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Taika Waititi is the 2017 New Zealander of the Year

Filmmaker, actor, artist and champion of New Zealand culture, Taika Waititi has been named 2017 New Zealander of the Year.

Waititi was unable to receive the award in person due to work commitments in Los Angeles. His wife, Chelsea Winstanley, collected the award on his behalf from the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Bill English. Accompanied by Hunt for the Wilderpeople actor Julian Dennison, Winstanley also collected the Kiwibank kaitaka huaki cloak, Pouhine, from last year’s New Zealander of the Year, Richie McCaw.

Waititi has achieved success as a writer, director, actor, comedian, visual artist and story teller. He is passionate about engaging youth in the arts as a positive outlet for creativity and is determined to raise awareness of youth suicide rates and child poverty.

A short film profiling Waititi can be viewed at

Waititi’s fellow finalists for the title of New Zealander of the Year were educator and researcher Professor Mere Berryman and Principal Advisor for the Salvation Army’s Social Policy & Parliamentary Unit Major Campbell Roberts.

Comment from the Chief Judge, Cameron Bennett

As 2017 New Zealander of the Year, Taika Waititi is an exciting and inspiring example of who and what we are as Kiwis. Creative, courageous, audacious, subversive and downright funny, he’s at the forefront of New Zealand filmmaking and the arts.

Taika's outstanding contribution has not only been rewarded with record box-office success at home - he’s also been highly successful in showcasing who and what we are to the world.

His films represent the importance of whanau, of belonging and the challenges facing youth at the margins of society. He’s a special talent, a huge inspiration for young, up-and-coming film directors and producers and a thoroughly worthy recipient of this year’s supreme award.

Category Winners

  • University of Auckland Young New Zealander of the Year: Rez Gardi (Auckland Central) – for services to human rights

  • Metlifecare Senior New Zealander of the Year: Sue Paterson ONZM (Wellington) – for services to the arts

  • Mitre 10 Community of the Year: Randwick Park (Manurewa, Auckland) – for contribution to the economic, social and environmental health of their community

  • Sanitarium Innovator of the Year: Dr. Ed Gane (Auckland Central) – for services to health

  • Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year: Hayden Smith (Titirangi, Auckland) – for services to conservation


The annual New Zealander of the Year Awards are in their eighth year. They celebrate people who use their passion for New Zealand to make our country a better place. They are open to all New Zealanders to honour extraordinary Kiwis whose selflessness, creativity, and vision make us proud to call New Zealand home.

375 nominations were received for the title of 2017 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Previous winners of the New Zealander of the Year Award are: Richie McCaw (2016), Sir Stephen Tindall (2015), Dr Lance O’Sullivan (2014), Dame Anne Salmond (2013), Sir Richard Taylor (2012), Sir Paul Callaghan (2011) and Sir Ray Avery (2010).

New Zealander of the Year Awards Category Winner Biographies

Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year: Taika Waititi (Piha)

Taika Waititi is a writer, director, actor, and visual artist. His contribution to New Zealand spans many years as one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent story-tellers. His films evocative and unique expression of New Zealand’s culture and identity are acclaimed domestically and internationally. His short and feature films have broken box-office records and garnered international acclaim such as the Sundance Film Festival and Academy Awards.

Waititi’s creative flair and distinctive storytelling has shown New Zealand’s unique cultural traits to millions of people. The humble and easy-going nature of his characters resonate with New Zealand and international audiences. Combined with stunning visual cues of New Zealand life and landscapes, his films epitomise what makes New Zealand a truly special place to live.

Waititi participated in the 2015 Cure Kids charity single (raising funds for research into cures and treatments for conditions affecting children) and has shown support to charities fighting child poverty. He is helping raise awareness of the lack of Māori and Pacific Island bone marrow donors, including registering himself as a donor.

University of Auckland Young New Zealander of the Year: Rez Gardi (Auckland Central)

Passionate about human rights and international law, Rez Gardi has gone from refugee to lawyer and is now making a difference as an advocate for those most in need.

Born into a refugee camp in Pakistan, her family came to New Zealand six years later through the refugee quota. The quota is an initiative Rez sees as essential for saving the lives of many more refugees. She is now the first in her family to graduate secondary school, attend university and has recently become New Zealand’s first Kurdish female Lawyer.

She is a New Zealand Red Cross youth advisor and was selected to represent New Zealand at the 2016 Global Refugee Youth Consultations. Her community involvements include Refugee Services, Refugees as Survivors, United Nations Youth, Auckland Multicultural Society, the Equal Justice Project as a director and she is the founder of the Kurdish Youth Association in New Zealand. In 2017, she will assist New Zealand Red Cross with the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement.

Rez is currently working on projects for refugee youth in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Nelson.

Metlifecare Senior New Zealander of the Year: Sue Paterson ONZM (Wellington)

A passionate and proud New Zealander, Sue Paterson has played a vital role in sharing Aotearoa’s arts and culture both in her local community of Wellington and to visitors from all over the world.

Sue was general manager of the Royal New Zealand Ballet from 1999-2006 and turned the company around both in popularity to audiences and financial revenue. In 2004 she received an Order of New Zealand Merit for services to ballet.

With 30 years of event management experience in the cultural sector she was the executive director of the New Zealand Festival from 2009 until earlier this year. In her eight years, she has delivered four iconic festivals celebrating the arts here in Aotearoa and in 2014 she was named Best Event Professional by the New Zealand Association of Events Professionals.

Sue is a member of the Global Women’s Network and became a Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Club of Wellington for her services to the community

Mitre 10 Community of the Year: Randwick Park (Manurewa, Auckland)

From crime ghetto to a family friendly place, Randwick Park in Manurewa has seen the evolution of a community since it was established in the 1970s. Randwick is representative of Manurewa’s diversity comprising 22% European, 23% Maori, 31% Pacific and 23% Asian.

Now with 6500 residents, Randwick Park has been subject to negative stereotyping and profiling in the media, particularly following the 2008 murder of store owner Navtej Singh. This event became a catalyst for change and a small group of residents came together to lead the transformation.

Over the past eight years, the local people have worked tirelessly with modest resources to create sustainable change for the young people of Randwick Park.

With the support of key advocates, such as the Manurewa Local Board, Randwick Park has seen improvements to the Riverton Reserve including the addition of a skate park and a sports and neighbourhood centre. Examples of community lead initiatives also include U-Turn, a waste and recycling social enterprise and the Stepping Stones project getting people into employment.

The community is now growing and thriving and instilling a level of care and compassion in Randwick Park that was never expected of the suburb.

Sanitarium Innovator of the Year: Professor Ed Gane (Auckland Central)

Professor Ed Gane’s dedicated and innovative work has resulted in a cure for Hepatitis C, a life-threatening disease that currently affects over 50,000 New Zealanders as well as many millions of people worldwide.

Up until recently there has been no cure or vaccination. Ed believed a combination of anti-virals held the key to successful treatment. For many years, he supervised meticulous drug trials on volunteers with chronic hepatitis C. Trialling various combinations of different anti- virals until he finally got the results he was looking for.

Thanks to Ed and his international colleagues’ innovative work and perseverance, almost everyone with hepatitis C can now be cured with a short course of tablets. The drug he has developed, called Sofosbuvir, works by blocking the active site in the body the virus uses to reproduce.

The world now has a cure that is painless, fast acting, 98 per cent successful, has few side effects and will save many lives. The World Health Organisation recently announced that more than one million people have already been cured with these new drugs and that global eradication of hepatitis C should now be achievable within the next 30 years.

Kiwibank Local Hero of the Year: Hayden Smith (Titirangi, Auckland)

Concerned about the trashed state of New Zealand’s marine environment, Hayden persuaded the then five Mayors of the greater Auckland region to sponsor him and for the past 14 years he has been cleaning up the shores around Waitemata Harbour.

Each year he has to raise funds for this work cleaning up our water with the self-formed SEA CLEANERS Trust. The Trust has operated on money from philanthropic foundations and corporate organisations, who see the benefits of what Hayden and his team are doing and want to support him in his endeavours.

Hayden’s work has also attracted international support. He is the only recipient of the Clearwater Award outside of the USA for his work in engaging communities to help clean up the environment.

He also gives talks to various community organisations, sports clubs, elderly and teenagers of secondary schools around the regions, sharing his message for a healthier ocean.

During a visit to Hawaii, Hayden decided to help clean up part of the Hawaiian coast and caught the attention of the United States Navy stationed at Pearl Harbour. Last year Hayden returned to Hawaii at the time of the RIMPAC Navy exercises and was instrumental in organising a joint clean-up project with the combined sailors of both the United States and New Zealand Navies.

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