Health on the Road: Navigating Rural Communities in Tasman and Marlborough – A Rural School Visit reflection.


One van, six health care students and 1,496 kilometres travelled through Tasman and Marlborough – what could possibly go wrong? Turns out one COVID case sending our seventh member into isolation and one lost room key was all the adversity we faced on this trip. Incredible planning by the Hauora Taiwhenua team and a lovely group of students made our biggest issue deciding what to have for dinner. This reflection will look at the five days we spent on the road travelling to rural communities of the Nelson region and the highs and lows of our experiences.

Monday 13th of November began with four of our team piling into the van at our accommodation in Tahunanui and making our way to Motueka. There, we met the rest of our group and had our first session at Motueka High School. This session was the first time doing our presentation in person as a group, and naturally, many of us were nervous, rambling for a bit too long. But once we got the students stuck into the hands-on activities, they were filled with life and laughter again. For our first go, this session went a bit over time but better than expected. We finished at Motueka High School with many lessons for our next school and pride in the knowledge we had passed on. Following this visit, we headed to Golden Bay Community Health, stopping along the way to visit a breathtaking viewpoint of the rolling mountains and get some fresh air. Once we arrived at the health center we were blown away by the infrastructure and facilities. A modern, community-centred form of health care that puts patient wellbeing above all else, with sprawling gardens and artwork decorating the walls. Here, we spoke to two nurses and a doctor about the work they do at this health centre. Many of us had only ever had experience in urban health centres, and we were all thoroughly impressed by Golden Bay Community Health’s approach to their patients. After this visit, we drove to Collingwood and checked into our accommodation.

A house filled with character that, despite many of us being on the opposite side of the country, made us all feel right at home. We were blessed to have some members of our team born and raised in Nelson who knew some spots to take us to, so we set out for some sightseeing. We went to the northernmost point of the South Island, Cape Farewell; a spring, Te Waikoroupu, which is home to some of the clearest water in the world, and Wharariki Beach where we saw sea lions! It was a truly spectacular day that made many of us astounded at the continuous beauty of Aotearoa. By now, the sun was about to set so we headed back to our accommodation and shared a home-cooked meal before bidding each other goodnight.


The next morning, we awoke to the sound of native birds and made our way to Collingwood Area School. This time, we felt much more prepared for our session with the students and found that with more practice on our side, their engagement throughout the presentation was better. Once again, we conducted our activities and were met with enthusiasm, laughter, and some intriguing questions that showed a true yearning to learn from the students. Once finished at Collingwood Area School, we drove to Golden Bay High School. We felt very lucky as we were conducting our session within a newly built facility! This was the largest group yet, with around 60 students, and as it was getting towards the end of the school day, they were all very excitable. The presentation was met with many questions from both students and teachers. We found the activities a bit difficult to manage as the students flowed in and out of activities, but like anything in life, we adapted. Taking extra time with students who showed a particular interest and letting others roam as they pleased, with some help from the teachers. After this session, we headed back to Motueka and stayed in the Top Ten Holiday Park. A few of us hit the pool and had some fun on the slide while others relaxed, and then we met together for some kai before ending our night.


Wednesday brought us to the halfway point of our trip, and although we had only known each other a few days, we were forming close friendships and finding comfort in one another’s presence. Tapawera Area School was first up on our agenda. We went through our presentation, throwing out lollies and pens for students brave enough to answer some questions, as we had done at previous schools and then set out with the activities. We were blown away by the knowledge these students had of different anatomy, uses of tools we had and overall awareness of the activities. Moving from each activity, they thanked us with big smiles which made us feel a sense of pride and achievement, knowing we could have helped to inspire future health careers amongst some of these students. We departed Tapawera Area School and made our way to Blenheim. On the way, we stopped at Lake Rotoiti, a spectacular lake in the Nelson Lakes National Park. After snapping some photos and admiring the eels, we hit the road to Makana Chocolate Factory and picked up some goodies for family and friends. We made our way to the accommodation and once again sat down to a home-cooked meal together, sharing laughter and strengthening bonds.




On Thursday morning, we set out to Manu Ora Blenheim, which took community-based practice to a whole new level. There, we were shown how they have organised a food bank where their patients and other members of the community can take food back to their families. Manu Ora enrols fewer patients than most other health practices to ensure wait times are shorter and it allows them to build stronger relationships with their patients. This was vastly different to any health clinic any of us had been to or been patients at and provided an insight into the evolving nature of health care in Aotearoa. From here, we set off to Queen Charlotte College. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of students requesting brochures and asking about health careers. Their teacher was incredibly enthusiastic about our visit, which helped reinforce the student’s enthusiasm and desire to learn. Following this visit, it was time for lunch, so we set off to the Picton shops and got Kai to take to the beach, where we soaked up some sun. We then made our way to Pelorus Bridge on the way back to Nelson and swam in the beautiful waters of the river. After piling back into the van, we headed to our last accommodation, The Hotel Nelson, blown away by how lovely the rooms and facilities were. After a quick change into our scrubs and professional clothes, we were on our way to Nelson College for Girls to speak to their boarders. We were unsure how successful this session would be as it was later on in the night and figured many of the students would be quite tired. However, the girls greeted us with warm smiles and sparked conversation whilst we set up. We kept the presentation at this school short as we had limited time to do the activities and thought they would respond best to more hands-on activities, especially after having been in class all day. The activities were a success at this school as well and we had students coming back to each of our activities asking more questions and showing lots of interest in the career paths we had taken. Our session ended up going a bit longer than it was meant to due to the sheer enthusiasm of the students, with their teachers more than happy to allow us to continue. After a successful day, we made our way to Stefanos for dinner, a local hotspot, before heading back to The Hotel Nelson for our last night together.


Friday morning started bright and early with a drive to Rai Valley Area School, where, for the last time, we did our presentation for students of rural Nelson. Lollies, pens and notebooks were handed out to brave students willing to have a go at answering questions and many pamphlets were taken before the activities even started! A very promising sign for the future of rural health. Once we got stuck into the activities the students and teachers alike were beaming with excitement and eagerness to have a go. Many conversations were had with students about career paths, study conditions and placement requirements. Once our session here concluded, it was a bittersweet feeling for many of us. We had just finished our last school and would all soon be going back to our own lives at opposite ends of the country. The memories we made and experiences we shared together were unlike anything else we had been a part of. Before bidding our final goodbye, we drove to the Classic Car Museum in Nelson, where we shared one last meal together. Then we hugged goodbye and made our respective ways home.


Throughout this rural health trip, we were told countless times how much it meant to the students of these rural communities, what we didn’t expect was how much it would mean to us as well. We left with a rejuvenated passion for our respective career fields, hope for the future of health centres and an overall feeling of love and pride for the opportunity we had been given. To Hauora Taiwhenua we say thank you for your passion, tireless hours of commitment, and incredible planning that went into this, you are paving the way for the future of health care in Aotearoa.

Warmest regards,
The Tasman/ Marlborough team of 2023.