For teens in Te Matau-a-Māui, a car is a sacred space where close friends can talk about their feelings while parked up at Te Mata o Rongokako.

It’s a crucial life tool to get to places like school and work in a region where public transport options are scarce.

And it’s a vehicle to adulthood, a little slice of independence. Because is there a greater sign of adulthood than no longer needing to ask your parents for a ride?

Three teens growing up in Hawke’s Bay invite us into their worlds – via their first cars.

Larissa, 18

One of Larissa’s favourite things to do in her 1996 Mitsubishi Chariot is to drive up to Te Mata Peak with her mates for some food and chats.

Unlike talking to a counsellor or a teacher, when you talk with your mates you’re all on the same level, she says. 

“You’re all stressing about passing NCEA and uncertain about what life will look like next year.”

When she hangs out with her friends like this, it feels like “stress is lifted off our shoulders”.

Larissa (right) and her bestie Taylah

Outside of therapy sessions with her mates, Larissa needs her car to take herself and her sister to school, and to go to work afterwards.

She often picks up evening shifts at Carl’s Jr., working from 5pm to 11pm.

Larissa says for a long time, she had the habit of taking a quick shower then dropping straight into bed after a work shift.

“Now I try to give myself at least some time to have a feed and just relax myself. Prioritising self care, that sort of thing.”

Larissa works to help out her family and gather some savings for next year when she potentially moves out. She’s considering studying nursing.

“I'm just thinking, suffer a little bit now and then the future should be better.”

Norpreet, 17

Norpreet’s first car is technically her family’s car, a zippy little Aqua that she uses to go to work and extracurriculars like her school’s environmental committee and UN Youth – a glance at the badges stacked on the lapel of her school uniform tell you she’s probably an impressive student.

When she’s driving alone, she’ll blast music by Punjabi artists (she’s currently into Raf-Saperra) and Taylor Swift.

The car is crucial for Norpreet’s family because her parents run a restaurant and work every day including weekends, from early morning until eight or nine in the evening.

The only time they took a day off was when they dropped Norpreet’s older sister off to university in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Norpreet with her dad before she goes to school

To spend some time with her parents and help out, Norpreet joins them at the restaurant every day for ten minutes before school and drops by after school.

“It's hard, obviously. But we know they're doing it for us.”

When the family first bought their Aqua, they went to the gurdwara (Sikh temple) to bless it. 

Now, a guru hangs from the rearview mirror.

Norpreet’s dad says this means “wherever we go, there is goodness with us”.

“Some universal power is giving us everything, so we have to trust them.”

Walter, 18

Walter uses his pickup truck for work – currently cleaning up orchards post-cyclone for an earthmoving company – to go to car shows and to “go see my missus”.

He adds the latter is probably the main purpose of the car.

At a car show in Hastings, Walter sticks to the sidelines. He hasn’t got any sirens in his car. He’s just here to hang out with his friends and meet new people.

“It’s people showing off what they got, the bass and the sirens. It's not like a competition. It's just showing happiness for each other and getting to know each other more.

Walter is 18 but started feeling like an adult at 13 when he and his brother left their parents and home in Apia, Sāmoa, to move to Te Matau-a-Māui.

They moved in with their sister and her husband. After improving his English as quickly as possible, Walter started working in Year 9.

Since then, he’s been jumping between construction and hospitality jobs, finding jobs that fit around his school hours. 

Earlier this year, he left a fast food job as he couldn’t get a shift that ended at 10pm so he could go home and study.

Now, Walter has finished NCEA Level 3 and is working.

“My hope for the future is to go back to the island and do something amazing.”

He wants to one day buy his parents a house.

“I dream every single day I want to buy my dad a new car like mine,” Walter says.

“Without my parents I can’t be around here like this. The love - they give it out to me, and I have to give it back to them.”

Maggie Shui is a journalist and documentary maker based in London. She was previously a staff journalist for Re: News and directed Dating While Asian.

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