Willie Apiata has paid tribute to his mother, calling her a hero who kept the family together through difficult times.

Apiata took to a Harley Davidson last week to visit Waihi College, along with 10 other bikers, to talk to Year 10 students.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked the students.

"I am a reluctant VC holder, but I am trying to do the best I can. It wasn't just me who won this. I carry it for my mates, my brotherhood."


He asked the students who had a hero in their life - "someone who has always been there, the person you look up to".

"My hero is my mother," he said, "good old mum. We were a separated family. But she was always there for us. Clothes, food, family. That was what was important for her.

"To this day she is still the hardest-working lady I know. She lives in Te Kaha - in the bush, no running water, no power," he said.

"My family always comes first. I love my family they keep me inspired."

Apiata said he was no longer in the army because he wanted to be there for his family.

"I have a partner, and two sons, a 10-year-old and a 1-and-a-half-year-old. They are what are important for me."

At the beginning of his chat to the students, Apiata gave out his medals to be passed around.

"By giving you these medals to see, to hold, you now share the burden of the VC and its mana," he said.

He ended his talk by saying, "If you take the centre of the flax bush away, where will the bellbird rest? What is important? It's the people, it's the people, it's the people."

Apiata is a former corporal in the SAS and received his Victoria Cross for bravery under fire in Afghanistan after carrying a gravely wounded comrade across a battlefield to safety.

Apiata has gifted all of his medals, including his VC, to New Zealand.