The South's most inspirational - part two

We continue with part two of the Otago Daily Times’ five-part series to name the South’s 20 most inspiring people this year.

Erika Fairweather reflects on her record swim in heat four of the women's 400m freestyle at the...
Erika Fairweather reflects on her record swim in heat four of the women's 400m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics on July 25. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Erika Fairweather


Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected corners.

In many ways, swimmer Erika Fairweather is just like any other teenager. She will sleep really late given an opportunity. She can be shy and awkward.

And those years when you are fresh to double digits can be really intense.

Everything is new. First crush. First kiss. First love. First break-up. First break-out. First break dance, oh no, wait - that was in the 1980s.

And in Erika’s case, first Olympics.

The Kavanagh College pupil skipped a portion of year 13 to leave the country during a global pandemic to compete on sport’s greatest stage.

That is something not too many 17-year-olds get to do. Just qualifying for the Tokyo Games was a monumental achievement.

Erika was ranked outside the top 20 in both the 400m and 200m freestyle but produced a stunning performance in her 400m freestyle heat to qualify for the final.

She trimmed 4sec off her personal best and broke Lauren Boyle’s national record with a time of 4min 2.28sec.

Erika had moved from lane eight into medal contention but was unable to find the same pace in the gold medal race and finished eighth.

She also lowered her 200m freestyle personal best to qualify for the semifinals, and joined Carina Doyle, Eve Thomas and Ali Galyer in the women’s 4x200m freestyle.

Her schoolmates gathered in the school hall to watch her 400m final and made a lot of noise.

"It is so, so special. You can feel the love from here," Erika told media at the time.

- By Adrian Seconi

Year 9 pupils from Wakatipu High School helped to plant 700 native trees and shrubs near Lake...
Year 9 pupils from Wakatipu High School helped to plant 700 native trees and shrubs near Lake Hayes on October 22. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Mana Tahuna

Charitable trust

Although it is not technically an individual, a Wakatipu charitable trust’s efforts to clean up Lake Hayes has really hit its straps this year.

This month Mana Tahuna has been able to hire eight field workers after receiving $4.45million (over three years) from the Department of Conservation Jobs for Nature fund.

That allowed it to employ eight field workers, bringing its team to 14 members carrying out restoration work aimed at making the lake safe for swimming again.

The presence of phosphorus from earlier use of fertilisers in the lake’s catchment has caused frequent toxic algal blooms that make it unsafe for recreational use by people and dogs.

The Te Wai Whakaata project will create a 2.8ha wetland at the lake’s northern end, install sediment traps at intervals along the lake’s main tributary, Mill Creek, as well as carry out riparian planting and predator control, with the hope of

reducing sediment and nutrients entering the lake by 25%.

Philanthropist and part-time Queenstown resident Rod Drury has also donated $1million to the effort.

The trust was formed in June last year to support the area’s Maori community in the wake of Covid-19.

Chief executive Michael Rewi said he and the trust’s original operations manager, Jana Davis, were Wakatipu representatives on the now-disestablished Southern South Island Alliance.

"We had already formed the trust, so we thought, ‘Why not use it as a vehicle to create some employment and training opportunities for whanau?’."

Mr Davis, who has since become chief executive of native tree and plant nursery venture Te Tapu o Tane, went on a search for potential environmental projects in the Wakatipu.

The Friends of Lake Hayes lobby group and its consultant partner e3Scientific proved to be the ideal match, Mr Rewi said.

"They were looking for someone to pitch for this funding, and we were looking for a project to stand up."

- By Guy Williams

Bill Allen at St Clair Beach. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Bill Allen at St Clair Beach. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Dr William Allen


He was just out for a surf. It was April 3, and Dr William Allen and his friends were enjoying a day on the beach at Taieri Mouth.

But the day quickly turned from fun outing to trauma and tragedy.

Dr Allen and his friends were involved in the dramatic rescue of four people from a boat that flipped as it tried to cross the bar.

Tragically, a 2-year-old girl who was later found underneath the boat could not be revived.

Dr Allen later wrote a heart-wrenching essay about the rescue and its impact on him, in a bid to increase awareness of water safety.

It was the kind of brutally honest, gripping first person account not often found in New Zealand.

In painstaking detail he described the heroic actions of those there on that awful day, and the sleepless nights that followed.

His story was picked up by media outlets around the country and widely shared on social media, leading to an outpouring of support.

"The ocean is not only our greatest resource but our greatest playground, and I hope to keep playing what small part I can in helping keep people safe," Dr Allen told the Otago Daily Times.

- By Daisy Hudson


Alofa Lale at Mercy Hospital. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH
Alofa Lale at Mercy Hospital. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH
Alofa Lale


For The Rev Alofa Lale, life is all about making connections.

Connections between countries, connections between communities and connections between individuals.

When Mrs Lale is not at Mercy Hospital working as the mission co-ordinator, she is out across Dunedin finding new ways to forge those connections.

This year, she became president of Pacifica Inc, a non-profit organisation for Pacific Island women across the country, a role which has taken her all around the country.

The role has allowed her to travel around the country organising and creating opportunities for the organisation’s members.

As a Pacific woman born in New Zealand, the role gave her ample opportunity to stay in touch with her roots while offering other women that same gift.

The organisation was recently given consultative status with the United Nations, which allowed her to take her work internationally.

One initiative she was particularly proud of was her work at the Otago Corrections Facility.

Since February she has travelled to the facility once a month to perform a church service for Pacific Island inmates.

She got to sing and pray with them and they all really appreciated it.

"If you’re not connected, you’re isolated."

She wanted to keep up her work and continue finding opportunities to make positive connections.

- By Wyatt Ryder

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