When David and Ruby Thomas returned to New Zealand after 14 years working in Australia, they headed straight for their home base of Waikawa. Today, as owners of Waikawa Shuttle, they’re loving being home on their whenua and they’re working hard to make their new business a successful addition to the greater Marlborough community.

David (Ngāi Tahu) and Ruby (Te Ātiawa), established Waikawa Shuttle in March 2021. For Ruby, it was the fulfilment of her dream of creating a sustainable whānau entity in her home town and a continuation of her previous role as a driver for a former local shuttle company.  David, who is currently employed as a log marshall at the port in Picton, shares her dream.

Both David and Ruby have a well established connection to Waikawa Marae. They were born and bred in Waikawa and Waitohi and David is a marae trustee, so it was important to them to create a business that would have whānau interests at heart. That’s why they offer free transport to kaumātua and rangatahi – everything from driving kaumātua to grocery shopping and medical appointments to transporting rangatahi to sporting events, hui and school holiday programmes.

They also work with Te Piki Oranga, transporting kaumātua to Covid vaccination programmes; and with Waikawa Marae and Te Ātiawa Iwi Trust, providing free outings and transport services for kaumātua.

“We are the first sustainable Māori whānau-based community transportation service in the Marlbrough region but none of this would have been possible without the incredible help we’ve had from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu,” says David.

The couple received WAVE 13 funding support, which has enabled them to purchase their fleet and some electronic equipment for business administration requirements. It has also supported wages, branding and marketing and their ability to offer discounted whānau transport services.

“Our vision is to be able to support free kaumātua and whānau services for those in need in our rohe, in line with our Waikawa Marae whakataukī – Mōu mōku, mō ngā iwi katoa –  For you, for me, for all people,” says David

“WAVE support has made all the difference to us. We have a great rapport with our customers and whānau and being able to develop our business in the way we have, has brought us much closer to our community.”

“Te Pūtahitanga is a lifeline for many Māori businesses and without their support, many of our people  wouldn’t be able to realise their small business dreams. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We couldn’t have established ourselves as quickly as we have without them.”

It’s still early days for Waikawa Shuttle but with Ruby working Monday to Friday, and David supporting driving duties in weekends, word about the taxi/shuttle service has quickly spread, and although they’re not as busy as they were before the latest Covid-19 lockdown, they’ve been able to adjust their model to make the most of a variety of opportunities.

In addition to their free services to whānau, they also operate as a paid shuttle service for the wider Waikawa/Waitohi community, with plans to expand  throughout Marlborough. In addition to providing local whānau transport needs they also transport passengers to and from the Picton ferries, to airports and to water taxi services that take people to Marlborough Sounds accommodation providers.

Ruby’s cousin and local kaumātua, Isaac Love (Te Ātiawa), is also a contract relief driver, and with his wealth of iwi knowledge and stories, not to mention his long history as a commercial diver, he is the perfect tour guide when needed. And David and Ruby’s daughter, Teresa, a risk and assurance manager in Wellington, takes charge of administration, marketing and financial matters.

When we spoke to them in 2021, David and Ruby were philososphical about what was ahead.

“No one knows what the future holds but we still think we will be able to sustain an affordable transport service for whānau and the wider Waikawa community, with free transport for kaumātua. That’s always been a priority for us – it’s about fulfilling a whānau dream to be able to support and give back to the wider whānau and rohe,” says David.