A quiet revolution is under way in the Far North as a wave of youthful candidates put up their hands to contest local government elections.
The record 90 candidates standing for the Far North District Council include Rawhiti Erstich-Coles, thought to be the youngest New Zealander running for a council seat.
The Ōhaeawai 18-year-old, who is standing in the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward, is a former Ōkaihau College student now in his first year of a law degree at Auckland University.
Erstich-Coles said three years chairing the Kaikohe-Hokianga Youth Council sparked his interest in politics but the final push came from his twin brother, who told him he should run for council if he was so passionate about social change.
The teen is also passionate about getting more young people to vote and breaking down historical distrust.
''At the moment fewer than 6 per cent of councillors in New Zealand are aged under 40,'' he said.
Big issues for Erstich-Coles include transparency, protection for te reo Māori, and the application of fundamental, tikanga-based Māori values when solving issues in the community.
He had been told he was too young, and had even been verbally abused, while on the campaign trail, but he believed being young and Māori were in fact good qualifications for local government.
''In the Far North especially we have some of the highest rates of youth suicide, domestic violence and inequity. If we don't have young people represented their concerns will continually be dismissed and ignored. No one else knows what it's like to be young and Māori.''
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Other young candidates include Ruth Heta of Kāeo, 29, and Moko Tepania of Kaikohe, who turned 29 just last week. Both are running for council and community board, Heta in the Whangaroa-Bay of Islands Ward and Tepania in Kaikohe-Hokianga.
Heta runs various youth development projects and has served on various boards since she was 21. She is currently a board member of iwi organisation Te Rūnanga o Whaingaroa.
Tepania, a teacher at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Kaikohe, said he had always taken an interest in local and national politics, and was one of those rare people who enjoyed reading council planning documents.
He decided to stand after a colleague told him he should "get in there" instead of moaning about the council.
Since starting his door-knocking campaign he'd been struck by how disengaged many people were.
''At first it was about raising issues instead of moaning, but it's grown into way more than that. Now it's about representing the voices that aren't heard or engaged with council.''
Tepania said youth would not vote as long as there were no candidates they could relate to.
''None of the young people here will want to engage with someone who doesn't look like them or sound like them.''
Seeing their teacher's face on billboards around Kaikohe had sparked children's interest in the elections and sent them a message they could do anything they put their minds to.
If elected Tepania would push for better engagement with the public.
''One of the council's lines is the difficulty of servicing a large district, not based around a single urban centre and with more than 40 towns — but they're not making use of free, modern technology to communicate with people.''
That could include live-streaming meetings and optimising the council website for mobile phones, which was how most young people accessed information.
In his own ward he was keen to see Kaikohe's town centre revitalised and beautified, instead of the current half-dead trees, weedy planter boxes and roughly-patched footpaths.
With its high Māori population and a government goal of a million te reo speakers by 2050, the Far North should lead the country in promoting te reo Māori but was instead being left behind.
"Seeing and hearing your culture sends a message that you matter," Tepania said.
All three candidates want to break down the ''disconnect and distrust'' between the public and the council. Heta said that should start at school with civic studies so children got an understanding of local government.
As to why young Māori are taking an interest in local government, Heta said there was no better time to stand than right now.
She saw it as part of a wider youth mobilisation which included the recent climate protests and the Ihumātao land occupation.
''Nationally we're seeing rangatahi Māori standing for all sorts of reasons. I couldn't be more proud to be standing as Māori alongside other Māori around the nation, not for gain but for the people and for the environment.''
Erstich-Cole's message for young people who haven't yet posted their ballot form is simple.
''Just vote. You don't have to vote for me but if you don't vote you're putting yourself and future generations at risk. If you don't vote for yourself no one else will."