Amid worrying and unsettling times, the Herald today launches a new series called Stories of Hope. It's focused on sharing tales of resilient Kiwis who have overcome hardship in a bid to help inspire others during times of darkness. Health reporter Emma Russell reports.

Nikki Bray grabbed her car keys from the kitchen bench and rushed out the front door to go to her hair appointment when her phone rang.

"My friend told me news had just dropped about an accident at Mangatepopo Gorge, she said it was serious but little detail was known, and then she asked if that's where Natasha was," Bray said.

At 2am the following morning, Bray and her husband Andy got a knock on the door. It was a policeman who broke down in tears as he told them their 16-year-old "bright and bubbly" daughter had died in the Mangatepopo Canyon disaster.


"Our whole world just crumbled in that moment. I remember thinking this is the kind of thing happens in movies and books but not real life, it can't be true."

That was April 16, 2008 - nearly 12 years ago.

Mother Nikki Bray with daughter Natasha, who lost her life in the Mangatepopo Gorge canyoning tragedy on April 15, 2008. Photo / Supplied
Mother Nikki Bray with daughter Natasha, who lost her life in the Mangatepopo Gorge canyoning tragedy on April 15, 2008. Photo / Supplied

Bray's heart broke once again, two years ago when she lost her "soul mate" Andy to a heart attack after he'd battled long-term kidney failure.

"When we lost Natasha we had each other and were this strong unit. This time I was grieving alone, with my other two children, but without my life partner - it was really tough."

The Auckland mum-of-three wanted to share her story to remind New Zealanders that through times of darkness there was still light, and it was important to treasure each day no matter what.

Bray said when it felt like your life had shattered into tiny pieces you had a choice - let the pain consume you or shift your focus to what you could control and what you could be thankful for.

"We had this amazing girl in our lives for 16 years and what a gift she was to us, and we chose to treasure that.

"There are many people who don't have children and who want children, and people who had a bad relationship with their children - we were lucky to have Natasha.


"For Andy, we were lucky he had a machine that was able to keep him alive for as long as it did."

She said it wasn't easy and there were nights when she'd wake up thinking "I don't want to do this anymore, I don't want to be here."

"The thing that kept me going was my other two children, I'd look at them and think I've had one death, I don't want to have another one, meaning that I didn't want to die inside myself because I knew if did it would affect my other children."

Nikki exploring with her son Ben. Photo / Supplied
Nikki exploring with her son Ben. Photo / Supplied

Her daughter Natasha Bray was one of six students who died at Mangatepopo Gorge near Turangi, along with a teacher, on April 15, 2008.

"She was the life and soul of our family. She was the heartbeat to our family. Such a passionate young woman who had so much joy for life."

Natasha took after her dad in this respect.


Before Bray first met her husband Andy, he'd been living without a kidney.

"You wouldn't have known, as he was living life to the max. A real go-getter type guy."

Andy's life battles included 27 years of being bound to a dialysis machine, overcoming a post-op stroke, suffering extreme side effects from his kidney transplant, including getting regular skin cancers removed and losing his kidney due to cancer.

Nikki treasures the days she gets to spend with her daughter Olivia. Photo / Supplied
Nikki treasures the days she gets to spend with her daughter Olivia. Photo / Supplied

Bray said he fought with courage and treasured each day until one day he was rushed to hospital due to further problems with his second kidney transplant.

The 62-year-old died on the operating table when he suffered a heart attack on June 2, 2018. He left behind his wife and their two other children Olivia and Ben.

Now, Bray works with other grieving families through the non-profit charity organisation - Family Life NZ - which she had set up with Andy more than 25 years ago.


"After Andy died, I wasn't sure I had anything to offer, as most of the people we worked with were married couples but people said to me I did, because I had years of experience and I had my own story.

"You can draw a lot of strength from other people. When you speak about your own pain, it encourages other people.

"The more we did share, not only did it help other people but it helped us too."