film, which is based on the Marvel Comics character Thor, had grossed more than NZ $1200m worldwide by mid-December.
But Waititi still has his heart set on continuing to share stories from his homeland with the rest of the world.
"I make my films mainly for New Zealanders, that's who I think about first when I try to make my films. Will it be relatable to my audience, and my audience are Kiwis first and foremost," he told the Herald in February.
And good news, Waititi said at the same time he next planned to return to New Zealand and do one of his own projects, which would be "in the same vein" as his previous Kiwi films.
Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse
Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse have helped spearhead the Pike River families in their battle for justice over the mining disaster which claimed the lives of 29 miners and contractors.
Osborne lost her husband and the father of their two children, 54-year-old Milton.
Rockhouse lost her 21-year-old mining son Ben in the tragedy. His elder brother, Daniel, was one of two men to miraculously survive the November 19, 2010, blast in the West Coast mine and scramble to safety.
The pair have campaigned tirelessly to have someone held accountable and to lobby politicians to recover the remains of their men.
Just days after the eighth anniversary of the disaster, the pair finally had a moral victory to celebrate when the Supreme Court ruled WorkSafe was unlawful in dropping charges against former mine boss Peter Whittall.
Investigators dropped the 12 charges after Whittall paid $3.41 million in insurance money to the families of the victims.
That decision, backed by the High Court and Court of Appeal, was finally overturned by the Supreme Court.
Whittall will not face fresh charges, but it was long overdue vindication for Osborne and Rockhouse – backed by Nigel Hampton QC's pro-bono work – with Rockhouse saying, "This shows you cannot pay to get out of charges, so chequebook justice doesn't work now...
"If nothing else, it will stop other people going through what we've had to go through."
Motor racing sensation Brendon Hartley has described getting a full-time Formula One drive as "a fairytale story".
The 28-year-old's season has been a dream run – making his F1 debut and claiming the World Endurance Championship title.
Hartley, from Palmerston North, was just eight when he told an amused kart racing audience he was headed for the top of world motor sport.
When he made his debut, at the US Grand Prix in Austin in October, he became the first Kiwi to race in the F1 since 1984. Only eight other New Zealanders have ever done so, including the legendary Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Denny Hulme.
In November, Hartley was confirmed by Toro Rosso as a full-time driver for 2018, cementing his rise to the upper echelon of world motorsport.
Beginning his career at six in kart racing, he was talent-spotted after proving himself in NZ Formula Ford and the Toyota Racing Series, and moved to Europe at 16, landing a junior contract with Red Bull.
Hartley has also shown promise on two wheels. The keen cyclist finished 27th in the demanding 85km Huka Challenge in Taupo in 2016.
Capping off his fantastic year, he was due to be back in New Zealand over summer to wed fiancée Sarah Wilson.
Tomorrow: The Business shortlist and winner
Friday: The Sport shortlist and winner
Saturday: The overall and People's Choice winners