After hundreds of nominations and months of story profiles, some of the country's top unsung heroes have been named winners of the inaugural Pride of New Zealand Awards.
Seven people from around New Zealand received the gongs -- honouring bravery and heroism, community spirit, lifetime achievement, environmental ambassadorship, emergency services and fundraiser of the year -- at a glitzy event at the Auckland War Memorial Museum tonight.
Wade Kelly won the bravery and heroism accolade for the selflessness he showed when he rescued four people -- including two young boys -- who got into trouble while swimming at Waimarama Beach.
Maera Maki-Anderson, of Murupara, was honoured with the emergency services award for her work as a volunteer firefighter over the past 26 years and Kathleen Mato received the environment award for her determination in improving water quality in Wairoa.
Auckland firefighter Tony "Scottie" Scott got the fundraiser of the year award for his ongoing fundraising efforts for the Fire Service and Tihi Puanaki received the lifetime achievement accolade for her 40-year work in promoting kapa haka.
The community spirit award was given to Julie King, who runs the Tokoroa Love Soup.
The People's Choice Award, sponsored by TSB Bank, went to Upper North Island regional finalist Greg Brownson.
The 63-year-old, of Auckland, has been a crew member of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Trust for more than 30 years.
Over 10,000 votes were received for the People's Choice Award via the website and judges said Mr Brownson won by a huge margin.
At the ceremony tonight, Kiwi music legend Dave Dobbyn welcomed guests with a stirring rendition of his hit Welcome Home as guests settled in for the start of the show.
He later performed Beside You and Slice of Heaven.
Celebrity judges Mad Butcher Sir Peter Leitch, former news anchor Judy Bailey, Silver Fern Maria Tutaia and radio host Polly Gillespie presented a number of awards and judge VC holder Willie Apiata gave a video greeting.
The awards, in association with the Herald, APN Holdings, TSB Bank and The Hits radio station, were announced last year during the newspaper's 150th birthday celebrations.
More than 700 nominations were received between May and the end of last month, when nominations closed.
Herald editor Shayne Currie said choosing the winners had been a difficult task, given the high calibre of finalists.
"We've been thrilled with the response and it's humbling to see how many New Zealanders dedicate themselves to their communities or even put their own lives on the line for total strangers," he said.
"It makes you proud to be a Kiwi."
- Bravery & Heroism: Wade Kelly
- Community Spirit: Julie King
- Emergency Services: Maera Maki-Anderson
- Environment: Kathleen Mato
- Fundraiser of the year: Tony Scott
- Lifetime Achievement: Tihi Puanaki
- TSB Bank People's Choice: Greg Brownson