Teaming up on learner licences in Rotorua

When Rotorua iwi Māori social service provider, Maatua Whāngai, wanted to support local rangatahi and adults with gaining a driver licence, they were able to draw on experience and expertise from Waka Kotahi.

Waka Kotahi Regional Advisor Arlouise (Arlu) Brooking and Safer Driver Education Advisor Toni Fauonuku teamed up to provide Maatua Whāngai with support for running learner licence training and how to eventually expand into restricted and full licence support.

Maatua Whāngai is a marae-based social service in the heart of Rotorua and plays a crucial role in supporting the community, including the homeless, whanau ora, mental health services, Corrections and other government agencies.

It currently uses external organisations to prepare clients for their learner licence but with tight deadlines for court referrals, wanted to offer a learner licence programme themselves.

A group of people smiling and posing for a picture outside a marae, capturing a joyful moment together.

From back left, Fred Haumaha (Facilitator), Christine Corbett (Team Lead), Mary Corbett (Maatua Whāngai CEO), Darcy Hunt (Youth Worker), Renee Dudley (Facilitator) and Regional Advisor Arlu Brooking. In front, Safer Driver Education Advisor Toni Fauonuku with Sarah Cairns (Facilitator).

First steps using Drive

Toni says the first step was showing Maatua Whāngai facilitators how best to use Drive, the free Waka Kotahi driver training resource.

“I used a ‘train the trainer’ approach and took them through the Drive resources, showing them the cool activities they can use with students.

“I found it such a good opportunity to discuss road safety and the rules with these future trainers. This way we are helping them create not just drivers, but safer drivers.”

Maatua Whāngai run their own 2-day workshop with five students, who went on to pass their theory test at AA.

“One of the boys was so elated he yelled out ‘I got my licence!’ right in the middle of the AA,” says Toni. “It was so rewarding.”

The learner licence course is just the beginning for Maatua Whāngai and the Rotorua community.

Arlu is now working with the CEO to put together a comprehensive proposal for funding a full licence support programme.

Ticket to life – community-based testing officers making a difference

Waka Kotahi is trialling a different way of doing driver licence testing for communities facing access barriers. Community driver testing officers are now working in areas needing extra support to get people licenced and driving legally. While VTNZ conducts driver licence testing with the majority of the population, community driver licence testing officers are now testing students on specific driver licencing courses.

  •   Read the transcript


    Visual information

    Audio information


    Shots of landscape, showing ocean and hills in rural NZ

    Slow-paced electronic music


    [Text in three parts] In 2022 Waka Kotahi started trialling a different way of doing driver licence testing for communities facing access barriers.

    Community driver testing officers are now working in areas needing extra support to get people licensed and driving legally.

    While VTNZ conducts driver licence testing with the majority of the population, community driver licence testing officers are now testing students on specific driver licensing courses.


    Slow-paced electronic music continues


    Shot zooming in to a corridor in an office, moving toward a room at the end

    Music picks up pace


    Voiceover starts from interview with Alana Laybourn, CDTO Whangārei Shot of students in an office, a car key being turned in the ignition

    As a community driver testing officer, community is the big word for me.


    Shot of two people standing together with a Tairāwhiti REAP sign behind them. Shot zooms out from them slowly.

    Alana’s voiceover continues.

    The amount of people I help every year with getting their licence, I find it a real privilege.


    Shot of Alana Laybourn

    It makes such lovely relationships with our community.



    Shot of a woman in a car with another woman beside her.

    Voice over changes to Kellyann Paku-Cooper, CDTO Hawkes Bay

    It’s sort of like a testing officer.


    Shot of Kellyann Paku-Cooper talking

    But on a community level.


    Shot of a student standing at a counter with a police officer walking toward her

    More suitable for the clientele that we work with.


    Shot of the same policeman in a car with the student in the driver’s seat, sharing a joke.

    Voiceover of Kellyann Paku-Cooper continues

    Getting that…


    Switches back to shot of man in a hat in a car with a woman, who is the community driver testing officer.

    … achievement that they’ve held back for so long.


    Interview with a woman in a room in a pink and black check top, Hinewai Phillips, a student sitting her licence.

    I done it! I finally done it after, oh, 15 odd years.


    Slower shot of Hinewai getting out of a car and closing the door

    I was nervous, I was excited, I was over the moon.


    Shot of Hinewai holding up a temporary paper licence (details blurred)

    Just so happy.


    Shot of Hinewai smiling at the camera and walking off to the side of camera.

    I can do lots of stuff. Get a job,


    Shot of Hinewai smiling and with her arm around another woman wearing a woolly hat. Both looking directly at the camera.

    …drive my children around now, yeah - legally.


    Shot of interview with Rewi Castle in an office

    I was nervous.


    Slowed down shot of Rewi outside, getting into a red car with an L sticker on the back of it.

    I was nervous as.


    Slowed down shot of Rewi getting into the driver seat of car

    Got to the drive, she helped me calm down


    Shot of Rewi in the car smiling at a woman next to him on the left and then turning to look ahead of him.

    Told me to breathe and relax.


    Shot of interview with Laurel Wilson, a driver licensing student from Kaitaia. She is standing in a large room with a corkboard in the background with notices on it.  



    Shot of Laurel from the back showing her in the driver seat of a car, with a police officer to her left.

    And he knows the rules.  


    Shot of Laurel from the back showing her driving the car, turning into a street.

    Sat my restricted today and I passed.


    Shot of a woman in a woolley hat in an office, Mereaira Mills, CDTO Tairāwhiti

    You sort of know that they’re anxious or that they’re feeling like I know this, I got this mmm-hmm. And just talking to them in their own sort of reo.


    Shot of two people in a parked car, one of them is Mereaira.

    Their language, you know. If it’s a teenager, I talk teenage talk.


    Shot of Mereaira in an office again.

    If it’s a kuia, I talk kuia talk.


    Camera pans across a red car with an L sticker on the front windscreen. Mereaira voice over continues.

    All we’re going to do bub, is we’re going to go for a ride. That’s all. You’re taking me for a ride. Music starts to bubble up again in the background


    Shot goes back to interview with Mereaira sitting in an office.

    I’m your nanny, I’m your auntie,


    Close up shot of Rewi from the side, in a car.

    The most precious one in your life. You’re going to take me for a ride.


    Interview with Mereaira continues. She confides to the camera, leaning forward.

    For about half an hour.


    Drone shot of a car travelling into the distance down a road next to a beach with green hills and small houses in the background.

    Music picks up in volume and pace.


    Shot of a bridge over a grey-green coloured river with mudflats and a boat in the foreground, hills in the background. The bridge is reflected in the water. A new voice starts talking.

    You can teach everyone…


    Drone shot over a provincial town centre, showing cars, buildings, and an overcast sky.

    … the road code, everything, what to do,


    Shot of green hills, with waves coming into the shoreline to the right.

    But to get their true ability


    Shot of a woman, Cheryl Te Amo, CDTO Tairāwhiti, sitting on a sofa with a picture on the wall shown behind her, talking.

    You need to be able to calm them right down.


    Shot of a woman’s hand on a steering wheel. Voiceover continues from Cheryl.

    And every single one of them are nervous.


    Shot of Kellyann Paku-Cooper speaking

    The ones that are more vulnerable


    Shot pans across students sitting at a big table in a room, waiting for their test. Rewi walks across the room.

    They need a lot more time and awhi to calm them down and get them refocused


    Shot of the back of Rewi as he walks toward a portacabin with AA signage on it.

    And reminding them about the purpose, why they’ve come to see me.


    Interview with Kerimoana Te Amo, CDTO Kaikohe, starts

    We have a lot of rural families


    Shot of a car window with L sticker on it. Voiceover from Kerimoana continues.

    That don’t have licences at all


    High shot of a country road stretching off into the distance with mangroves either side

    And have no intention because going through the system is quite difficult for them


    Shots of cars and trucks driving along a busy highway and cars crossing a bridge over a wide grey-green river

    Sound of cars passing quickly.


    Voiceover continues: People have a fear of failure and high anxiety of tests, also knowing that someone will be sitting in a vehicle in close quarters and judging them, they feel a lot more comfortable with us.


    Shot of Kerimoana talking

    But that doesn’t mean


    Close up shot of a book of temporary paper driver licences with one being torn out of the book

    We’re just handing out licences


    Interview starts with Neil Cook, Deputy Director Land Transport, Waka Kotahi in a corporate open plan office

    For those hard to reach places


    Overhead flyover shot of an empty country road

    Those areas of New Zealand where some of our communities have a lot of challenge with access to social services


    Shot of cars at a three-way intersection in a small town

    This is proving to be a winner.


    High shot of Kaitaia over the main town area, showing a petrol station

    People are more comfortable in that environment


    Morphs into a high shot showing a building with a Far North REAP sign out front

    We are better able to flex with the changing needs of providers


    Shot of cars driving along a country road with a river in background

    And the feedback we’re getting is all saying hey, this is a model that can work


    Shot of interview with Geoff Strother, CDTO Waipukurau.

    I tend to take members of the community that are the ones that have fallen through the gaps.


    Shot of a main street with shops in a small town

    Resits, people who might have lost their licence through the courts


    Shot of a woman sitting near a phone booth on a main street.

    People from employment  groups from outside of the school system


    Shot of Geoff talking

    It’s mana enhancing as well.


    Pan across a wall of photos of students who have their successfully got their driver licence

    A lot of our people don’t have vehicles available to them that are legal, they haven’t got a supervisor or even parents who have a licence


    Shot of Rewi getting into a car with Cheryl Te Amo standing in front of the car signalling to him, including a thumbs up

    So those are the sort of people who slip through the gaps. We help them get their tests and ultimately employment.


    Shot of interview with student Tanaya Tiopira

    I live up the coast which there’s not much jobs so to be able to drive into town hopefully score a job.


    Shot of Laurel Wilson talking, then pans out to show her sitting next to the policeman who is writing up her temporary driver licence. They are having a laugh together.

    I feel excited because now I can go and visit my partner whenever I like instead of staying


    Shot of Laurel outside on steps of building, turning back to lock her car with remote key

    Up here all term when school is on, now I can visit him in the weekends.


    Shot of Alana Laybourn, CDTO Whangārei

    Whether it be such a small thing like a


    Shot pans around a red car and into the passenger window, showing Cheryl Te Amo and Rewi in the car.

    Licence, it opens the doors to so many things, jobs, education,


    Shot of Cheryl handing a temporary paper licence to a smiling Rewi.

    But most importantly confidence


    Shot of Rewi coming out of the AA portcabin holding his licence in front of him and looking happy

    The confidence I see people grow just from gaining their licence


    Shot of Rewi and Cheryl high-fiving

    …just from passing one little


    Shot of Cheryl and Rewi in office looking directly at camera.

    … test, they are just so empowered


    Shot of Tanaya Tiopira sitting in the office.

    Today I went for my restricted licence …


    Close up of Tanaya sitting in office holding up a piece of paper

    …and I cracked it. Laughter.


    Shot of Mereaira in office talking to camera

    I’m excited about…


    Close up shot of Hinewai in driver’s seat and Mereaira in passenger seat of car, with Hinewai smiling as Mereaira hands her a piece of paper (test pass).

    … all the drivers out there that are gonna be safe drivers. It means everything this little thing here, it’s not just a licence…


    Shot of Mereaira in office talking to camera

    … it’s a ticket to your life. It’s the key.


    Close up shot of Hineawai and Mereaira hugging in car



    Text says ‘Ngā mihi nui’ followed by logos of Far North REAP, Tairāwhiti REAP, Road Safety Far North, Connect Driver Safety and Licensing, TKEMKT.

    Text at bottom says: Supported by the Community Road Safety Fund



    logos of Ngātiwi Trust Board, Drive IQ, New Zealand Police/Ngā Pirihimana o Aotearoa



    Waka Kotahi logo and Road to Zero logo



Community trials in Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) and the Far North

Te Tairāwhiti driver licensing trial

We’re partnering with Tairāwhiti REAP to trial new ways of making access to driver testing for restricted and full licences faster and easier. This improved access is having a big impact for the students involved in the trial.

  • Nicole Bull's story – moving from anxiety to confidence

    Moving from anxiety to confidence

    Nicole Bull remembers feeling a wave of anxiety every time she drove past the Police.

    She was worried they’d pull her over and discover she was driving on her learner licence, maybe with her children in the car, maybe after hours.

    Nicole (37) works in the admin team at Gisborne hospital’s radiology department, and lives an hour out of Gisborne with her husband and children on a sheep and beef farm near Matawai.

    But she previously spent some years as a sole parent to her three children (now 19, 11 and 10), sometimes working two jobs, and with an unstable housing situation.

    “The house we were living in was sold in 2018. There weren’t any houses available and I ended up having to stay with a friend for three months in her garage during winter. The kids were in a sleepout. It was horrible.”

    “At that time I didn’t see getting my restricted licence as a necessity. I had so many bills to pay to keep us afloat. There were just other things we needed more at the time.”

    “A friend of a friend told me about a tiny empty cottage on a farm outside Gisborne. We applied for it, got it, and moved in. That’s how I met my husband, Sam. He managed the farm the cottage was on.

    It was Sam who pushed her to get her restricted driver licence.

    “He was on my case daily,” says Nicole.

    As luck would have it, her colleague at work knew about the Tairāwhiti REAP driver licence course for rural communities. Nicole rang them, and before she knew it had driving lessons arranged, and then a restricted driving test.

    “I spoke to Helen at the REAP. She was awesome - no judgement. Which is important because I felt embarrassed being my age and still on this licence. I felt embarrassed about the hard times we’d gone through. But she had open arms.”

    “I couldn’t believe the whole REAP driver licensing programme was free. I know a lot of people out there who haven’t gone and got their licence, cause especially for young families they simply can’t afford it.” 

    Nicole passed her restricted test in April this year - on her first go. She says her driving lessons were really important.

    “They taught me things like tricks for parallel parking and how to use the mirrors properly.” 

    Nicole is keen to sit her full licence next.

    “The REAP team work with each person individually, and the driving instructors help you feel at ease. What an amazing thing they do - especially for rural communities.”

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  • Vincent Haworth's story – endurance pays dividends for solo dad of six

    Endurance pays dividends for solo dad of six

    vincent holding a driving certificateVincent Haworth has been through swings and roundabouts over the last three years to get his full driver licence.

    Vincent lives in Whatatutu in rural Tairāwhiti sole parenting his six children, who range in age from 5 to 18 years old.

    The 49-year-old says he drove on his learner licence for 20 years.

    “Every time I had the time, I didn’t have the money and vice versa.”

    In 2020, Vincent read about a driver licensing programme with his local Tairāwhiti Rural Education Activities Programme or REAP which provided support for those needing to gain a licence.

    It was the beginning of a fruitful and long-running relationship.

    “I did some theory and practice tests with the REAP and flew through my restricted with flying colours first time,” says Vincent.

    Tairāwhiti REAP quickly set a date for Vincent to sit his full licence test, but then Covid hit, ending any chance of moving to the next licensing stage.

    Tairāwhiti REAP wasn’t deterred.

    Vincent remembers, “Helen from the REAP just said, I’ll keep in contact with you.”

    And she did – over the next year and a half.

    A week out from Christmas 2021, Vincent’s rental home was sold. With housing waiting lists in Gisborne stretching out to five years, Vincent and family moved in with family in Kawerau, Bay of Plenty – three hours away from Gisborne. They ended up spending over three months there.

    Returning to Whatatutu, 40 minutes from Gisborne, and a new home, Vincent was ready to sit his full licence.

    But the death of three loved ones within four months, and then the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle conspired against him.

    vincent with his three childrenFinally, in March 2023, the stars aligned, and Vincent sat his full licence. He passed first time.

    He says getting his licence is ‘a big weight off my shoulders’.

    It means he can meet the insurance requirement for the family van he’s paying off. He’s able to drive his children to their sports practice. Down the track, he knows he will be able to apply for the estimated 70% of jobs requiring a driver licence. And he’s free from the worry of being pulled over or fined.

    It’s been a three-year journey, and Vincent says he can’t thank the REAP – especially Helen – enough. “They’ve been awesome in motivating me,” he says. “Without them, getting my licence would have been the last thing on my mind because it was more about making sure my babies were okay.”

    He’s helping his family follow his example. His daughter-in-law passed her restricted licence through the REAP programme in March and Vincent is keen for his older sons, both working in Tairāwhiti, to get their full licence next.

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  • Brody Lewis' story – igniting the potential within

    Igniting the potential within

    photo of brody19-year-old Brody Lewis has aspired to be a Police Officer since he was a teenager.

    From Otoko, a small rural settlement north-west of Gisborne, Brody has been working as an authorised officer with Gisborne Police for seven months. In March 2024 he will attend Police College for 16 weeks training to become a sworn constable.

    Brody says getting his full driver licence through Tairāwhiti REAP in late 2022 was critical in kick-starting his career with NZ Police.

    “I’d been on my learners for almost two years because in rural communities people aren’t always bothered about getting their full licence,” Brody explains.

    “Mum saw a Facebook post about help from the REAP to get a licence for lower income communities.”

    Brody went to his first session in Tologa Bay where students were assessed on their driving skills and attended lessons over the following months. He passed his restricted with flying colours the second time around. “I was a bit fast on the roundabouts the first time,” he admits.

    He gained his full licence in late 2022.

    “Getting my full was even better because it allowed me to work at the Police station. Sometimes I’m required to drive passengers around or use the big Police trucks to take people to prison.”

    Brody says he’s always admired the Police for their work in the community and is enjoying being one of them.  

    “I like the fact that, even just as one person, I’m getting to make a difference with people. There are young people constantly coming in and I can help them think about different avenues instead of going through the courts.”  

    Brody highly recommends the Tairāwhiti driver licensing course, which is targeted at rural communities.

    “People of any age up the coast or from rural communities, who have had a non-privileged sort of life, I tell them to go through the REAP programme so you can break the cycle of driving illegally. You’ll get work opportunities and you’ll be able to provide for your family.”

    Brody’s younger brother has recently gained his restricted licence through Tairāwhiti REAP, and can now drive himself to work at the Warehouse in Gisborne, some 50 kilometres away.

    “He absolutely loves it! He’s going for his full as well so that I don’t have to drive him home after late shifts,” says Brody.

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  • Jason Robin's story – aroha leads to change of direction

    Aroha leads to a restricted licence and a change of direction

    Jason Robin is enormously proud of getting his restricted driver licence in May 2023. It signals an important milestone on the road to changing his life. 

    Now 33, Jason was a member of Black Power in Tairāwhiti, and has spent time in jail. He last got out in 2021.

    He’s had a learner licence since he was 15 and renewed it again and again over the years.

    In 2022, Jason got a job in Gisborne harvesting corn maize. He was living rurally and driving 40 minutes to get to work. One day he was pulled up by the Police going to the shop at breaktime.

    “Instead of a fine, the Police gave me a chance,” he says. “They told me to get my licence sorted.”

    He knew about Tairāwhiti REAP and its free driver licensing programme but had never taken it seriously before. This time, he signed up.

    “I was motivated by my baby,” he says. His then two-year old daughter came with him to REAP classes. “They looked after my baby while I was busy learning.”

    “I never believed I would get my restricted licence,” Jason remembers. “I doubted myself.”

    But with the awhi from dedicated REAP staff, Jason got his restricted licence.

    “It was a big deal – quite overwhelming,” he says. “My family is buzzing too.”

    “I was pulled up at a checkpoint soon afterwards. The Police asked what licence I was on. I could tell them I was on my restricted! I felt so good.”

    Life is changing for Jason. He has recently moved from a casual job to a permanent one after keeping his Pioneer Genetic Technology supervisor informed on his licence progress.

    “I told my boss about going for lessons and the test. They were impressed that I got my restricted.”

    “I get judged by the cover of the book with my tattoos, but I needed to make changes cos of my little girl and my baby on the way. I needed to get legal and move away from gang life.”

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Far North driver licensing trial

We’re partnering with Far North REAP to trial new ways of making access to driver testing for restricted and full licences faster and easier. This improved access is having a big impact for the students involved in the trial.

  • Maureen Windsor’s story – freedom comes from new driver licence

    Freedom comes from new driver licence

    photo of maureenKaitaia early childhood teacher Maureen Windsor gets a huge kick out of taking her young charges on excursions like a recent visit to a local farm.

    Maureen (45) has just gained her full driver licence, and it’s given her the kind of freedom and independence she has never experienced before.

    After her relationship broke up in 2021, Maureen moved with her three children (now 7,8 and 11) and started afresh, including a new job in Kaitaia where a full driver licence was a ‘huge advantage’.   

    ‘I started learning to drive through Kaitaia’s Building Safer Communities. My driving instructor Nick Jones, was amazing.”

    She was then introduced to Far North REAP, sitting a defensive driving course with them in 2021 and getting her restricted licence soon after. She sat her full licence in May 2023, overcoming anxiety to sit her practical test with community driver testing officer and NZ Police officer, Murray Hodgson.

    “I used to panic just driving in the 50km zone, but Ange Waitohi from Far North REAP took me for an assessment drive and said I was a good driver.”

    Far North REAP has a number of community driver testing officers dedicated to testing their students. This means testing can often take place quickly once a student is ready. Of the four CDTOs available, three are NZ Police officers, who volunteer their time.

    “Ange booked me in for testing with a cop and I was worried he wouldn’t think I was a good driver!  But he was really easy to talk to. And now my licence is all legal and legit,” says Maureen.

    “Money was always a factor so it really helped that REAP was able to pay for my full licence. They helped me get there and I can’t thank them enough. It makes me teary-eyed to think about it now,” she says.

    She now has a seven-seater car and is delighted to be able contribute more at her centre, ‘we prefer to take the kids out and about so this is a big boost as not everyone has their full licence amongst staff.’

    “I have a new lease on life and a better life for my kids. My parents are in Ōmāpere [over 2 hours from Kaitaia] and I’d never been able to drive over there to see them before.”

    “I’ve just moved house and the biggest thing is that I can do it by myself now. It’s easy. I just use my car and transport my things bit by bit.

    “I can drop my kids at school, take them to basketball, I get to work on time, and the other day I was a parent helper with school, taking the kids to release turtles at Kaimanumau beach. 

    “In every avenue you can look at life, I have freedom.”

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