Part-time Northern Advocate reporter Jenny Ling knows a thing or two about the life and times of rural posties.
They provide a vital community service, helping the elderly, providing human contact, attending the odd car accident and even rescuing dogs.
No, they're not St John, Fire and Emergency, police or social workers, but your average rural postie.
The role of the rural postie is much more complex and involved than many realise.
They deliver much more than mail, forming a significant chunk of the fabric that holds rural communities together.
Not only do they pick up letters, they deliver everything from newspapers and courier items, through to groceries and live organisms such as bees, leeches and harmless insects.
In the few short years Georgina Joyce and her husband Bevan have been doing their rural run they have even done some sheep and cattle wrangling.
Georgina was driving on State Highway 10 just north of the Puketona junction one day when she noticed a flock of sheep had escaped a paddock. The 20 animals were heading toward the busy highway, so she took charge and herded them back to their farm.
In another incident, she attended a car accident during a storm.
She was heading home when she came across a massive tree which had fallen across the same highway.
With the traffic backing up and no action being taken, she jumped out of the van and began dragging branches off the road. After locals turned up with a chainsaw and a digger and the situation was in hand, she drove a little further to discover the same tree had crushed a car, trapping an elderly couple inside.
She stayed with them until emergency services arrived, and, as they were uninjured, took them home for a cup of tea.
"You're just there and you see it and you have to do something," she said.
"For us it's a community service. You're out there often in places where there are not a lot of people around, so you lend a hand."
Based at the Waipapa depot, the Joyces cover nearly 1000km every week, which includes the Kerikeri Inlet, half of Kerikeri Rd, and stretches of SH10, Puketona, Wiroa, Waimate North and Te Ahu Ahu Roads.
When the Ohaeawai couple bought the business in December 2016, it was "a steep learning curve", Georgina said.
Though the former travel agent had done a couple of years of courier work before, Bevan, a former glazier, was completely new to the job.
Georgina managed to get the van stuck a few times, with Bevan getting stuck a bit more frequently.
But it was the connections with residents and the relationships they formed that they both found pleasantly surprising.
From proud new mums showing off their babies to consoling a grief-stricken elderly woman who'd lost her husband - the job can get pretty personal.
"A lot of people have lived in their properties for generations and they've always had rural post," Georgina said.
"They expect that relationship and expect to know you, and that you get to know them and pat their dog. They don't hesitate to call us to tell us about what they're doing, like if they're going on holiday.
"It's nice; as you build the relationships it ends up being quite old fashioned. I was surprised by that."
Like many Northland residents who have more than one job to make ends meet, I also do a postie run twice a week.
It's not as easy as I thought it would be; for the first couple of months I bounced around the countryside like a ping pong ball.
On good days, the sun is shining, people wave and smile, and your favourite song plays on the radio as you navigate the delivery circuit repeatedly stopping and starting.
On bad days it's pouring with rain, a box of wine tumbles from the back of the van (lucky it was only Chardonnay), the van smashes into a large, ill-placed rock beside a letterbox and you're chased by dogs - and yes, this happened to me all on the same day.
I worried about long rural driveways: What's down there? Will I be able to turn around? Will I ever make it out?
I too have been stuck in a muddy driveway and have panicked while reversing out of driveways on blind corners.
It's not easy trying to find a letterbox on the state highway with a logging truck in your rear vision mirror.
But I soon got to know each letterbox, each tricky turn and which trees to avoid backing into.
I liken it to "The Knowledge" that every black-cab driver in central London must have in order to navigate the city's 25,000 streets and landmarks. Research has shown that remembering all this information causes structural changes in the cab drivers' brains; their grey matter actually enlarges and adapts to help them store a detailed mental map of the city.
Obviously being a rural postie is on a much smaller scale, but they too must get to know thousands of individual letterbox numbers and the associated residents' names.
There are a multitude of other details to remember, like how to best position the van to avoid getting out (which takes up valuable time), which house has dogs to avoid, which dogs are friendly and how to manoeuvre tight spots.
I'm sure my hippocampus has grown a tad.
Kaikohe resident Fiona Menary said it takes a special kind of person to be a rural postie.
She and her husband Shane have contracted to NZ Post for nine years, and along with their daughter Nerissa, cover 2000km every week delivering to the south Hokianga, including Rawene, Taheke, Opononi and Waimamaku.
Posties must have patience, and "a good dose of empathy for the people they're dealing with," she said.
They often get requests from older folks to give them a hand.
"Quite often you'll go to drop stuff off and help them with a little job. If they can't get the mower going, we'll help them.
"Sometimes you're their only contact so they want to stop and chat about the weather. Sometimes you're going there with a nice bunch of flowers and realise they've just lost somebody close.
"People think we just carry mail but because we're servicing little townships, we're taking bread and newspapers, we pick up medicine scripts from the pharmacy and drop those to the oldies that can't pick up their medicines."
Fiona said every day is different - it's not your typical nine-to-five job.
Her family are at the Kaikohe depot at 6am and finish by around 2pm.
Shane's parents used to have rural delivery run in Okaihau and he's done the mail run most of his life. But for Fiona, who worked at the National Bank in Kaikohe for 30 years, "it was a whole different ball game".
She has also been stuck a few times and "has had to be pulled out when you're in the middle of nowhere."
Most importantly, drivers have to be alert all the time, she said.
"You're going up little country roads that are built for cars, not logging trucks and stock trucks. You might be driving that road six days a week for nine years and you go out and strike a fully-loaded logging truck coming round the corner at you. You can't get complacent."
Dogs are another aspect of the job that are the bane of any postie.
Both the Joyces and the Menarys have ended up taking canine companions home.
Shane rescued a dog found injured in a drain who they adopted and is now called Tippy.
Georgina has picked up at least a dozen dogs found wandering the streets and taken them home to their rightful owners.
These include a dog called Marley, who the Joyce's ended up adopting, and a little white terrier who Georgina chased around Waimate North in the early hours one morning.
"I think it's hilarious, but I wouldn't want my dogs to be out on the road," she said.
"If I know where it's supposed to be, I'll do something. I couldn't stand it if it got squished.''
Georgina said the internet has drastically changed the role of the postie. With increasing numbers of people shopping online, there are more parcels to deliver while letters and other mail have been on the decline.
It's been an ongoing challenge to keep their driving times consistent, she said.
Her observations are backed up by a 2019 report on eCommerce in New Zealand which shows online shopping grew eight times faster than in-store shopping in 2018 (16 per cent v 2 per cent). The report was undertaken by NZ Post because courier delivery has now surpassed mail as the largest contributor to NZ Post revenue.
Last year, 1.8 million Kiwis shopped online, spending a total of $4.2billion.
So come Christmas time, spare a thought for your postie whose deliveries will increase 10-fold.
One perk of the job, though, are the gifts left in letterboxes; chocolates, alcohol, fruit - even a live crayfish have been handed over by grateful customers.
For the Joyces and the Menarys being a rural postie is enjoyable and rewarding.
"We love it," Fiona said.
"You're out on the road, you're meeting different people. Every day you're out there it's something different."
"It's actually really enjoyable once you're in your groove and you know the customers and what you're doing.
"As long as we're doing our side correctly everyone's happy."