Going the extra mile…to Dunstan and Dunedin hospitals 

(Margaret Batty/Community Networks Wanaka)

Have you spotted the Wheels to Dunstan car around town and wondered why it exists?

Wheels to Dunstan is a remarkable charitable health service coordinated by Community Networks Wanaka (CNW). Clients are picked up at home by the Wheels to Dunstan car and driven to Cromwell to connect with the 7.30 am St John’s minibus that takes them to Dunedin Hospital. After their out-patient appointments the service is reversed leaving Dunedin at 3 pm, getting clients back to Wanaka around 7 pm. Clients are also ferried between Wanaka and Dunstan Hospital in Clyde for daytime out-patient appointments.

If you could benefit from this wonderful service please do not hesitate to contact CNW.

Help: do you have a garage in central Wanaka where Wheels to Dunstan could park their car over the winter?

Photo: Margaret Batty

Wheels to Dunstan is a vital lifeline for many people in Wanaka, without it they would have to rely on the goodwill of friends or family, pay for a private service and/or possibly stay overnight in Dunedin.

Nevertheless, clients face a tiring twelve-hour day with this daunting 540 km round trip. Ben Suncin explains: ‘I use Wheels to Dunstan once every two months. On those days I get up at 5 am to be ready for the driver at 6.20 am. You never know how the road will be, there might be snow or roadworks. I always take an overnight bag incase my appointment runs over and I have to stay in Dunedin. Wheels to Dunstan has made a great difference to me and to my quality of life.’ Ben is a well-known regular charitable fund-raiser: ‘I like to do appeals in Wanaka, I get a lot of help so I like to give back what I can.’ 

Odds are you will never have seen the Wheels to Dunstan car driven by the same person, as there are fifty four amazing volunteer drivers on the roster who share the daily 110 km return drive from Wanaka to Cromwell five days a week, come rain or shine, clocking up 138,000 km between them over the last three years. On average there are around 23-33 trips per month serving 30 clients. Imagine the logistics with multiple timings and destinations.

Tom Greenwood (aka ‘Tom the Pom’) is on the Wheels to Dunstan Charitable Trust Board and in charge of the drivers roster. He says simply: ‘It just works, the service tends to run trouble-free which is just amazing! People love volunteering as drivers, they just want to keep on doing it.’ CNW acts as the nerve centre for Wheels to Dunstan, taking advance requests from clients and liaising with the drivers.

Lyndsey Hughes, a regular Wheels to Dunstan user for the last few years is full of praise for the volunteer drivers, explaining to me (a Brit): ‘New Zealand relies totally on volunteers, it’s part of our culture and way of life, everyone tries to do something.’ Lyndsey used to deliver Meals on Wheels and was a Girl Guiding Captain.

The Wheels to Dunstan car is impeccably maintained, spotlessly clean and very comfortable, thanks to a team of weekend volunteers who work behind the scenes to wash the car, top up the diesel, check the tyres and generally make sure that it is safe and ready to roll every Monday morning.

I joined Tom on a regular run to Cromwell, chatting I discovered that Tom’s father was captain of a UK cross channel ferry, that sailing runs in the family and Tom once trialled for the UK Olympic sailing squad (sadly he was too light – even with a wet woollen jumper weighing down his wetsuit!).

The kilometres quickly passed and we soon met up with the St Johns bus in Cromwell. Ben and Lindsay jumped on board and we reversed tracks to Wanaka. Conversation flowed easily around the car, from the variable success of strawberry crops this summer to local news. Tom knows every nook and cranny of Wanaka and dropped Ben and Lindsay at their doorsteps with a friendly smile. 

Clients tend to offer a donation to help maintain the service – this can range from $5 to $20 and is a critical part of the budget. Wanaka Rotary and The Masonic Lodge finance most major running costs, for example buying the new Mazda car in 2015. All fuel is generously donated by Upper Clutha Transport, which Tom says: ‘is absolutely tremendous’. This is definitely not a taxi service, nor for shopping trips make no mistake!

There haven’t been any dramas on the Wheels to Dunstan service, no births or emergencies. It is one of those wonderful pieces of the Wanaka community jigsaw that enables regular daily life to run its rhythm.

The service does however have one crucial need – a garage or carport in the centre of town to park the car inside over the winter months (to save the drivers having to de-ice the car on dark cold mornings). If anyone has an empty garage please do get in touch with CNW (Tel 03 443 7799) – you would make Tom and 53 other drivers very happy! 

(Margaret Batty)