Staying Alive

Fifteen-years-ago, Adam Johnston was called to Aotea Great Barrier. When holidaying one calm winter day at his beach house on Kawau Island, he thought “this is the day we go to Great Barrier Island”.

Adam and his partner came across on their boat, arriving at Tryphena where they found a property that was for sale. “As we looked back at the boat, there were dolphins jumping around it. It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘what am I doing with my life?’”

After working as the national event manager for St John, and finishing his MBA, involving working long hours behind a desk, Adam came to the island for a change of pace.

He said that when he came to Aotea he noticed a gap. “This is a very spread out island with people tucked away in remote corners of it. I thought an ambulance would be very handy to convey people comfortably to where they need to be and to provide that initial emergency response. An ambulance provides a different set of skills, equipment, and knowledge, that all fits together into the wider healthcare cog.”

Adam Johnston installing an AED. Photo: Carol Comer

He explains that a lot of rural and remote areas up and down the country rely upon volunteers for emergency services. “We are incredibly lucky on this island to have paramedic level cover for most of the week,” says Adam, and this is because Adam is a rarity. There are less than 20 full time, fully qualified volunteer paramedics in the country.

He says, “it is very volunteer based, here on Aotea we have a small workload, so there is a lot of time on call but a very small emergency workload given our population, so, it is very difficult to get funding to support our service.”

The funding pots from St John and the government are empty and we need to think of different ways of doing things if we value having this service on the island.

There are now only three volunteers on the island. Adam says, “we don’t have enough people to deliver the service and we’re approaching a point where for the first time in fifteen years we’re probably going to have some disruption to our 24/7 cover.”

Watch this space – they will be calling a hui to get ideas and help from the community as to how we can make things work.

Adam is looking for new volunteers to join the ambulance service. If you’d be interested, you can give Adam a call, or write to the service at

Words by Georgie Higham. To listen to Adam’s full interview with Tim Higham on AoteaFM below.

Are you familiar with all the AED’s on the island and where there are located?

Visit to find out the exact location of all the AED’s on the island and how to access them in an emergency

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